These procedures should help with many of your other questions:
Sorry, in advance... this got VERY long. But it's very
detailed and that's good, right? :-D
I've had to modify how I LIKE to do Lit. Circles based on my
students' needs, but when I taught some more mature students
(hopefully your 8th graders are more mature than my 5th
graders ;-)), this is what we did:
1) I chose a genre and then several books within that genre. I
put one copy of each book out on a table along with index
cards. I had each student write their top 3 choices on the
index card (and their name :D). I took the cards and
*attempted* to give each student his/her first choice. I
reserved the right, however, to separate folks that wouldn't
work well together or to veto a book choice based on reading
level (either too easy or too hard). Ultimately, I made 6 or
so groups with 5 or so people in each group. Over the years I
have collected hundreds of titles with 8 books in each set, so
my groups can be that big if necessary; however, I would split
a group of 8 into two groups of 4 if I had that many kids pick
the same book.
2) Groups met briefly to decide on how many chapters they
would read each week. Meetings were to be held on Thursdays
over a month's time, so they had to take the number of pages
or chapters and divide it by 4; rounding up or down when
necessary. I advised them to be "heavy" the first week, if
necessary, since they'd be excited about their new book and
more willing to read more. I wrote down each group's "plan"
and kept it posted somewhere safe so that if they "forgot" how
many pages/chapters they were supposed to read, it was easy to
3) Reading was done independently. Kids could read during
class time or at home. They could buddy read if they wanted
to. Maybe you can fit in a 20-30 minute silent reading time
once a week (Tuesdays with meetings on Thursdays?).
4) Students also wrote a half-page response in their Lit.
Logs. I made Logs by folding paper "hot dog"/tall style (just
to be different) so their half-page was tall and narrow. They
were instructed to write "edge to edge" (ignoring margins) and
"top to bottom". Inside the back cover, I gave them sentence
starters such as "I like the way the author..." or "This
character reminds me of...". The focus was on telling me what
they were thinking about the story, not summarizing. It is
easy to tell who is doing their reading from their responses.
;-) It also seems that the students like sharing their
thoughts and feelings more than writing a summary.
5) On meeting day, groups gathered and each member read
his/her response aloud. This usually created many discussions
on its own. Then, I posted an open-ended question on the board
- one that could apply to any book - based on a skill or
strategy we were working on. For example, if we were working
on characterization, the question might be "If your main
character was an animal, what would s/he be... and why?" Each
member is required to respond, and then the group votes to
determine who had the best answer. I told them they could have
a 2-way tie, but beyond that, they had to figure out a way to
break the tie. The winner(s) received 4 raffle tickets (2/2
split for a tie) toward Friday rewards. The competitive nature
of this kept everyone engaged. Concerning your "staying on
topic" worry, there was a time limit, and if I didn't have a
team's winner in my hand at X time, that group was
disqualified from the sharing and tickets.
I walked around and sat in on some of the meetings...
randomly... but I tried to hit at least half of the groups one
week and the others the next.
5) Each group would stay in their meeting spot and we'd have a
share-out. Each "winner" would share a bit about their book
and then his/her answer.
6) I collected each student's Lit. Log and gave quick check,
check-plus, check-minus effort marks, possibly a few comments,
and returned the Logs the next day. The checks became a letter
grade at the end of the month. I also had each student fill
out an index card that "graded" his/her team. I asked the
students to tell me if their team is struggling in any way (so
I can help before next week's meeting) and/or how each
individual team member was going to help to improve their team
score for next week. They also shared celebrations about
things their group was or individual members were doing well.
They were usually brutally honest as these cards are
confidential and just between the individual students and me.
Sometimes we'd do a wrap up project, but I mostly just wanted
the kids to enjoy READING and discussing their books with each
other. I didn't want them bogged down in "Discussion Director"
or "Vocabulary Vixen" (heehee) worksheets. At the end of each
month, I also did round-robin group-on-group sessions so that
the groups could share about their books with the other groups
to encourage (or discourage) others to/from reading their book.
Altogether, these meetings were about 20 minutes (once we'd
done them a while and got it down) once a week, which leaves
you plenty of time to get to your other skills/concepts.
As far as incompletes, it is an assignment just like anything
else, and the same consequences apply.
After reading this and remembering how fun it was, I am
anxious to see if I can make it work with next year's group.
On 7/24/08, new teacher wrote:
> Hi Laura,
> Could I ask you what books were read in your lit circles? Did groups
> get to choose anything they wanted, or did you have 4-5 books in mind &
> then set up groups based on book preferences? Had you read all the
> books before? Were the books grouped by theme or any other "grouping"
> quality? Did you continue with other whole-class work during lit
> circles? E.G. were certain days "lit circle" days and others for whole
> class work? Did you give class time for lit circle reading? Besides
> questioning & discussing skills (great points to work on, by the way!)
> did you have other activities or projects?
> My apologies for all the questions; I'm curious how this works!
> Thank you so much!
> On 7/24/08, Laura wrote:
>> Someone mentioned earlier in the thread Harvey Daniel's Mini-Lessons
>> for Lit. Circles. This is a great resource--one that I used last year
>> when trying Lit. Circles for the first time with a 10th grade honors
>> class. Honestly, the most essential lesson to do with students (IMO)
>> is that of teaching them how to create good discussion questions and
>> follow-up questions, then requiring them to do so when they meet with
>> each other. We spend two days working on this skill, with me modeling
>> and them practicing. Then I ask that they try it out during meetings.
>> I sat in on the meetings and took notes in addition to also asking
>> them to turn in the discussion questions they came up with. It worked
>> well and I saw marked improvement in their questioning/discussion
>> As far as motivation goes, I didn't have much of an issue, but that was
>> in an honors class. I will be trying Lit. Circles with my general
>> students this year and am hoping that they will be motivated simply by
>> being able to choose their books and their reading schedules.