Welcome to EFL Literature Circles

How and Why to Use EFL Literature Circles

Mark Furr, Yokohama City University, Yokohama, Japan

Introduction: Why Use Literature Circles with EFL Students?

EFL Literature Circles are fun, focused classroom-based student reading and discussion groups which naturally combine the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening. Actually, literature circles are not only fun for students, but in some ways they are magic as well! Literature circles are magic in that they have the power to transform our Japanese students from passive, rather shy, reticent students into students who eagerly point at their texts in order to support their arguments while sharing their opinions in English!

Almost every language or literature teacher has, at some time, asked students to read a story or text as homework and then come to class prepared to discuss the story. Well, we all know that students are often very resistant to this type of assigned reading and whole class discussion.  Even native English speaking students often claim that their least favorite, most hated, or most difficult courses in high school are their Reading or Literature classes. If even English speaking students hate these courses, how can we make talking about literature interesting for our Japanese students? 

One American teacher/researcher, Harvey Daniels, and his colleagues decided to experiment with bringing the centuries-old tradition of informally talking about stories and books into elementary and secondary classes.  These researchers realized that while adults had been enjoying both reading and informally discussing books together for hundreds of years, when students are asked to read or study literature in a traditional school setting, the enjoyment, excitement and passion that can be found in adult reading groups is all but lost.

Daniels and his fellow teacher-researchers in Chicago knew from years of experience that their L1 students would often just "go through the motions" in their Reading and Literature courses since, as mentioned above, most students stated that they really disliked these classes. As an EFL teacher who has taught in the US, Armenia, Palau and Japan, the writer of this article can certainly empathize with these teachers in Chicago. I can't count the number of times that I have asked students to read something that I thought would be both interesting and exciting for them, only to be disappointed by a good many blank stares when I tried to lead a class discussion or to ask class members to share their thoughts about a particular story. Since I have started to use literature circles in Japanese universities, the blank stares have disappeared. They have been replaced by students eagerly talking with each other about the stories they've read; referring to the text to support their arguments; asking insightful questions about their reading assignments; writing copiously in order to be ready to participate in the literature circle groups; and conducting their discussions almost solely in English.

Click Here for Page 2: How and Why to Use EFL Literature Circles

This site focuses on why teachers should be using literature circles in EFL classrooms, text selection for EFL literature circles, how to get started using this collaborative learning model, and assessment techniques for use with literature circles.

While much has been written about the success of literature circles in both L1 and ESL classrooms in N. America, this site focuses on tailoring literature circles to the EFL environment. Most current models of literature circles for use in ESL are based on the work of teacher/researcher Harvey Daniels and his colleagues in Chicago. The Daniels model of literature circles was developed for use with L1 rather than EFL students; thus, we introduce a rethinking and adaptation of some of the basic tenets of traditional literature circles.

While Daniels insists that "students choose their own materials" and read at their own pace, EFL students need more guidance, not only with choosing texts that are not overly difficult, but also with choosing materials that they are able to use as a basis for discussion in English. In other words, the core of successful literature circles is that they allow EFL students to participate in "real life," meaningful discussions about the texts/stories that they've read; thus, it is important for the teacher to choose materials which promote reading fluency for use in literature circles.

If you are interested in EFL Literature Circles, a good way to begin is by reading the article, How and Why to Use EFL Literature Circles, which appears in the right hand column on this page. This article describes the basic recipe for conducting successful literature discussion circles with EFL students. You may also download How and Why to Use EFL Literature Circles by clicking the link below.
Links for EFL Literature Circles
Oxford University Press Japan: Graded Readers Page
How and Why to Use EFL Literature Circles: Downloadable Version
Literature Circles for the EFL Classroom: Downloadable Version. This article expands on the basics of how to use Literature Circles and includes some Japan-specific information
Extensive Reading Page Since EFL Literature Circles use materials which are appropriate for extensive rather than intensive reading, please check out the Extensive Reading Page if you are unfamiliar with extensive reading or graded readers.
Email: markfurr@eflliteraturecircles.com