Welcome to EFL Literature Circles

Key Features or EFL Literature Circles: Six-Ten

6. Students use written or drawn notes to guide both their reading and their discussion.

This is the "magic" of literature circles; the Role Sheets (described in the next section below) prompt each member of a small reading group to read a story from a different perspective and to prepare for a small group discussion based on their reading. In this way, students are learning that there are both a number of different reasons for reading and varying perspectives on any given text. The Role Sheets break reading down into smaller sub-skills with each student in her small group closely focusing on one way of encountering the text. After each student has read the story from a given perspective (role) as homework, then the students are brought together, and through discussion, these parts become whole. In other words, the Role Sheets break down the skills of a mature reader into smaller, manageable parts so that each member of the group is responsible for one aspect of what a mature reader does naturally. For instance, one student will act as the Summarizer and his job will be to read the story from a global standpoint in order to produce a brief plot summary while another group member will act as the Passage Person and do a close reading of the text in order to point out passages which are interesting or confusing in the story. Finally, when the group meets in class for discussion, all of the skills of a mature reader are reassembled, and the parts form a powerful whole. When a literature circle goes well, one can easily see many EFL students operating in something akin to what Vygostsky calls the "zone of proximal development;" that is to say, EFL students are able to discuss issues in English and to solve problems in collaboration with their peers that they cannot possibly deal with on their own. While the individual Role Sheets are fairly simple and straightforward, when they are combined in a discussion group, EFL students are able to engage in complex textual analysis and academic discussion. After the first literature circle cycle in my classes, I always give the students an anonymous post-discussion survey. One of the most common comments that I receive from students is that "I like literature circles because I feel that I can really discuss these stories in English since I know exactly what I'm supposed to talk about (do) when we discuss the stories in my group." The magic, of the Role Sheet lies in the fact that it gives students a clear purpose for reading the story; thus, when they meet in their groups in class, students are confident that they know what they are going to talk about in their group.

7. Discussion topics come from the students.

Because we are trying to promote the informal discussion of stories in the classroom, it is very important to allow students to generate the topics for discussion. This is often very difficult for teachers as we are accustomed to "teaching" students and asking them questions which we believe will help them to discover the themes or important points in stories; however, if we choose interesting stories for our students, we must trust them to find the themes for themselves. Of course, by breaking down the skills used by a mature reader, the Role Sheets provide a framework for students to use when talking about the stories in their literature circle groups, and this framework will ensure that students are having meaningful discussions even without teacher-directed questions.

8. Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digressions and open-ended questions are welcome.

Students are encouraged to share their opinions about the texts read for literature circles, so not all of the discussion will be "serious." If students are complaining to each other about the story in their group, or if they are laughing about the story, we need to allow these natural conversations to occur because these are exactly the types of things which mature readers might do when discussing a story with friends.

9. The teacher serves as a facilitator, not a group member or instructor.

Again, teachers need to step back and allow students to assume responsibility for guiding the literature circle discussions. For many teachers, this is very difficult, but if we just sit in on each group and take notes concerning both student participation and the topics of interest discovered in the groups, we can then use this information to provide additional cultural or historical information to the students in the form of a "mini lecture" in simplified English. Teachers can also exploit topics which the students are interested in by assigning group projects for evaluation. This writer often has students do poster presentations after finishing their discussion. In this way, students work together to produce something which can then be presented in English to the other groups.

10. A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.

Of course, if the literature circles are not fun, then we are simply repackaging the type of lessons which students tell us that they hate! Remember, the key is to promote informal talk about great stories!

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