I use literature circles with every novel I teach. They're a great way to get students actively engaged in whatever we're reading, and really put the onus on them to identify key themes, passages, plot developments, connections, and literary devices. Literature circles allow students to smartly articulate the exchange that occurs between a reader and a text.
In an academic age where high stakes bubble tests and formulaic, calculated responses to mundane prompts seem to trump creativity and self-expression, lit circles allow for authenticity and ownership while also reinforcing the higher-order habits of mind found in successful test takers.
Click here for the literature circle assignment I use with my students. Hawaiian high school educator Bruce Schauble's in-depth lit circle page can be accessed here. Another nice site is LiteratureCircles.com. This other site has 16 different lit circle links. Check out these literature circle roles from an Alaskan middle school teacher, including "character captain" and "literary luminary." Even more literature circle resources can be found here at Web English Teacher.
Nancy Patterson's literature circle role sheets are available here.
* UPDATE * Click here for a newer post on literature circles, including six new jobs!
Please feel free to share your own experiences with literature circles, or comment with questions about implementing them in your own classroom.