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Literature Circles: What You Need to Know

Literature Circles: What You Need to Know

Lately, everywhere I turn teachers are talking about literature circles–and for good reason! If you’re looking for a way to create rigor in your classroom and to cultivate authentic, real-life skills in your students, then literature circles may just be the activity your curriculum needs!

In this blog post, I’ll cover everything you need to know about literature or lit circles. 

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I personally use and love, or think my readers will find useful.

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What is a Literature Circle?

Simply, in a literature circle, students discuss a piece of literature together. Usually, this is done in small groups. 

Traditionally in English classes, the whole class reads one literary work together. The students may complete several assignments around the text before completing a final essay or project as a capstone to the unit.

In a literature circles unit, however, there may be several groups of students with each group reading a different novel. These groups of students study, read, and work together to understand their text. 

The level of structure in a literature circle will vary, but they usually include some structured and some unstructured discussions amongst students. 

Are Literature Circles Effective?

At the time of writing, literature circles are considered to be one of the best practices for teaching secondary English and are gaining in popularity.

Literature circles combine some of the most effective teaching strategies we know of for language development: independent reading , collaborative discussion, and student-centered learning.

Lit Circles Encourage Choice

A benefit of literature circles is that they encourage student choice.

We know that when students feel that they have a say, they are more engaged. Allowing students to choose their text allows them to feel more empowered and involved in their own learning.

Literature circles also allow students some time for unstructured conversation around literature. Answering worksheet questions will get wearisome for even the best of students, but highly engaging conversations about interesting texts never get old. 

Lit Circles Can Be More Authentic Ways of Interacting with Texts

One of the great features of literature circles is that they mirror the way readers actually interact with the texts that they read.

Literature circles invite students to discuss, question, and debate literature the same way that adults in a book club might. 

While reading worksheets might be an effective way of making sure students read, they don’t mirror real life. When have you ever put down a great book in your adult life before immediately starting a book report on it?

The traditional assignments teachers often give students work for accountability, but they rarely instill the kind of routines and habits that lifelong readers use to stay lifelong readers. 

Lit circles, however, can do this. They encourage authentic engagement with a text. 

Want to learn more about the pedagogy behind literature circles? Here are some of the best professional development books on this topic:

Literature Circles Vs. Book Clubs

Literature circles and book clubs are similar in many ways:

  • Lit circles and book clubs provide students with choices
  • Both provide opportunities for small group discussion
  • Both involve a variety of core texts in the classroom instead of a single novel or literary work 

But there are some key differences. Literature circles tend to be more structured with a focus on an academic outcome than book clubs.  

In a literature circle unit, students may only have three or four novels to choose from. Their groups might be anywhere from five to ten students. All of the novel choices will share a key quality such as a theme, historical time period, or author.

In a book club, students might have more than ten different novel choices that vary greatly. These novels may or may not have a unifying characteristic. Student groups may be as small as three or four students. 

Usually, book clubs are focused on getting students to engage with and enjoy a text . Alternatively, literature circles are more focused on getting students to analyze a text.

Therefore, book club discussions may be more unstructured and less focused (“Who’s your favorite character?”).

Literature circle discussions will be more structured and focused on literary craft (“Which characters are dynamic and which are static?”)

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How Do You Conduct a Literature Circle?

Every teacher will, of course, have his or her own way of structuring a literature circle. If this is your first time, however, it may help to have a few steps to follow.

Here’s my advice for creating and conducting literature circles. (But don’t be afraid to add your own flair to your lit circles unit!)

Step 1: Decide on Your Academic Goals

First, you should know why you’re conducting literature circles. What skills or topics are you trying to teach?  Knowing the end goal will help you select novels that will support your educational mission.

If your only goal is to teach a standard or skill, then you should choose novels that will serve this purpose. For example, if you want students to practice writing personal narratives, assign memoirs.

Teachers Pay Teachers Cover for It's Lit Teaching resource: Black Lives Matter Social Justice Lit Circle Bundle

But if you’re using a literature circle to teach a genre, your novel choices should all be from that genre. For example, if you’re teaching a dystopian unit using lit circles, you’ll obviously choose books from the dystopian genre.

Let’s say that you wanted to teach a social justice unit in your English class. (I highly recommend this! Social justice gets my students engaged and talking every time!).

If your unifying concept is social justice, then you’ll obviously want to choose novels with a social justice theme.

In my Black Lives Matter Social Justice Literature Circle bundle , I niched down even further and focused on the Black Lives Matter Movement.

I decided to include The Hate U Give , Dear Martin , and All American Boys . Together they offered a variety of protagonists, story lengths, and Lexile levels. 

