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Making Discussions Work
from Chapter 5
Getting Started with Literature Circles by
Katherine L. Schlick Noe and Nancy J. Johnson
©1999 Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.
used with permission

Discussions can be one of the most challenging aspects of literature circles.  With guidance, however, students at all levels can learn to carry on meaningful and rich conversations about books.  Here are some steps to take:

  • Select a discussion formatDecide how the groups will meet -- the format that fits your personality, your goals, and your students' experience and needs.
  • Teach students how to discuss: Model, discuss, and practice the social skills needed for true conversation.
  • Help students prepare for discussionProvide simple tools to help students prepare for their discussions.
  • Debrief after discussions to refine skills:  Build in time for students to consider, "What is working well?"  "What do we still need to improve?"
Tips on Discussion
Sample Forms

Alternatives to Role Sheets

Many teachers use role sheets – but others find that the roles take focus and energy away from the discussion. Nearly all of the teachers we know who used roles early in the process abandoned them after awhile. By teaching strategies through focus lessons, students can choose whether to share a passage, an illustration, or a question. Students can learn collaborative and individual accountability strategies to make their discussions work without the constraints of role sheets.

However, you may feel more comfortable starting out with a limited number of roles, such as facilitator and recorder, that may be familiar to students from cooperative learning activities.   If you find that roles would be helpful for you, we recommend the clear descriptions in Harvey Daniels's book, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (2001).   You will also find helpful information about roles at, a web site based on Harvey Daniels's book.

Literature Circles Resource Center

© 2004 Katherine L. Schlick Noe
College of Education
Seattle University