Ready to write literature circle lesson plans? This post will guide you through everything you need to know to get started!

Ready to start a book club with your middle school students?  Here are ideas, titles, and activities for literature circles.

Whether you call them literature circles or book clubs, this type of reading instruction is a powerful and engaging way to improve reading.

👉 You can find a book club reading scheduler, free lessons, worksheets, and activities in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

What are Literature Circles?

A literature circle (or book club) provides a way for students to dig into books that are at their reading and interest level. They do this by:

  • working in cooperative groups — each group usually reading a different book
  • reading and discussing the text together
  • working common tasks as they are reading (like collecting vocabulary words, summarizing a section, or responding to a discussion question)
  • meeting on a regular basis to discuss their reading

Why should you use them?

1.Book clubs are FUN! Students get to sit in a small group and TALK! What middle schooler doesn’t love that??

2. They provide variety. Keeping your class interesting, different, and changing helps keep interest in your class.

3. When you set up book clubs, you are making sure that the right books are getting to the right readers.

4. Students are reading with their classmates — we know the value of working together.

5. They are short. You can determine how long you want them to last and what you want students to read. This keeps them interesting!

Setting up groups

You can set up your literature circles in a wide variety of ways. Here are a few:

  • Students are grouped according to their reading level. Each group reads a book that is appropriate for that level.
  • Students choose from a list of books. They are then grouped according to the title.
  • Each group reads a different title in a particular genre. For example, the whole class can be reading a dystopia novel, but each group has a different title.
  • Groups of students choose what books they want to read.

You can choose which way you want to select books and group students. You can even randomly group students.

The key to grouping students is to make sure they are reading a text that is within their ability. It’s okay if it’s a little challenging. But not overwhelming.

Tips for setting up groups

  • Decide if your groups will be arranged by title choice or student reading ability.
  • The max number of students in a group should be four. Any more than that and you’ll have students who disengage and let the others do the talking and the work.
  • Create a document that shows all your groups and what they are reading. This will help when you run multiple groups and when you repeat groups throughout the year.
  • Keep mixing. This is why a document like the one listed above will be helpful. Make sure that the same students aren’t always in the same groups.

👉 You can find a book club reading scheduler, free lessons, worksheets, and activities in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

Getting Students to buy in

Students will generally be interested and excited by literature circles if they have some choice and options for what they are reading.

Get students excited about what they’re reading by setting up a “book tasting” or provide quick previews of what each title is about. You want to make the books as enticing and interesting as possible (after all, you’re not picking boring books, are you??)

Make this different. Book clubs offer a different way to arrange your classroom. If you already have students sitting at tables, you can mix it up by providing some decorations, table place cards, or even snacks.

What should they read?

Determine what your students will be reading by either their ability level or their interests.

Here’s the hard part: you should pick books that you’ve already read. If you haven’t read the book, you’ll have trouble helping students respond to reading questions. You also want to be able to tell if students have read the book — if you aren’t familiar with the text, that is going to be difficult.

If you want some suggestions for titles, you can read through these lists:

If you are going to present several books and students will be choosing what they want to read, be sure to have them rank order at least three books. That will provide you with some flexibility.

How to divide the reading

Decide how long you want your students to read the book. You can determine this by looking at your readers. Struggling readers will take longer to move through a text, so you will want to provide more time.

I generally set three or four weeks for students to complete the reading.

I have students sit down with a reading calendar (make one as an opt in) or their planner and divide the book into weeks. So, if I want the book clubs to last four weeks, they divide the book into fourths.  Do not allow them to stop in the middle of a chapter!

Next, have students divide the weeks into the days you are planning them to meet. So, they will mark on their calendar what pages (or chapters) they should have read by the meeting days.

It’s a good idea for you to review each groups’ reading calendar. You want to make sure they have enough time to finish the book, but you also want to make sure that they will be challenged and have enough reading to do.

When will students read?

Determine when and where your students will complete their reading. You’ll have some students to read the entire book the first week (or first night!!), but you also will want to provide support to your struggling readers.

You can build in reading days or even reading time into your class schedule. If you give homework, “read your book for book club” can be a standard homework assignment.

