An illustration of how to use Reading Circles with students


Our recent post about reading circles generated a lot of interest and so we thought we'd follow up with a suggestion of how to apply the process to a particular text and put together a reading circle in practice.

So here goes..

As we said in our last post, the teacher lets students decide which story or article they want to read at a given linguistic level. However, there must be at least four (and a maximum of six) reading a text to make a viable group for a reading circle.

Maupassant _3The teacher might like to prod one or two more able students to join each group to ensure that conversation moves along at a steady pace. At the same time, the teacher as the facilitator should ensure that these students do not dominate the discussion.

For the purposes of this illustration, we will assume that enough students have chosen Guy de Maupassant's 'Vendetta' (which we have adapted on Read Listen Learn from the original story, and renamed 'Revenge').

The teacher should allow a realistic amount of time for students to read the text at home or together outside class. However, before doing so, the teacher should introduce roles for each member of the group. (For more detail on this, please refer to Mark Furr's article, 'Reading Circles', in OUP's 2011 'Bringing Extensive Reading into the Classroom'.)

The roles are:

  • The discussion leader, usually assigned to a confident member of the circle, who can be relied upon to read the text thoroughly and has the confidence to move conversation along.
  • The synthesiser, a role that requires an analytical approach to the text, as the student must summarise all the essential elements of the plot and omit unnecessary detail.
  • The vocabulary expert: the student with this role must choose half a dozen words from the text that are pivotal to the action of the story.
  • The bridge builder who tries to find parallels between the action of the story and modern life wherever they are studying, whether this is from stories in the press or from the institution they are studying in.
  • If more roles are needed, you might make a fifth, the passage finder: the student tries to find two or three passages in the story that most typify the action.
  • And even a sixth, as Vendetta is quite an old story, you could nominate a historian, who tries to show how life has changed since the action took place.

Each student should fill in a worksheet in line with their roles:

  • The discussion leader should record the questions s/he is going to ask in the group. In the case of 'Revenge', these might include:
  1. GroupsWhy is revenge so important to the old lady in the story?
  2. How do you feel about the victim in the story? Do you feel sorry for him?
  3. Do you feel the old lady's actions in training the dog were realistic?
  4. Why couldn't the police catch the murderer?
  5. Did you like the story and think it interesting?
  6. Could you guess at the beginning of the story what was going to happen at the end?
  • The synthesiser should summarise the story, perhaps as follows:

"A poor old mother's son has been murdered but his killer has escaped. The old lady promises her dead son that she will get revenge but it takes some time before she understands how she can do this. She has no family, friends or money to help her do this.

"The old lady at last decides not to give her dog any food because she wants to train it to attack her son's killer. She makes a figure of a man out of rags and straw and gets the dog to jump at its throat before it gets food. She does this again and again. One day, she crosses the water to the island where her son's killer is working and gets the hungry dog to attack the man, just like she has trained it. When he is dead, the old lady and the dog disappear."

  • Some key words the vocabulary expert might record are:
  1. revenge
  2. attack
  3. train
  4. throat
  5. murder
  6. feed
  • The bridge builder might write some comparisons between the action in the story and modern life, as follows:
  1. The old lady wants revenge for her murdered son. These days we can watch many, many action movies about men who want to kill the killers of their wives and children.
  2. Many people say that we must not take revenge. We need to contact the police so that they can take action, but we don't always feel the same when something terrible happens to us.

As the discussion continues, the synthesiser should write brief notes on the topics covered and students' opinions on the story.

As a follow-up activity, the students might make a presentation to talk about 'Revenge' to the rest of the class.

These are suggestions of course, rather than rules. We hope they help, let us know what you think....


Image of Guy de Maupassant - Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Graphic of circle of chairs -  copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo