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Planning for Literature Circles
Adapted from Chapter 3
Getting Started with Literature Circles by
Katherine L. Schlick Noe and Nancy J. Johnson
©1999 Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc
First, a nod toward reality:  Most teachers we know were not able to do much advanced planning when they first started literature circles.  For the most part, they just plunged in and "built the airplane in flight."  This may also happen to you.  It seems reasonable that you may not know how a whole year will come together until after you've tried a few literature circle units.

    We've presented two ways to approach planning.  The "ideal":  Laying out a year's plan before you begin -- something that most teachers don't manage the first time they try literature circles; and the "real":  an example of how a plan evolves as you live through your first year with literature circles.
The Ideal:  Laying Out a Year's Plan
The Real:  Allowing a Plan to Evolve

Return to Structure: General Guidelines

The Ideal:  Laying Out a Year's Plan
    Once you have some experience, you may be able to align literature circles with your teaching and learning goals in a structured, deliberate way.  Laying out a year's calendar will help you decide how many literature circle units will fit into your overall literacy program.  The chart below gives you an idea of how Janine King (6th grade) planned her year -- once she had a handle on what she was doing.  Notice how her teaching and learning focus (her goals) included literature circle processes, as well as literary elements and reading skills.

Books: Topic/Theme/Genre
Teaching/Learning Focus
Whole class:
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Learning process of literature circles; Memorable language
November - January

Five books on homelessness
Theme: Finding a Place to Belong
(click here for book list)

Refining literature circles;
Understanding theme;
Fact vs. opinion;
Egypt (non-fiction unit)
Refining literature circles;
Reading non-fiction;
Text features: charts, graphs, glossary
Whole class novel:
Good Night, Mr. Tom

Refining literature circles;
Using context clues

Five books on the internement of Japanese Americans during WWII
Theme: Swallowed by Injustice
(click here for book list)
Refining literature circles;
Understanding theme;
Point of view;
Author's craft
Five books by Walter Dean Myers
(click here for book list)
Refining literature circles;
Author study;

Return to Planning

The Real:  Allowing a Plan to Evolve
    Kirstin Gerhold experienced a common paralysis when she thought about the complexity of pulling everything together at once in her fifth grade classroom.  She said, "There was no way that I could manage teaching my students how to do literature circles, and how to talk, and how to write in journals, and how to do an extension project all in one shot."  So she started very simply.
    With each round of literature circles her first year, Kirstin added or refined only one or two components.  The chart below shows how Kirstin's structure evolved one step at a time.  The shaded areas indicate where she focused her energies; the black sections indicate what she ignored.

Written Response
Extension Project

Round 1

Call it Courage: Chosen because it was available
Learning how to discuss
One project
Round 2
Waterman's Boy: Chosen because it came with her literature-based basal series
Developing discussion skills
Three options
Round 3
Five books about the Revolutionary War: Chosen because they fit a theme
Refining discussions
Developing understanding of the theme through writing
Whole class story quilt: Emphasis on extending the theme
Round 4
Four books about Growth and Change: Chosen because they fit a theme
Developing understanding of the theme through discussion

Return to Planning

Literature Circles Resource Center

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