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What is a reading circle?

A reading circle is a classroom instructional strategy that groups small, heterogeneous groups of students together and connects all aspects of literacy (Anderson & Corbett, 2008). Following the reading of one or more chapters in a book (or other reading materials), students gather in a circle to collaboratively discuss and critique what they have read (IRDP, n.d.).

Due to the fact that students at various reading levels and with various interests can be grouped together for this activity, reading circles can be especially useful in inclusive classrooms. Reading circles are often referred to as: literature circles, literature response groups, literature study circles, literacy circles, peer-led literature groups, and book clubs (Anderson & Corbett, 2008).

Reading circles can be used to reinforce listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in a supportive and collaborative setting (Anderson & Corbett). They encourage students to deepen their understanding of a chosen text, as students are encouraged to discuss plots, specific language used, and personal experiences, and their relation to the text (Cumming-Potwin, 2007).

Reading circles become a more valuable learning experience for students when they are fully student led as it empowers students in their learning and provides them with some autonomy in the classroom, and this type of learning opportunity allows students to feel empowered and supported by their peers, particularly when they are assigned a specific role to play (which are outlined below) in the reading circle (Burns, 1998).

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Why are reading circles an effective strategy for students with LDs?

Reading circles can be used in a variety of settings, from elementary to secondary classrooms, from general to special education classrooms, and with any and all students. According to Anderson & Corbett, research has also demonstrated that this strategy can be effective for students with learning disabilities (LDs), as well as for students with general challenges with reading achievement (p. 25).

Reading circles are an effective strategy to use not only with students with reading disabilities, but also with any student with reading difficulties. Grouping students together heterogeneously allows students with difficulties to learn from their peers; not only from the ideas that are shared, but also from the literacy strategies that these students use through all of their stages of learning. This strategy also helps struggling students to see themselves as autonomous readers and to develop more positive feelings about their abilities (Hébert, 2009).

As many who teach students who struggle with reading are aware, reading aloud is something that is extremely difficult for students with reading disabilities or difficulties and can cause some students to become anxious. By using the reading circle strategy, educators give students the opportunity to access texts in any format required to read the selected material before discussions about the text begin. This means that a student can use text-to-speech software to access the text and can then participate verbally during the reading circle itself (Anderson & Corbett, 26).

How do I implement reading circles in my classroom?

There are many different ideas as to how reading circles can be implemented in the classroom, but here is one specific method presented by Anderson & Corbett, as well as some tips for how to ensure their efficacy:

Step 1: Author & Book Selection

  • Give students a choice of books and/or authors to select from. Giving students this choice will allow them to choose a literary work that speaks to their interests and will engage students from the beginning of the activity.
  • It may be helpful to have students choose from a series of books all by the same author, or for more senior students, give them more selection.
  • Providing students with background information about the books and authors is something that can help them to make their choice.
  • Particularly with larger classes, students may be required to choose their top three books, in order to ensure that there are approximately equal numbers of students in each group. Teachers can then assign students to groups as fairly as possible.

Ballot

Click here for a downloadable ballot that can be used for students to rank their book choices.

Step 2: Reading Circle Role Selection & Modeling

 

There are an astounding number of roles which can be implemented in reading circles, but four specific roles have been identified as essential:

  • Connector – connects the reading material to everyday experiences
  • Questioner – analyzes the text through questioning
  • Literary Luminary – highlights particularly important parts of the text
  • Illustrator – responds graphically to the text

The above are simply those recommended in the literature as essential, but educators can use this as a guide and can add, remove, or divide roles according to their classroom needs.

Other optional roles include:

  • Summarizer – recaps the key points, main highlights, and general idea of the text
  • Travel Tracer – tracks where the action takes place in the text and describes each setting in detail
  • Word Wizard – identifies and defines words with special meaning in the text
  • Researcher – finds background information on a topic related to the text

Educators will need to model each role as students may be unfamiliar with their tasks. Particularly for students with LDs, explicit instruction may be essential.

Role Sheets

Click here for descriptions of a number of roles that can be assigned to students in reading circles.

Step 3: Assigning & Supporting Reading

  • Decide on a suitable amount of reading to assign to students, and whether or not time will be given in class to complete the reading.
  • Ensure that all students are able to access their texts in a manner that suits their learning needs, whether it is using a hard copy of a book, using a screen reader, or listening to the audiobook (whether this is created by the teacher themselves or is commercially available).

Step 4: Taking the Learning Further

At this point, educators need to decide how they will encourage students to take their learning further. In this particular article, the authors recommend using role sheets and role expansion activities to assign specific tasks to students.

