Get High School Students Collaborating Through Literature Circles
Lecturing every day can become boring for students and teachers. Break up the monotony and introduce literature circles into your novel units. Students will teach the novel to themselves with you there to guide them as they learn.
This idea can work with almost any novel you teach. There are several ways to form literature circles in the classroom depending on the skill and maturity level of your students. With older students, honor students, or a class that is highly motivated, groups of five are ok. With younger or less advanced students you may want to keep the groups smaller with three per group. I allowed students to choose their own groups the first day and then they remained in these same groups for the rest of the unit. However, depending on the age and maturity level of the class, use discretion when allowing them to choose their own groups.
Last semester I taught The Kite Runner to my junior English students and they absolutely loved it. Three times a week I had them get into their literature circles to discuss the previous night’s reading. Each group member had a different job within their group and the jobs rotated each time the group met so no one could complain that their job required the most work. Each student had each job several different times.Jim Burke’s book Tools for Thought has many helpful classroom resources and handouts and the publisher’s website has a resource some of these pages including the ones I used with my students within their literature circles (See pages 149-155 for the handouts I used with my juniors). Because each student has a separate handout with a separate job, they are ultimately responsible for their own grade. The handouts must be completed in advance before the groups meet and are then turned in to me for grading at the end of the day. That way, if someone didn’t prepare for the group work like they were supposed to, only that individual will receive a zero for that day’s work because the other members will be able to turn in their handouts.
Ensure Collaborative Learning is Taking Place
High school students of all levels are still just teenagers so make sure you constantly walk around and monitor their progress within the groups. I've learned that the worst thing I can possibly do when I tell students to work collaboratively in groups, is to then sit down at my desk because most of the time that means that they will not do anything but play and gossip. I cannot stress enough how important it is to walk around the room the entire time students are in their groups to make sure all students are on task.
Don't rely solely on your students' group work to teach the novel. Break up the literature circle meetings with your own lessons to guide students in the right direction and allow class time for them to work on the literature circle handouts (individually), especially the first couple of times to make sure students are on the right track. Have fun!
For more information on literature circles, see Group Work: How to Use Literature Circles.