Home > Uncategorized > 8 Reasons, 7 Tips and A Rubric: The Digital Literature Circle

8 Reasons, 7 Tips and A Rubric: The Digital Literature Circle

Maybe you’ve heard of a literature circle before – the idea is that students sit in small groups (maybe 4/5, depending on the needs of students), and talk about a piece of literature they’ve been reading.  It could be a long novel or a short article, but I think that longer pieces are more common.  These circles have the great benefit of students speaking out loud about their own interpretations/understandings, and gaining ideas from other students.  The draw back is that as a teacher, you can’t hear every idea when there are 4 groups speaking all at once about different topics/books.  There is also no record to assess (usually formatively) and get information for feedback and monitoring progress/growth.  But now with the technology of the last 15 years, we can easily have literature circles in a virtual environment, easing some of these issues.

Reasons to Use Digital Literature Circles

1 – Students Get Feedback Students voice their opinions and then can get feedback from their peers.

2 – Community Knowledge As others share ideas, students gain new perspectives and ideas.  The community knowledge grows, and therefore the individuals knowledge grows.

3 – There Is Something to Assess Because there is a digital record of the conversations, the teacher can monitor student progress and provide feedback.  If a proper rubric is created, you could even start considering formative assessment, as I have done sometimes.

4 – All Students Can Participate Often, in a class discussion, only a handful of students get the opportunity to speak. Online, every students can converse and share their opinions

5 – All Students Will Participate Even in a setting where students use real names, they are more likely to participate.  Students are more comfortable online.

6 – The Level of Responses is Amazaing! Students have time to think about their ideas and formulate their responses.  Keep high expectations and you will be surprised and overjoyed with what students say, and how they say it.

7 – Develop Disciplinary Discourse In a science or social students class (maybe even in math), students can discuss non-fiction that they have read, and begin to use the language of the discipline.

8 – Great Essay Prep At the end of a Literature circle, if students need to write a response or essay they have lots of ideas to build on and a record of it all to assist in their writing.  If done properly, the conversations should even include references to quotations or external sources to back up their opinions/thoughts

How To Use Digital Literature Circles

I usually treat digital (virtual) literature circles as something that happens synchronously between students and teachers during class time, but it doesn’t have to be.  On a discussion board, 5 groups of students discuss within 5 different discussion threads about something they’ve ready, and I will often use if for just short pieces of reading, both fiction and non-fiction in the content areas.  A few tips from an experienced (I’ve probably done this in over 100 classrooms) Digital Conversationalist

1 – Have Expectations and Talk About Them The very first thing you need to do is talk to your students about your expectations of them online.  Have discussions regarding digital citizenship, and what it might mean to be a good digital citizen.  Give respect to students and tell them they need to do the same to their peers.  It’s not ok to call someone stupid, or their ideas stupid.  We want to challenge each other to think about thoughts, but it’s not about the person, it is about their ideas, and we will all grow our understandings by learning from each other.

2 – Provide A Rubric You must know what you expect of students, and how you want them to respond.  Show them how you will decide if they are doing a good job, so they know what to strive for

3 – Monitor Student Conversations Just as you would monitor a class conversation that is verbal, monitor online behavior.  Correct inappropriate behaviour and talk to students, be part of the conversations and guide them

4 – Reflect on Student Work Out Loud After the first 15ish minutes of students posting online, stop them, and ask them to look up at the projector (hopefully you have one).  Read some students posts out loud, and have discussions about what is great about each post, and how they add to the conversation.  If there are inappropriate comments, call students on it (without using their names), be stern, and tell them you don’t ever want to see that again.

5- Model Be a part of student conversations (as mentioned), and model what types of comments you expect of students.

6 – Backing Up Ideas If your kids are conversing online, they have internet access so take advantage.  If appropriate, get students to look for online resources and references to back up their ideas.  Challenge students to find examples in the novel or text that they are reading to back up what they are saying.

7 – Scaffold Sometimes students lack basic skills (I’ve seen this even in IB and AP classes at the high school level). You will probably need to teach them how to ask questions and make references (See tip 6).

Example Rubric For Science Class

Very quickly, here is the science discussion rubric. It comes with teacher notes and a brief little assignment at the top.  It also comes with teacher notes on how I linked it to curriculum in Alberta.  I used it for a current events discussion I used to have my grade 10 and 11 science students take part in.  Please feel free to use and modify, but I would appreciate being credited.  If you would like to publish/present this in part or whole please contact me.

Keep in mind, as with all new ways of learning, this might be a bit of a challenge.  It usually takes me two 45 minutes blocks to get students proficient with this strategy, but it is worth the time.  Just think deeply be reflective and I’m sure you’ll figure it out.  In the future I plan to make a post about some different websites you could use to set up a discussion board for digital literature circles.

I hope I’ve given you lots to think about.  If you have any questions whatsoever, please ask in the comments below.  I would be happy to help and you with your implementation.


A great resource for scaffolding strategies is Inquiring Minds Learn to Read and Write by Wilhelm Wilhelm and Boas (2009)

A great resource on how to develop discourse in the classroom comes from Fisher, Frey and Rothenberg called  Content-Area Conversations.

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