When choosing novels, give as much variety as possible.

Step 2: Choose a Summative Assessment

A summative assessment is any final assignment that is meant to demonstrate mastery of a skill or concept. This could be an essay, a test, or a project. (I’m a fan of authentic assessments as summative assignments.)

what is a literature focus unit

Will your students be completing a literary analysis essay at the end of their literature circles? Completing a formal discussion? Will they present a speech?

You always want to lesson plan with the end in mind. Once you know what the students’ final outcome should be, then you can plan backward.

What skills will need to be taught? How much time will you need to give them to work on this final project?

For example, when designing my Black Lives Matter Social Justice Literature Circle Bundle , I knew I wanted students to deliver a speech . A speech, after all, is a powerful way to speak out against social injustice.

I wanted students to research an injustice that spoke to them. At the end of the quarter, they present a speech on it to the class. 

Once I knew that students would be giving a speech , I made sure to provide time every week for students to research, outline, and practice their speeches. 

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Step 3: Determine the Level of Structure for Your Literature Circles

We’ve already discussed that literature circles will be more structured and more analytical than a book club. But even within the realm of literature circles, some are more structured than others.

The amount of structure will inevitably affect the type of assignments students complete.

Loosely Structured

One less structured method could be to have all students working on the same assignments but responding with content from the novel they chose.

For example, maybe one week you present a mini-lesson on characterization and then students analyze the protagonist from their novels specifically. 

The advantage to this is that you have to prepare less. All the students get one lesson and one assignment. 

The disadvantage is that you aren’t able to really dig into the nitty-gritty of each novel with the students that are reading it. 

Tightly Structured

For you type-A teachers, you could create assignments specific to each novel. For example, each student will have reading questions to answer specific to the novel that he or she is reading . 

Obviously, this will take way more prep time on your part. But students will be able to dive more deeply into the novels that they read.

In my Black Lives Matter Social Justice Literature Circle Bundle , all students will complete the same general assignments: reading questions, quizzes, writing prompts, book discussions, etc. But each assignment is specific to the novel that each student is reading. 

This way, each student is doing work individualized to his or her novel of choice, but the grade book is still essentially the same for each student. 

Step 4: Create A Calendar for Reading and Discussing

Once you have the books, the summative assessment, and the lessons and assignments for students along the way, all that’s left to do is plan with a calendar. 

This will vary greatly depending on the ability of your students, the lengths of the novels, and how much homework time you are comfortable assigning. If students will be doing all of the reading in class, you may want to opt for shorter books or do a graphic novel lit circle instead. 

Obviously, different students will read at different paces and groups with longer books may take more time to finish than groups with shorter books. Keep this in mind when planning group and whole class activities. 

If you’re planning a unit that will take a whole quarter (nine weeks of instruction time), aim for about five weeks of reading. This will give you one week to introduce the literature circles and for students to choose their novels and two weeks to wrap up the unit and complete final assessments. 

From there, you can break up each novel into five mostly equal parts. For example, if Group A’s book is 250 pages, they’ll all need to read 50 pages each week. Group B’s book might only be 200 pages, so they’ll need to read just 40 pages each week. 

Be very clear with your expectations for reading . How much will students need to do outside of class? How much time will they be given to read during class? I recommend giving them a calendar or list of deadlines with the expectations on it. 

You’ll also need to decide how often the literature circles will meet. I recommend letting them discuss their novels at least once a week. This will keep students accountable for their reading and provide some intrinsic motivation to keep them going with the unit.

Running Literature Discussion Groups

What will you have students do when they meet with their groups? That’s up to you!

You may want to provide students with a list of questions to answer or conversation starters. If your students are fairly independent, they may not need these; they might be able to jump into a discussion on their own!

I recommend, however, not dictating every moment that students discuss together. The magic of literature circles happens when student conversation goes “off script” and they begin to explain confusing areas to one another or naturally debating the author’s intent. 

We want to encourage students to come up with their own questions or goals for their discussions. One of literature circles’ greatest benefits is independent learning! 

It’s wise to provide students with literature circles roles and goals, however, to keep students on task. We all know how easy it is for students’ conversations to stray away from the main objective. 

Literature Circle Group Roles

Google “Literature Circles Roles” or “Student Roles” and you’ll come across all kinds of creative roles for students to undertake while working together. The title of the job isn’t important; what matters is that each student feels responsible for the success of the group and feels included.  