Below are some examples of how this may occur for each role:

  • Connector – for a scene that demonstrates how the protagonist has to show bravery to overcome their fears, the Connector could be asked to lead a discussion on how students in the group have had to be brave in a specific situation
  • Questioner – may be asked to question a specific practice outlined in the book, for example freedom of the press. The questioner could then lead a discussion within the group about what might happen in Canada if freedom of the press was not permitted.
  • Literary Luminary – during a reading of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act I, Scene III), Polonius says to his son Laertes “This above all: to thine own self be true”. Have the literary luminary highlight this as an important quote in the play and ask the student to lead a discussion where all students reflect on this statement and its importance.
  • Illustrator – after reading a specific passage to the group, the illustrator displays a visual image they have created which reflects what is read. They should then explain to the group why they chose to make certain inclusions and omissions and open the illustration up for group discussion

Educators can then have students extend these activities to include personal reflections which can be evaluated, or they can summarize their thoughts in reading journals.

Step 5: Assessment

Educators can incorporate various types of assessment into reading circles, such as:

Examples of assessment for learning:

  • provide students with descriptive feedback to their extension activities; this also offers educators the opportunity to give informal feedback on anything that was overheard during the reading circle discussions
  • as educators circulate through the classroom during reading circle discussions, ask open-ended questions to encourage students to express their thoughts and ideas
  • give groups and individuals specific informal feedback based on the conversations you hear in the reading circles

Examples of assessment as learning:

  • encourage students to self-assess by providing them with rubrics to assess their learning or their peers’ in the reading circles

Examples of assessment of learning:

  • following the completion of specific sections of the book, give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning, either independently or as a group
  • give students choice in how they will demonstrate their learning by providing them with a list of acceptable assessment activities (p. 26-27)

Rubric

Click here for a sample rubric to assess literature circle roles from TVOntario and the Ontario Ministry of Education.

General tips:

  • Allow students choice wherever and whenever appropriate
  • Ensure that a student acts as a group facilitator, and not the teacher
  • Encourage students with LDs to try different roles as they become more comfortable with the activity, starting with those roles which allow them to focus on their skills as learners first
  • Teach specific literacy strategies explicitly where appropriate

Next Steps

This activity offers educators many opportunities for variations and to adapt the strategy to suit their own needs. For example, educators who enjoy using technology in their classrooms can allow students to use apps to complete their specific tasks in the reading circles. Educators could also use this strategy online in a protected forum, so long as they are careful to ensure that students are responding to each other and not only to any comments left by the teacher themselves (Cumming-Potvin, p. 489).

For students with difficulties in social situations (including students with LDs), educators can incorporate specific social skill instruction into their application of reading circles (Anderson & Corbett, 26). For example, with younger students, they may model how to effectively take turns and ensure that everyone in the circle is given the opportunity to speak in turn.

Reading circles are a fun way to involve all of the students in your classroom. As the facilitator of the reading circles, be creative and open to hearing students’ ideas, watch them become more confident and witness a more supportive classroom environment emerge!

Related Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the article Direct Instruction of Reading for Elementary-aged Students.

Click here to access the article Self-Assessment.

Click here to access the article Improving Reading Fluency: Which Interventions are Most Effective?.

Additional Resources

Laura Candler’s website has created a number of free printable and downloadable resources that can be used with the reading circle strategy.

Click here to access resources including question cards, before and after evaluation forms, and much more!

Click here for information and ideas about how to use reading circles with primary students.

Click here for a users’ guide from eworkshop.on.ca which outlines how to implement the strategy in the classroom.

Click here for a literature circles webcast from the Ontario Ministry of Education.

References

Anderson, P. & Corbett, L. (2008). Literature Circles for Students with Learning Disabilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, 44(1), 25-33.

Burns, B. (1998). Changing the Classroom Climate with Literature Circles. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 42, 124-129.

Cummin-Potwin, W. (2007). Scaffolding, Multiliteracies, and Reading Circles. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(2), 483-507.

Hébert, H. (2009). Cercles littéraires et journal de lecture comme éléments d’intervention en didactique de la littérature : étude de cas d’un élève de 8e année en difficulté. Revue du Nouvel-Ontario, 34, 83-117.

Institut de recherché et de documentation pédagogique (IRDP). (n.d.). Apprentissage de la lecture : pour un apprentissage de la lecture tout au long de la scolarité. Repéré à https://www.irdp.ch/data/secure/1677/document/expo_lecture_web1.pdf