Welcome to EFL Literature Circles
Using the Literature Circle Role Sheets with EFL Students
Finally, a look at the magic formula for using literature circles with EFL students.
First, as we have seen from the definition, literature circles are small reading groups that meet in the classroom to discuss texts. These groups should be student-directed, but at the same time, our students need some tools in order to have interesting, fun discussions about the stories that they"ve read. These tools come in the form of the Role Sheets that students use when meeting in their groups. There are five basic roles for EFL literature circle groups and one additional role for higher-level groups which can be introduced later in the term. Please click on the title of each role to view the Role Sheet as a pdf file. These Role Sheets are also available as pdf files if you simply follow the links below.
- The first role is that of the Group Discussion Leader whose job is to act as a facilitator in the group and to keep the discussion flowing. The Discussion Leader is directed to read the story a number of times so that she has a very solid grasp of the possible themes and the basic plot of the story. The Discussion Leader opens the discussion with a few open-ended questions concerning the story (see example questions on the bottom of the GDL Role Sheet) and then proceeds to call on other group members to share their findings with the group. For the first time through literature circles with EFL students, as was mentioned earlier, it might be a good idea to manage the groups so that the Discussion Leaders are fairly outgoing students. This writer did not do this the first time using literature circles, but since that time, I have "managed" the first round of literature circles, and there is always far less confusion with a strong GDL in each group. I also stress to the students that the GDL's job is not to be the "boss" but just to keep the conversation moving. All students are responsible to speak and to ask follow up questions.
- The second Role is that of the Summarizer . It is usually recommend that the Summarizer present the summary early in the discussion so that everyone can remember the plot of the story. It's important to emphasize that the summarizer gives a brief, but complete, summary of the plot. On the Role Sheet it says that the summary should be "a one or two minute summary," but most often students take at least twice that long to read their summaries in the first few literature circle cycles. The idea here is for the Summarizer to understand that they are not to copy too much from the text; rather, the Summarizer needs to retell the story in her own words choosing only the most important events in the narrative. Other students are encouraged to ask the summarizer to read the summary a second time if that will help everyone to understand the plot a little better. By paying careful attention to the plot of the story, the Summarizer is reading the story for general comprehension rather than studying literary language or devices. Many students have remarked that they really liked being the Summarizer because it forces them to read the story a number of times in order to pick out the most important points to present in their summary. Finally, students can also be taught how to make a simple plot diagram (Freytag's Pyramid) later in the term and then ask the Summarizer to write both a short narrative summary and to plot Freytag's Pyramid and share it with the group.
- The next role, Connector, is one that students often say is very difficult when we first start literature circles, but by the end of the year, many students think that both completing this role and listening to their classmates as Connector is the most interesting role. The Connector's role is to try to find connections between the text and the real world in which she lives. For example, the Connector may make connections between the thoughts, feelings or actions of characters in the story and family members, friends or classmates. Again, the Connector's role is quite challenging at first, so the teacher may want to assign this role to an outgoing student for the first round of literature circles. During class, this writer was amazed at some of the personal stories that students were sharing with each other after reading a section of The Joy Luck Club. These students were not only connecting with the story, they were also connecting with each other in ways that I had never witnessed in a Japanese college classroom.
- The fourth role is that of the Word Master. While the Group Discussion Leader and the Summarizer need to read the text and prepare to discuss the story from a global standpoint, the Word Master focuses on single words or very short phrases; thus, the WM is doing a very close reading of the text. The Word Master may choose only five words which he believes to be the most important words found in a story. Some students disliked the Word Master role in my class until I told them that they should look for special uses of common words and ask their classmates, "What do you think ______means in this situation?" Or "Why does the writer repeat the word _______ eight times in the first two pages of this story?" The Word Master is not confined to defining new words, but should be encouraged to look for those words that she believes are important in the story. Later in the term, after a mini-lesson on simile and metaphor, the Word Master can be invited to look for these literary devices and try to explain how they are used in the story. Finally, I usually invite the WMs to either go to the library or to come to my office and use an EFL English-to-English Dictionary to define their words in a way that the whole group can easily understand. As a matter of fact, all of the Role Sheets must be written using an English-to English dictionary rather than a J-E dictionary. This is important, of course, because these Role Sheets are actually notes which will guide the students' discussions; thus, everyone must write using vocabulary which can be easily understood by all members of the group.
- The last of the "traditional" roles is that of the Passage Person. Like the Word Master, the PP is asked to make a very close reading of the text and to look for well-written or key passages in the story. Like the Word Master, the Passage Person may also be asked to look for literary devices, such as metaphors, once they have been taught in class. In many classes, the PP quite often chooses passages which he finds confusing and then asks the group for help in understanding the passage. Some of the best discussion occurs as the students are trying to figure out difficult passages together; it is often at this point that one can readily see the theory of the "zone of proximal development" playing out in class. After having studied Freytag's Pyramid, some of the PPs choose to look for passages containing the Complication or the Climax of a story.
- Finally, a newly created role is that of the Culture Collector. This role was created in response to the number of times that students have struggled with the cultural underpinnings and historical backgrounds of some of the stories which they had read. To have one student focus on cultural issues later in the term will add a further level of both interest and complexity to the discussions; thus, this is a role which should be introduced later in the term and possibly should be confined to use with upper-intermediate students and above. The Culture CollectorÕs job is to look at the story and note both differences and similarities between the culture represented in the story and their own culture.
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