That said, here are some basic roles that you can let students assume during their group meetings:

  • Facilitator : The facilitator guides the conversation, reads the questions aloud to the group, and keeps the discussion moving forward.
  • Timekeeper : The timekeeper makes sure that the group doesn’t spend too much time on a single question or task. He or she sets limits to the discussions and gently lets the group know when it’s time to move on or when time is running out. 
  • Recorder : The recorder acts as the group’s scribe, writing down collective answers or taking notes on the group’s big ideas. 
  • Encourager : The encourager makes sure that everyone is heard and given opportunities to share. During discussions, the encourager will make a point to specifically ask quiet group members for input or deliberately make sure that everyone has shared an idea before the group moves on. 
  • Summarizer : The summarizer takes everything that group members have shared, summarizes it, and helps the recorder decide what to write down. 

There are, of course, many more roles that you could create. (A fun option to add might be an Illustrator, who creates sketch notes of the group’s discussion!)

Roles may also vary depending on any tasks you give student groups to complete or depending on the book that students are reading. 

Make sure that students rotate through the group roles so that they have a chance to try a variety of different leadership tasks.

It’s ok for there to be double roles in large groups, too. For example, a six-person group may want two Recorders who take turns writing down responses.

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How Long Should Literature Circles Last?

This will vary a lot depending on the length of your class, the length of the novels, and the outcome goals of the literature circles. 

If students are reading full novels independently, I think you will probably need at least a full nine-week quarter for this. Especially if you are teaching other skills or concepts during the unit. 

If you’re in a model that has A and B days, in which you only see your classes every other day, you may even want to stretch literature circles out to a full semester.

But, if your students are doing literature circles around graphic novels or short stories, you could easily cut down a literature circle to just a few weeks. It all depends on how independently your students will be working. 

Use your best judgment. I always recommend leaving a “buffer week” for any unit planning. If you do this, you should be able to adjust a little as you go. 

In my Black Lives Matter Social Justice Literature Circle Bundle , I recommend completing the unit over the course of nine weeks: one week for a unit introduction, five weeks for reading and crafting speeches, one week for final book discussions and speech practice, and the last week for presenting speeches. Plus the magical buffer week!

The unit bundle comes with a suggested pacing guide, but even that would need to be adjusted by the educator according to the needs of his or her students. 

A Final Word on Literature Circles

If you want to give students choice, increase student independence, and reinforce a variety of skills and lifelong learning habits, then literature circles are the way to go!

Ready to try literature circles, but intimidated by the amount of prep work that they seem to need? Try my done-for-you, print-and-go (or upload-and-go!) Black Lives Matter Social Justice Literature Circle Unit . 

It includes everything you need to teach three Black Lives Matter-inspired novels, a speech project, and supplemental activities. Check it out here!

Teachers Pay Teachers Cover for It's Lit Teaching resource: Black Lives Matter Social Justice Lit Circle Bundle

A Guide to Using Literature-Based Units of Study

Have you been thinking about using literature-based units of study in your classroom?   This guide to using literature-based units of study may answer your questions.    

Guide to Using Literature-Based Units

Definition of Literature-Based Units of Study

First, let’s define a literature-based unit of study.  A literature-based unit of study are lessons made from a single or a series of books.  Lessons in the following areas of study may be included:

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Project Read Language Arts Program

Choosing the Right Book

Secondly,  and most importantly you need to pick a great book for your literature-based unit.   This book needs to capture your children’s imagination.  Consider the following when picking that right book: 

  • Child’s interests & needs
  • Learning objectives
  • Short, quick read
  • Offers room for theme exploration
  • Opens lesson possibilities
  • Makes connections to real world
  • Assessment opportunities

Guide to Using Literature-Based Units

Elements of a Literature-Based Unit of Study

Then, there are many elements to include when using a literature-based unit of study.  These aspects should be considered:  

  • Learning Objectives: Skills children will learn throughout unit
  • Age of Child: Literature chosen appropriate for child’s age or development
  • Literature Elements & Vocabulary: Characters, Setting, Problem/Solution, Literature Type, Vocabulary list
  • Discussion & Questions: List of questions about literature chosen to drive conversation
  • Related Literature: Other books that have the same theme or genre
  • Time Limit: Time needed to complete unit
  • Lesson Development: Activities and centers that can be used to meet the learning objectives in the areas of study chosen
  • Materials: Supplies needed to complete unit
  • Assessments: Evaluation tools to measure student growth of chosen learning objectives    

what is a literature focus unit

Four patterns of practice (literature focus units, literature...

Four patterns of practice (literature focus units, literature circles, reading and writing workshop, and thematic units) are highlighted in Chapter 2 from Language Arts Patterns of Practice. 

No one approach is best for all situations as teachers must consider the ways in which school contexts, students' strengths and needs, and resources influence how teachers select patterns of practice.

