Literature Circles in the Middle School Social Studies & Science Classroom

At the end of second quarter, in between Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break, I began a lesson experiment in my Science classes. I gave a shot at implementing literature circles and I am excited to report that I am very impressed with what I saw. Of course, I was not surprised to see my self-motivated students do extremely well in this environment, they seem to do very well with whatever I give them … always up for a new task or challenge. HOWEVER, it was my students who are not self-motivated and tend to shy away with engaging in lessons that caught my attention. Their classroom engagement and participation increased! For some this meant that they opened up their book and read and others began taking ownership of their learning experience. No matter what the case, ALL students performed better on their lesson check at the end of going through the sections with their literature circle type learning.

Each day, the students came in and completed their bell ringer – a question from yesterday’s lesson. Once I was finished with role and other beginning of period duties, I asked them to get their books while I passed out the following template:

First, we read aloud the section of the lesson together as a class. Second, students completed their role individually: visualizer, questioner, word nerd, or summarizer. Once they completed their individual sections they met in “expert groups” where all of the visualizers, questioners, word nerds, or summarizers would meet together to discuss what they completed on their individual note catchers. This gave students a chance to update their information before bringing it back to their home team. During team time, each student would present the information to their teams and each team member would be responsible for getting all the information. At the end of this time, each student would have an entire note catcher filled out for the section of reading. Before class was finished we would discuss the individual sections by using popsicle sticks to randomly call on students to talk about the stuff listed on their note catchers. As I increased the discussion to higher order learning questions, I would take volunteers to answer the questions – a way to differentiate the whole class discussion.

As I stated, the majority of my students no matter what their prior performance was did extremely well on their lesson checks. Upon student self- assessment, I found students thought that completing the lesson check was easier with the use of their note catchers and found they were more knowledgeable with the subject because of the collaboration they had with their classmates. In addition, I found myself less stressed by not lecturing the information only to have a handful of students participate and engage in the lessons while the remaining students were spectators (or pretended to be).

So of course, the most obvious thing to do going forward is to implement these type of literature circles in both my Science and Social Studies classes! In reflection, I did observe some cons that could be eliminated with some changes in my classroom layout, the literature circle roles, the note catchers, and the class lesson plan.

Classroom Layout

1st semester began with small groups, but because I did not set them up with expectations and was not ready to manage them they failed and the students returned to rows of science tables across the room. This change was beneficial to our survival. But now that I have a purpose for them to be in groups, I put together 8 teams around the room with different layouts based on the needs of my space. The following is the new classroom layout:

Each square represents a science table and each rectangle represents a book shelf. Over winter break my husband and I rearranged the classroom as well as built 8 bookshelves to make a better learning environment in the classroom. This will also give us space to organize our books and note catcher packets for each team during each period. Here are a few pictures of our efforts, I am so excited at how it turned out!

Literature Circle Roles & Note Catchers

These were to benefit by being better defined with clear expectations for the students. I have created this Google Slide presentation to share with the students as well as created a packet to teach the roles with guided practice while completing the first section of their new topics. The roles are Discussion Director, Summarizer, Word Nerd, and Graphic Guru. In some circumstances to better provide better differentiation for my IEP & EL students I will provide adapted notes for them to complete and share.

Discussion Director

Your role is to develop a list of questions for this part of the text that your group might want to discuss. Do not worry about the small details; your task is to help your classmates talk over the big ideas in the reading and share their thoughts.usually the best discussion questions come from your own thoughts and concerns as you read. You can also use some general questions to develop topics for your group. Come up with at least 4 good questions that do not have a yes or no answer.

Copy of NoteCatcher available on Coffee Girl Cafe.


Your role is to prepare a brief summary of today’s reading. Your group discussion will start with your one to two minute statement that covers the key points, main highlights, and general idea of today’s reading assignment.

Copy of NoteCatcher available on Coffee Girl Cafe.

Word Nerd

(because “Vocabularyer” just does not work) – Your role is to be on the lookout for the important terms in today’s reading. You can focus on terms required for understanding the topic and other words that may not be familiar with your group. Point out the terms to your group. Help them understand the meaning of the term and how it relates to the topic.

Copy of NoteCatcher available on Coffee Girl Cafe.

Graphic Guru

Your role is to take all the information you have read and make a graphic organizer to show your understanding. Use keywords, phrases, and examples from your reading to make your organizer. You can use any type of graphic organizers you would like: web, pyramid, chart, venn diagram, concept map, outline, etc… 

Copy of NoteCatcher available on Coffee Girl Cafe.

Class Lesson Plan

To better meet the needs of my students and use to most of our time given to us, I have developed a new class lesson plan for our daily readings/learning.

  1. Bell Ringer
  2. Class Mantra (pictured right)
  3. Announcements
  4. Objectives
  5. Read Aloud section as a class
  6. Individual Role Work
  7. Expert Groups
  8. Team Time
  9. Exit Ticket Questions
  10. Dismissal
  • Bell Ringer – students will read section individually or complete another task based on the needs of today’s lesson. Instrumental music is played in the background.
  • Class Mantra – Music is off and we repeat these words of a signal that our class time together has begun. A Lin Manuel Miranda tweet that Megan DuVarney Forbes – Too Cool for Middle School inspired me to complete daily to create classroom culture.
  • Announcements – anything the students need to now about today or this week.
  • Objectives – read aloud, students know where we are going!
  • Read Aloud Section as a class – textbook software reads the section for all to listen and follow along
  • Individual Role Work (pictured below)
  • Expert Groups (pictured below)
  • Team Time (pictured below)
  • Exit Ticket Questions – Students have the opportunity to practice what they learned and then reviewed in a whole class discussion. These questions are likely to be seen again in worksheets, quizzes, and tests! They are also the answers to the days objectives.
  • Dismissal (pictured below)

So this was a longer post than I thought it was going to be, but I really got to think about my new procedures and expectations in this new type of learning that will be taking place in my classroom next week. I hope this was beneficial to you and maybe inspired you to try something outside the box.

Are you interested in the resources I shared in this post? Come visit me on my new Facebook Group – Coffee Girl Cafe to receive them for free! In addition, you may join in discussions, book talks, and more.

Have you implemented literature circles in your classroom? Please let me know in the comments below!

9 thoughts on “Literature Circles in the Middle School Social Studies & Science Classroom

  1. I’ve been a science teacher for a billion years, but I always just let my eyes glaze over when I heard the term “Literature circle” because I thought it didn’t apply to me. I never made the link between a literature circle and an informational text. This is a great way to incorporate common core into the science classroom in a way that’s far more meaningful than just “read and answer questions.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am finding this to be the norm. My emphasis in college was English so I always seem to revert these practices. The kids loved it and they were engaged! I am so glad I took the risk to try it out ☕️


  2. I love how thought out the roles of each student are. As a life long student myself I’m not a fan of less than organized group work. This is a great resource for any teacher.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank yo so much, Tina. I know there are many students who despise group work, it is important to me that they have a valuable experience that will help them learn the information now as well as know how to collaborate with people in their future.


  3. I am so motivated to do a literature circle in my classroom! The organization and roles of each student fit in so well with my classroom expectations and emphasis on student-driving learning.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great post! I create quite a few science texts for NGSS topics. This would be a great way for teachers to use them in the classroom too!

    Liked by 1 person

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