High School Lit Circles

Do you know where to start with organizing and planning high school lit circles?

Years ago, I wrote about my experimentation with independent reading and class novels. I wrote that no matter what I read with students, part of the lessons included giving them tools for life: This approach works for me, what will work for you? Let’s figure it out so that you can take that approach and apply it to science class, to your job some day. Lots of reading with older students includes modeling.

Recently, I’ve added high school lit circles to my language arts repertoire. The discussions we have are amazing, and I can model reading and thinking for students to apply outside the classroom.

Honestly, I think that I avoided trying lit circles for so long because I was afraid I was going to mess up, going to implement them incorrectly. Don’t be like me! Give lit circles a try.

And? I am pretty sure that my methods for organizing lit circles is different than other teachers. For instance, my groups do not have assigned roles when they break into their discussion circles. Still, I’ve found what works for me.

Below, I cover ideas concerning lit circles in high school. Take the ideas that work for you!

Why I like lit circles:

After implementing lit circles a few times in high school English, I continuously see the same benefits:

  • I learn about new books. Student and I trade information, and we build relationships through the content.
  • I can choose a variety of books for a variety of interests.
  • Students take risks with book choices.
  • Students are invested in reading.

These benefits arise from other literacy efforts, sure. Some students really enjoy lit circles, so I am continuing to implement them. I still use whole class novels as well as independent reading in class.

Implementing high school lit circles is a challenge for English teachers. Engage students with a diverse selection of literature.

Possible high school lit circles:

When I add lit circles to a class, I create a theme or choose a genre. I frequently shop for inexpensive books, and lit circles provide me an opportunity to “sell” those books to students.

For instance, here are books for lit circles:

Romance

The Fault In Our Stars

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

Cool for the Summer

Pride and Prejudice

Frankly in Love

Birthday

Dystopian

Scythe

Unwind (I know, I know—same author! Both are so good!)

1984

Divergent

Delirium

Red Queen

Uglies

The Darkest Minds

The Grace Year

Mystery

When

The Haunting of Hill House

One of Us Is Lying

We Were Liars

Monday’s Not Coming

The Girl in the Blue Coat

I Am the Cheese

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Any Stephen King!

From those lists, you can see that I choose books that span different time periods. Other high school lit circles could include from book to movie; an American or British time period; or award winners like the Nobel.

As I divide book for lit circles, I attempt to throw in a one “classic.” Some students want to read classics, and if they are devoted to that goal, I help them. Over time, you will continue to add books for lit circles. I use a simple Google Form for students to choose their books. Students know that they’ll be discussing the specific book with a small group, and oftentimes, friends will choose a book to read together.

After you decide what books to present to your students, you’ll next decide how you are going to run the lit circles.

Possible organization for lit circle discussions:

Student-generated.

Some teachers ask students to generate a list of discussion questions. Students might have assigned roles in the lit circle (commentator, summarizer, vocabulary enricher), and those roles will play a part in what students study.

I have also seen teachers give specific questions for the novel (like book club questions) and have students discuss those. The teacher then circles the room and emphasizes certain points.

Topic-specific.

I have also seen teachers give very general questions that work well for any book. Questions might include:

  • What is the author’s tone during the first chapters of the book? Provide specific quotations for support.
  • Is a possible theme emerging?
  • Are conflicts evident yet? Explain how these conflicts might be shaping the story’s theme.

These questions will work with any book, and then after students discuss them for their specific books, teachers can open up the conversation to the entire class. These discussions then lead into “formulas” in books and similarities in genres.

Of course, you can use a variety of approaches when conducting high school lit circles. You can also ask each student to arrive with one question for the group, compile the questions, and focus on those questions for the day.

Overall, I must stress that you should not do what I did: hide away from lit circles. I really should have implemented them a long time ago. I had so many questions about book selection and assigning pages (typically I do 25 per night) that the process seemed overwhelming to me.

But? I managed lit circles in high school English, and my students and I love them. If you have questions, please ask them, and we’ll figure it out together.

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