Describe each practice and give an example of each from the opening vignette (pp. 26-30 in the textbook) of Mrs. Miller-McColm's sixth grade class. 

Answer & Explanation

1. Literature Focus Units: • Description: Literature focus units involve a concentrated study of a particular piece of literature, often a novel or a book. The focus is on in-depth analysis and understanding of the text, along with related activities and discussions. • Example: In a literature focus unit, students might read a novel like "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee over several weeks. During this time, they would engage in discussions, analyze character development, explore themes, and complete assignments related to the novel. 2. Literature Circles: • Description: Literature circles are small, student-led discussion groups where students read the same book and meet regularly to discuss it. Each member of the group has a specific role (e.g., discussion leader, summarizer) to facilitate meaningful conversations. • Example: In a literature circle, students in Mrs. Miller-McColm's class might choose books from a pre-selected list and form groups. They would meet periodically to discuss their chosen book, with each member taking on a unique role to contribute to the discussion. 3. Reading and Writing Workshop: • Description: Reading and writing workshops provide students with opportunities for independent reading and writing. These workshops often involve a structured schedule where students engage in reading and writing activities, receive feedback, and revise their work. • Example: Mrs. Miller-McColm might implement a reading and writing workshop in her class by having dedicated periods where students choose books to read independently and also work on their writing projects. They might receive peer or teacher feedback and have time to revise and improve their writing. 4. Thematic Units: • Description: Thematic units center around a specific theme or topic. They involve the exploration of various texts, including literature, articles, and multimedia, that relate to the chosen theme. This approach integrates multiple aspects of language arts. • Example: Mrs. Miller-McColm could design a thematic unit around the theme of "cultural diversity." In this unit, students would explore literature, articles, and multimedia materials related to different cultures, discuss the impact of diversity, and create projects that reflect their understanding of the theme.

Literature Focus Units: A literature focus unit is a comprehensive approach to studying a particular piece of literature. It involves a deep exploration of a single text over an extended period. Here's a more in-depth examination of this approach: • Description: • Literature focus units emphasize the intensive study of a specific literary work, such as a novel, play, or poem. • The focus is on understanding the text at a profound level, examining themes, characters, literary techniques, and historical or cultural context. • Activities often include close reading, group discussions, essay writing, and creative projects related to the text. • Example: • Mrs. Miller-McColm's sixth-grade class embarks on a literature focus unit centered around the novel "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. • The students spend several weeks reading the novel, dissecting its themes of racism and social justice, and engaging in discussions about the characters' development and moral dilemmas. • They also write essays analyzing the symbolism in the book and participate in a class debate on one of the novel's central issues. • Advantages: • In-depth exploration of a single text promotes a deep understanding of literary elements and themes. • Encourages critical thinking and analytical skills. • Fosters a sense of literary appreciation and a love for reading. • Challenges: • May limit exposure to a variety of texts and genres. • Requires a significant amount of time dedicated to a single work. Literature Circles: Literature circles are small, student-led discussion groups where participants read the same book and meet regularly to discuss it. Here's a more comprehensive look at this approach: • Description: • Literature circles typically consist of small groups of students, each with a specific role, such as discussion leader, summarizer, questioner, and connector. • Group members read a designated portion of the book independently and then come together to discuss it. • Literature circle roles encourage active engagement, thoughtful discussion, and shared responsibility. • Example: • In Mrs. Miller-McColm's class, students form literature circles by selecting books from a list provided by the teacher. • Each group chooses a novel, assigns roles, and meets regularly to discuss their reading assignments. • The discussion leader initiates conversations, the summarizer recaps the reading, the questioner poses thought-provoking questions, and the connector relates the text to other literary works or real-life experiences. • Advantages: • Promotes student autonomy and ownership of the reading process. • Encourages peer-led discussions and critical thinking. • Allows for diverse book choices to accommodate varying interests. • Challenges: • Requires careful planning to ensure productive discussions. • Some students may need guidance to fulfill their roles effectively. Reading and Writing Workshop: The reading and writing workshop is an instructional approach that emphasizes independent reading and writing. It provides opportunities for students to explore texts and express their thoughts through writing. Here's a more detailed examination: • Description: • Reading and writing workshops allocate dedicated time for students to engage in independent reading and writing activities. • These workshops often follow a structured schedule, with periods for reading, writing, sharing, peer feedback, and revision. • Students have choices in selecting reading materials and writing topics. • Example: • In Mrs. Miller-McColm's classroom, students participate in a reading and writing workshop model. • During the reading portion, they choose books that align with their interests and reading levels and spend time reading independently. • The writing phase involves students working on various writing projects, such as personal narratives, persuasive essays, or poetry. • After completing drafts, students share their writing with peers for feedback, revise their work, and ultimately create final pieces. • Advantages: • Fosters a love for reading by allowing students to choose books they are passionate about. • Encourages the development of writing skills through practice and revision. • Provides opportunities for peer collaboration and feedback. • Challenges: • Requires effective time management to balance reading and writing activities. • Teachers need to provide guidance and support for individualized reading and writing goals. Thematic Units: Thematic units revolve around a central theme or topic, integrating various texts, activities, and subjects to explore that theme comprehensively. Here's a deeper analysis of this approach: • Description: • Thematic units focus on a specific theme or topic that connects various aspects of language arts, including reading, writing, speaking, and listening. • Students engage in a multidisciplinary exploration of the theme through literature, articles, multimedia, and real-world connections. • Thematic units often culminate in projects or presentations related to the theme. • Example: • Mrs. Miller-McColm designs a thematic unit on "cultural diversity." • Throughout the unit, students read literature from diverse cultures, such as "Esperanza Rising" by Pam Muñoz Ryan, explore articles about multiculturalism, and engage in discussions about the importance of understanding and appreciating different cultures. • They also work on projects that involve researching and presenting aspects of various cultures, fostering an understanding of diversity and inclusion. • Advantages: • Encourages critical thinking by examining a theme from multiple perspectives. • Integrates language arts skills with other subject areas. • Promotes a holistic understanding of complex topics. • Challenges: • Requires careful planning and coordination to integrate various texts and activities. • May involve additional time for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Considerations for Choosing Patterns of Practice: Selecting the most appropriate pattern of practice depends on several factors, including the specific goals of instruction, the needs and interests of students, available resources, and the teacher's pedagogical style. Mrs. Miller-McColm's choice of patterns of practice in her sixth-grade class should align with these considerations, ensuring effective language arts instruction that meets the diverse needs of her students. In conclusion, these four patterns of practice in language arts education offer various approaches to teaching and learning. Each approach has its strengths and challenges, making it essential for educators like Mrs. Miller-McColm to make informed decisions based on their instructional goals and the unique characteristics of their students. By carefully selecting and implementing these patterns, teachers can create engaging and effective language arts instruction that fosters a love for reading, writing, and critical thinking.

