"We are going to have literature circles next week!"
Making this announcement would always result in cheers in the 4th and 5th grade classrooms where I served as reading teacher a few years back. They loved literature circles. It was always an exciting 8-10 days when students were allowed to depart from their normal guided reading group in which they sat around a table with a teacher and often the same 5 other classmates. (In my school district, teacher-directed guided reading groups had to be utilized nearly every day between kindergarten and fifth grade.) During literature circle weeks, however, we mixed the kids up, let them sprawl out on the floor, and have their own discussions about the book they were reading. The other teacher and I would rotate between groups and listen in, but would try to stay silent if the group was having an acceptable discussion.
Organizing the literature circles took some work. I always tried to choose a theme, and then select books based on that theme. Once, dogs was the theme, and some of the books included Because of Winn-Dixie, A Dog Called Kitty, and Shiloh. Another time, we had a multicultural theme, and some of the books included The Watson's Go to Birmingham and Drita, My Homegirl.
The all-time favorite theme each year, however, was the grade-specific theme. One year I applied for (and was awarded) a grant so that I could order grade-specific books for literature circles. The students had a very difficult time deciding which of the five books presented was their first choice, second choice, and third choice. However, that's a terrific problem to have... students were rarely disappointed by the book they were assigned! An even greater outcome... students were eager to read some of the other books when the literature circles were over. After hearing a "book advertisement", previewing the book themselves, and hearing their classmates discuss the book, they often decided to read these books independently! What could be better than that?!
If your school operates like the school districts in my area, spring is book-ordering time! If you are able to forward book suggestions to the person/people responsible for ordering books for your school, you might want to consider asking for multiple copies of these books! (The top shelf shows third grade books I found. (I have never organized literature circles for third grade, but I wanted to give you third grade teachers some ideas in case you want to give them a try!) The middle shelf shows fourth grade titles, and the bottom shelf shows 5th grade titles. (Incidentally, The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of School was included because it was previously titled The Top Ten Ways to Ruin the First Day of Fifth Grade.)
If you want to read about how I introduced the literature circle books to my students, hop over to my blog, Crafting Connections, to read more!