What are you teaching?

You’ve got your groups, the students have their books, now what?

I love using mini lessons with literature circles. I used to use roles — you may be familiar with them. One student is vocabulary collector, someone else is a summarizer, etc.

My experience has been that these roles aren’t very effective in teaching reading skills. I want my students to dig into the text — so I do that by using mini lessons.

Mini lessons can include:

  • character
  • conflict
  • plot
  • point of view
  • dialogue
  • theme
  • setting

They can also include:

  • summarizing
  • determining the main idea
  • finding details, sensory language, and description
  • making inferences
  • predicting
  • visualizing
  • determining sequence
  • drawing conclusions
  • applying background knowledge
  • questioning
  • self-monitoring reading comprehension
  • identifying vocabulary
  • finding mentor sentences

Generally, I ask students to summarize each “chunk” of their reading for the group meetings. Students can share and add to their summaries when they discuss the reading.

Then, I have a mini lesson and ask students to perform a task that aligns with the mini lesson. For example:

The mini lesson: Defining and describing the protagonist.

The student task: Determine who the protagonist is. What do you know about this person? Create a list that includes a physical description, what the character says and does that helps you understand him or her. Challenge: What do you learn about the character from what others say?

By following this pattern, you can move through literary analysis as well as strengthen reading skills.

Plus, by adding variety to the tasks, the book clubs remain interesting and fresh.

You do not have to teach all the things! If you are planning to have more than one book club in a year, you can divide your mini lessons up. Don’t feel like to you to teach every, single mini lesson for the book. That will lead to bored students and a bored teacher!

How often should groups meet?

Again, there is a lot of flexibility around setting up meetings. Meeting every day means that your students will have to keep up with daily reading, or students will be working with the same text through the week. There isn’t anything wrong with that as long as your students don’t get bored.

It’s helpful, though, to have “work days” or “reading days” that allow for flexibility and schedule changes.

Also, remember that literature circles do not have to meet for the entire class period. You can teach your mini lesson (10 minutes) and then have them complete their task (10 – 15 minutes). Wrap up and move on to other lessons you need to work on (writing, vocabulary, etc.). This also helps prevent boredom and keeps students on task.

How do I assess their work?

If students have a group task to complete as a result of your mini lessons, then you can use that as a formative assessment. You can ask students to complete an activity as a group and then independently.

If you decide to require a summary for each reading section, you can assess that.

You can ask students to complete a summative assessment or project as a group, or you can use their work throughout the book club meeting as an assessment.

Use a folder that students can use to build their literature circle workbook, notes, and summaries. Then, you can use that folder as an assessment as well.

Be sure to collect and assess work often! Students can get behind quickly or their work with be superficial if they don’t feel it is valued or important.

What could go wrong and how to fix it

What if students aren’t prepared? There are several ways you can deal with this.

1.Why didn’t the student finish the reading? Is it too difficult, too long? Was there enough time to complete the reading? Does the student need additional help in completing the reading?

Try to understand the “why” first.

2. Students who aren’t prepared to discuss the reading passage can go to the library or another place in the classroom to read. Often students are motivated by not wanting to miss out.

Groups aren’t working together or one person is doing all the work. Sometimes you can address this by simply pulling up a chair to the group and listening in on what is going on. If this is a persistent problem, you can assign numbers to each person in the group (1, 2, 3, 4) and then have different people be the leader each meeting or week.

Groups are moving at different rates. You may have one group that finished the mini lesson task quickly and another group that struggles. Use this as an opportunity to determine what those groups need. Perhaps you want to include a “challenge” task for each activity that will push students who need it.

Student work is sub par. This is why I didn’t like using the “roles” for literature circles. I felt like students weren’t really digging deep and interacting with the text. If student work is falling below standards, try to determine the reason why.

When you provide students with regular feedback, their work usually improves. They’ll know what you expect from them.

Pulling up a chair and sitting with a group works wonders in their work output!

Give literature circles a try! They are so worth it! Fun for your students and fun for you!

👉 Need a reading scheduler for your students? You can find one (along with free lessons, worksheets, and activities) in my exclusive resource library.  Click here to gain access!

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