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Literary Focus



Stack of Books

—The Framework—

Our curricular framework contains 15 essential elements to ensure that every unit not only has a clear, consistent focus, but also requires students to read closely, write clearly, and think deeply about the issues raised in any literary work., the order of the 15 elements in the framework reflects the sequence we use when planning our units and not necessarily the order in which we present material to students.  we adhere to wiggins and mctighe's "backward design" model by creating our final assessments first to ensure that we maintain a clear, consistent focus for the entire unit from beginning to end. once we select an ap literary argument prompt and create a corresponding authentic assessment, we structure each subsequent element with those final assignments in mind to ensure that students will be prepared for those culminating activities., the elements, 1.    ap literary argument 2.    authentic assessment 3.    essential questions 4.    journal discussion 5.    ap poetry analysis 6.    author background 7.    vocabulary 8.    point of view 9.    characterization 10.  setting 11.  style analysis 12.  ap passage analysis 13.  literary criticism 14.  ap reading quizzes 15.  final exam.

Image by Wadi Lissa

AP Literary Argument

Once we have selected a particular novel or play to teach, the first step in our planning process is to determine the subject of the final essay.  

Our goal at Literary Focus is to prepare students for the rigor and challenge of college-level coursework, so one way we achieve that purpose is to use AP Literature essay prompts whenever possible.

Even though students will not write the final essay until they finish the novel or play, we use the AP Literary Argument prompt to provide a clear, consistent focus for organizing the entire unit.

Authentic Assessment

While the AP Literary Argument prompt provides an academic focus for the unit, the Authentic Assessment makes students apply the lessons learned from the literary work to some relevant, real-world situation.

The Authentic Assessment could be a project, an exhibit, a presentation, or a performance that allows students to address an issue raised in the novel or play and consider its potential significance in their own lives.

In many ways, the Authentic Assessment is the most important activity of the unit because it requires students to move beyond the text to find relevance in the lessons one can learn from reading literature. 


Essential Questions

The Essential Questions ask students to think deeply about the philosophical issues or concerns that are raised in a particular novel or play.

By their very nature, Essential Questions are complex and open-ended, which means student answers should always be provisional and subject to change upon further consideration. 

Essential Questions challenge students to think not only about issues raised in the literature, but also about their own lives, the person they would like to be, and the society in which they live.

