Literature Circles – Collaborative Learning in the EFL Classroom

15 June 2012 – Osman Bedel –

Literature Circles

Most English language learners often say that reading, which is a vital element of language learning, is boring and difficult. This problematic situation might be the result of not practicing EFL reading in the right way. So the main question is, if there is an effective way of using literature in the EFL classroom? Based on this, the subject of my talk was mainly about my recent research on what language interactions and classroom discourse are taking place in Literature Circles and how this might affect the language development of EFL learners.

Key issues

Reflecting the practice of literature circles in language learning, they are mainly observed as reader response centered and discussion groups are formed by book choice depending on individual student interest. Moreover, the discussions are structured for student independence, responsibility and ownership. The activities, intended as a context in which to apply all four skills, are guided primarily by student insights and questions. All in all, literature circles are extremely flexible and adaptable.

The idea is derived from adult book clubs, which have always been popular among bookworms for many centuries. In 1980s these book clubs were applied in L1 English classes in the US and quickly became popular all over the world as literature circles. The last phase of these book clubs is using them in foreign language teaching and is being practiced since 2000s.

Practical implications

For every reading circle, students perform tasks corresponding to their rotating roles, sharing their ideas and commenting on others’ interpretations about a previously read chapter of a graded reader or authentic fiction in English by collaborating with each other. In this way they have a chance of practicing their language for more realistic purposes than hypothetical situations. For preparation and during the discussions learners may use role-sheets and student journals to organize their ideas for the discussions.

Literature circles promote peer discussions, negotiation of ideas, and the expression of comprehension, which are the most common features in foreign language learning. Daniels describes literature circles as a form of independent reading, ‘structured as collaborative small groups, and guided by reader-response principles in light of current comprehension research’ (Daniels 2002: 38). Similarly, Schlick Noe observes that ‘you may hear talks about events and characters in the book, the author’s craft, or personal experiences related to the story’ (Schlick Noe and Johnson 1999: ix). Finally, Furr characterizes the collaborative process as both comprehensible and interesting to talk about texts, and states that ‘it consists a framework which makes having a real discussion in English an achievable goal for students’ (Furr 2009: 5).

Future considerations

The review further extends to learner autonomy in language education, digital literacy and modern curriculum development and blended learning at schools in relation to possible future applications of literature circles in language learning. Learner Autonomy, which is the core of literature circles in EFL, has recently been a burning issue in foreign language education, especially in relation to lifelong learning skills. It has transformed conventional practices in the language classroom and has given rise to self-access language learning centers around the world.

The recent research on digital literacy suggests English as a global language and that the domination of online discourse is in English and a critical threshold is approaching where the majority of interpersonal communications will be computer-mediated, rather than face-to-face; and this trend will likely accelerate. This is another reason why online reading and discussions should be practiced in language learning spheres. Blended learning in educational research on the other hand refers to a mixing of different learning environments. It combines traditional face-to-face classroom methods with more modern computer-mediated online activities which can be adapted to be used with online literature circles.


The outcomes of this research about the use of literature circles in extensive reading context suggest that, as a balanced element of the school curriculum, literature circles can provide an exciting way to promote student engagement in extensive reading by means of cooperative learning and collaborative work and offer the potential to promote reading for enjoyment.

The main concern of the talk has been over how literature circles affect the language development of English learners and the observations prove that, during the process, the students are highly motivated for reading and in that way improve their interactional skills in English. They experience a different atmosphere of practicing language with similar tasks as they always do but this time for a more realistic purpose and in a more authentic environment.



Daniels, H. 2002. Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse.

Furr, M. 2009. Bookworms Club Reading Circles. Oxford: OUP.

Schlick Noe, K. L. and Johnson, N. J. 1999. Getting Started With Literature Circles. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers.


“Literature Circles: Collaborative Learning in the EFL classroom” IATEFL, 2012 Glasgow, UK