On February 2, the book reviewer mentioned literature circles, particularly response logs, as a way to get into a book. If literature circles are new to you, Dr. Pamela Mitchell Legg, professor of Christian Education at Union-PSCE in Charlotte, offers the following help.
A group of high school girls gather each Wednesday evening for dinner and discussion of chapters in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series of books. Their conversation ranges over questions of what makes for lasting community, how community can “go with us” when we travel, move, or change, and what it means to find your own identity with the help of your community, as you “grow up.”
Each week, a church youth group blogs about the poems they love and hate in the collections You Hear Me? Poems and Writing by Teenage Boys, and Things I Have to Tell You: Poems and Writing by Teenage Girls. Then, on Sunday evenings, they meet in small groups to share poems they are writing about their own lives, in response to the ones they’ve read. Eventually, the youth group sponsors a poetry slam on a Sunday night.
In Vacation Bible School, the fourth and fifth graders are digging into The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis’ first volume in the Chronicles of Narnia. Each day, they come together with specific chapters read, with post-it notes intriguingly sticking out of the pages of their books.
The pastor reads the children’s book, Down the Road, aloud to the gathered children in worship, as the “children’s moment.” Then, the kindergartners-third graders leave congregational worship for time together, in which they engage in structured activities and dialogue around the book they’ve just encountered, using “Role Sheets” and “Response Logs”.
These are just four examples of real ways churches are engaging in the current educational strategy called “literature circles.” Begun originally in schools, from elementary through high school, literature circles have spread to other settings, and churches are just beginning to realize the potential. A literature circle is a small group that chooses its own reading material, meets on a regular predictable schedule, works carefully through their reading over time, uses specific strategies and techniques like “post-its” or “Role assignment sheets” or “Response Logs” (among many) to guide reading, and engages together in deep conversation around the reading. Literature circles are NOT book report sessions, nor are they dominated by a teacher with a lesson plan, nor are they simply loose “let’s get together and talk” times. Literature circles ARE peer led, highly participatory, and the “teacher” serves solely as a facilitator. Literature circles are NOT groups that give book reports, nor are they simply “book clubs” under another name, nor are they opportunities for a teacher to lecture on her favorite book. Instead, literature circles are a very intentional way for small groups to deeply engage novels, short stories, memoirs, biographies, poetry…indeed, any kind of literature, in ways that are peer-led, participatory, structured, and deeply engaged. There are well established concrete, practical strategies and techniques for literature circles to use, so a group’s time is not spent in vague surface conversation, but rather involves participants in really digging into what they are reading.
The “father” of the literature circle movement is usually identified as Harvey Daniels, a former school teacher who now serves a professor of education and moving force behind books, workshops, projects, and programs fostering literature circles. His basic text on literature circles, essential for anyone interested in learning more, is readily available, very practical, and quite accessible: Harvey Daniels, Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (Sternhouse Publishers: 2002). This book will introduce you to all the possibilities and techniques of Literature Circles. The examples mentioned in the beginning of this article are indeed real examples, but are simply meant to be stimulus for you to think of possibilities for literature circles with children and youth in your own context. If you have used literature circles in the church, have ideas for literature circles, or want to ask questions, please contact us on this blog!