Journal Discussion

The Journal activity requires students to respond to a thought-provoking quotation that suggests a possible answer to one of the Essential Questions.

Once students have posted their Journal to the online discussion board, they respond to two of their classmates' entries, allowing the discussion to evolve organically as students consider more fully what the quotation means, whether or not they agree with its claims, and how the ideas are relevant to their lives.

After the online discussion board, students are prepared to compare and contrast the ideas in the quotation with those expressed in the novel or play, which ultimately becomes the focus of the Socratic seminar at the end of the unit.

Image by Iris Wang

AP Poetry Analysis

Before we begin reading the novel or play, students first analyze a poem that addresses the Essential Questions and thematically connects to the Journal quotation and the literary work itself.

To prepare students for the challenge of college-level coursework, we present the poem in the form of an AP Poetry Analysis prompt, which will be the first essay that students write in the unit.

The goal is not only for students to practice analyzing poetry, but to begin thinking about the important themes that are also contained in the novel or play they are about to read.

Author Background

Once students have considered the significance of the Essential Questions through the Journal Discussion and the AP Poetry Analysis, we begin our study of the literary work by first looking at the writer's background.

In addition to reading about the author or playwright's personal experiences, we also examine the historical, societal, and cultural context in which the author lived and the work was written. 

Ultimately, students need to consider what might have influenced the author's perspective and how those values, attitudes, and beliefs might be reflected in the larger themes of the novel or play.

Toni Morrison IV.jpg

We want students to think of every word in a literary text as being potentially significant in establishing the tone or revealing the author or playwright's theme.

If students are not familiar with a specific word in a novel or play, they might misinterpret the writer's intent and not fully understand the importance of a particular passage or scene.

Students are required to study 20 words in every unit, choosing the dictionary definition that best fits the context of the way each word is used in the text, while also considering the word's thematic significance.

Point of View

When students read the first paragraphs of a novel, their initial goal is to assess who is telling the story and how reliable the narrator appears to be. 

We emphasize that authors choose their points of view carefully, and students need to examine how a narrator's perspective reveals the author's intent and potentially shapes "the meaning of the work as a whole." 

With most plays, there is no narrative point of view, but students should still examine the opening scenes to determine their significance in foreshadowing the larger themes of the work.

Image by Christopher Burns


Once students have established the narrative point of view, they need to examine how characters are initially depicted and then developed through action, description, and dialogue.

Students should identify the primary concerns and motivations of the main characters, and then consider how those characters potentially change over the course of the novel or play.

Ultimately, students have to determine if the characters are flat or dynamic, and how their change —or lack thereof—helps  reveal the author's intent and the overall theme of the novel or play.

Settings within a literary work are more than just the time and place that events occur in a story; they also create mood, establish tone, and convey theme through their symbolic significance.

Similar to characters, we should not look at settings within a novel or play in isolation; instead, they often need to be juxtaposed to understand their connection to the work's overall theme.

An analysis of the setting requires a close reading of the text and an awareness that even the most minute descriptive detail could hold the key to  unlocking the writer's thematic intent.

Image by Amol Tyagi

Style Analysis

When we analyze a literary work, we not only examine how characters and settings are depicted, but also how the author's stylistic choices help establish tone and reveal the overall theme of a novel or play.

In every unit, students practice identifying how the "four pillars" of style analysis — diction, imagery, language, and syntax —help readers understand the thematic significance of any passage or scene.

A firm understanding of style analysis is required for all close reading and is perhaps the most important skill that students need to develop to be successful in their college-level English classes.

AP Passage Analysis

The ultimate assessment of a student's ability to read closely to identify narrative tone and determine authorial intent is the AP Passage Analysis essay.

The novelist Edith Wharton remarked that every novel or play contains at least one key passage or scene that serves as "an illuminating incident," or "magic casement," that reveals the overall theme, or meaning, of a literary work.

The purpose of the AP Passage Analysis essay is to assess not only how well students can read and understand the text, but also their ability to decipher the potential thematic significance of a particular passage or scene.

Working from Home

Literary Criticism

In every unit, students read critical commentary to appreciate how literary scholars participate in an ongoing conversation about the interpretation and meaning of literary texts.

Our goal is for students to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to one day see their own writing as potentially contributing to the discussion and furthering our understanding of a particular work.

We emphasize that literature is always open to interpretation and that an argument is only as compelling as the quality of its ideas and the persuasiveness of its textual evidence.

AP Reading Quizzes

Our AP Reading Quizzes are modeled after the multiple-choice section of the AP Literature exam, which assesses how well students have read and understood the text.

Similar to the AP Literature exam, our reading quizzes are interpretive by nature, which means students have to gauge the writer's intent to determine what is suggested, inferred, or implied in a particular passage or scene.

Ultimately, the goal of AP Reading Quizzes is not just to help students prepare for standardized tests like the AP Literature exam, but to challenge them to read more closely and think more deeply about the literary work itself.


Unlike our AP Reading Quizzes, the Final Exam is not interpretive by design.  Instead, the goal is to assess how well students can identify and recall the most important elements of the novel or play.

Our 50-question Final Exam focuses on the key characters, settings, metaphors, symbols, allusions, and quotations that students need to know in order to analyze the deeper meanings of the text.

Students that have read closely and paid attention in class should do well on the Final Exam.  The benefit for teachers is that the assessment is a quick, efficient way to evaluate a student's basic reading comprehension skills.

what is a literature focus unit

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Four Simple Steps to Creating Your Own Literature-Based Unit Study

Using unit studies in your homeschool can be great for many reasons. Unit studies help provide opportunities for kids of all ages to work together. Unit studies are fun because they can follow the interests of the kids. And unit studies can include lots of learning methods – visual, auditory, hands-on – so they are great for all of your kids, no matter how they learn best.

Four Simple Steps to Creating Your Own Literature-Based Unit Study

Some of the most fun unit studies are those that you can create around a good book that you’re reading . Sure, you can buy an already made unit study to correspond to what you’re currently reading. But you can also easily create your own unit study with these simple steps. This post will walk you through the process and give some examples, using the book Charlotte’s Web , along the way.

Step 1- Choose a few themes from the book you’re reading.

Look at what the book is obviously about and look at secondary main ideas too. Think about the setting of the book. Where does the book take place? Is the book set in a particular historical time period? Think about the characters in the book. Is the book about a certain person? Is it about animals? Think about the main plot of the book. What are the characters in the story doing? What is the conflict that happens? All of these things can be themes that you pull out to study in more depth in a unit study.

Think about the book Charlotte’s Web , for example. The story is set on a farm. Two of the main characters in the story are a pig and a spider. The main plot involves Charlotte’s attempts to save Wilbur by promoting him through her web. If you were going to create a literature unit study with this book, you could draw out several of these themes, such as pigs, farm life, or spiders.

Step 2- Look for additional books that fit your chosen themes.

Although your literature unit study is going to be based primarily on the main book you’re reading, you will include other books as well. These additional books that you choose are going to be based on the main themes you’ve chosen to pull out of your primary source book. You can search several different places to find good books for your theme. The Google search “children’s books about…” will provide you with links to blog posts or articles with book lists. You can also search Amazon or your library’s website to find books listed. As you find books, create a list, noting where you can find the book when you want it later.

In our Charlotte’s Web example, if we’re using pigs as a theme, we can search for “children’s books about pigs”. We’ll likely find both fiction and nonfiction. Sometimes I like to use a fiction book as my primary book – the book we’re originally reading – and then search for specifically nonfiction books to learn more about the theme topics that I’ve chosen.

Step 3- Find learning activities that fit your chosen themes.

One of the most fun things about unit studies is finding fun, hands-on activities. This is the next step of planning a literature unit study. Take those themes that you pulled out from your source book and find activities. You can just do a google search for “activities for learning about pigs.” But one of my favorite sources for great activities is Pinterest. You can search Pinterest and find many, many activities that teachers and homeschool moms have done to fit a vast number of topics.

Look for a variety of activities that will cover different academic subject areas, like math . You can also find fun activities, like crafts or cooking ideas. As you find these activities, list them, making sure to list the website where you found them. You can also list any materials you’ll need to complete them. I also like to list the subject areas that the activity covers so that I can make sure I’m covering a variety. (Feel free to come up with activity ideas on your own too! The Internet is just a tool that you can use to help.)

For Charlotte’s Web , we might be using farm life as a theme. Searching on Pinterest, I would search for “kids’ farm-themed activities” or “kids’ activities to learn about farms.” I might come up with a STEM activity that has kids build a barn. We could do a craft and make stick puppets of the farm animals. We could do a notebooking activity where kids read about different farm animals and list where the animals live in the farm and what each animal eats.

Step 4- Create a flexible schedule for your unit study.

Even if you aren’t a “schedule person”, it’s a good thing to have a flexible schedule for your unit study. Although this schedule can change as you go along, a schedule will give you a guide for what books to read and what activities to complete each day. There will be some days that you need to take longer for some activities and some days that you may finish more than the scheduled activities. That’s okay. But your flexible schedule will give you a plan of where to start for each day.

For my Charlotte’s Web literature unit study I would set up my schedule with rows for each day and columns for each subject area This will allow me to see what subjects I’m going to cover each day with the activities that I choose. In my schedule, I’ll list out the books I’m planning to read and the activities I’m planning to do each day.

Knowing how to create your own literature unit study is great because you can now create a study with any book you’re reading with the kids. This allows you to follow the interests of yourself and your kids because when you find that book that’s just awesome, you can extend the learning with a unit study.

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About the author

Leah Courtney is a former school teacher turned homeschool mom. She has homeschooled her four children since birth and is now the mother of two homeschool graduates. She blogs at As We Walk Along the Road, posting literature-based homeschooling resources and encouragement for other homeschooling mamas. She’s also the author of several ebooks and unit study resources for homeschoolers.

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what is a literature focus unit


  1. Literature Focus Unit

    what is a literature focus unit

  2. Literature Focus Units

    what is a literature focus unit

  3. Literature Focus Unit

    what is a literature focus unit

  4. Steps in Developing a Literature Focus Unit

    what is a literature focus unit

  5. PPT

    what is a literature focus unit

  6. Literature Focus Units by Christy Shalev

    what is a literature focus unit


  1. Systematic literature review

  2. Literature Review

  3. Review of literature

  4. Approaches to searching the literature

  5. SM2 Language focus Unit 4.1

  6. SM2


  1. What is a literature focus unit and what are its advantages and

    A literature focus unit is a multi- genre approach to teaching language arts, focusing on a theme, skill, or pedagogy as focus. It is a best practice in elementary education, as it...

  2. Teaching with Literature Focus Units

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  3. ERIC

    Focus Units in Literature: A Handbook for Elementary School Teachers. Moss, Joy F. Intended as a guide for elementary school teachers to assist them in preparing and implementing specific literature units or in developing more long-term literature programs, this book contains 13 focus units.

  4. Literature Circles: What You Need to Know

    Literature circles tend to be more structured with a focus on an academic outcome than book clubs. In a literature circle unit, students may only have three or four novels to choose from. Their groups might be anywhere from five to ten students. All of the novel choices will share a key quality such as a theme, historical time period, or author.

  5. EDUC 632 Pattern of Practice: Literature Focus Units

    Description of the pattern of practice outlined in Liberty University's EDUC 632 textbook.

  6. PDF In a balanced approach to literacy instruction, teachers integrate

    teaching a literature focus unit on Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery (Howe & Howe, 1979), a hilarious novel about modern family life, written from the viewpoint of the family's dog. Bunnicula, an invented word made by combining bunny and Dracula, is the name given to the black-and-white bunny that the family finds at a vampire movie.

  7. PDF Literature Focus Unit

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  8. A Guide to Using Literature-Based Units of Study

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  9. Using the 'Focus Unit' to Enhance Children's Response to Literature

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  11. Literature Focus Units by Amber Albritton on Prezi Next

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  12. Framework

    Our curricular framework contains 15 essential elements to ensure that every unit not only has a clear, consistent focus, but also requires students to read closely, write clearly, and think deeply about the issues raised in any literary work. The order of the 15 elements in the Framework reflects the sequence we use when planning our units and ...

  13. Literature Focus Units

    Literature Focus Unit. I chose to include this image because of the activity that this poster was a result of. In class we were discussing ways to teaching reading in our classrooms. We learned 4 different ways, literature focus units, literature circles, reading and writing workshops and thematic units. My classmates and I were broken up into ...

  14. Literature Focus Unit & Text Set (Grade 2)

    Focus Unit: Life Cycles Teacher: Donna W. Wallace Grade: 2 Unit Topic: Plant Life Cycle Duration: 2 weeks Virginia Standards of Learning: English SOL's: 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5, 2.7, 2.8,...

  15. PDF Literature Focus Unit

    Literacy Focus Unit: Robert Munsch Literacy Stations Station Number Title of Book Literacy Activity Teacher Initials/ Date Station 1 Purple, Green, and Yellow Reading Report Station 2 More Pies! Main Idea / Supporting Details Station 3 I'm so Embarrassed Dialogues Station 4 Show and Tell

  16. Literature Focus Unit by language arts

    a multi-genre approach focusing on a theme, skill, or pedagogy as it introduces all the genres of literature (instead of just fiction): myth, romance, fiction, poetry, historical fiction, non-fiction, etc.. centered around one book or one story, many books of the same author, or books of similar topic or genre. one to two weeks duration.

  17. Literature Focus Unit Lesson Plans & Worksheets Reviewed by Teachers

    Literature Focus Unit: Civil War For Teachers 4th Fourth graders complete a two-week unit on the U.S. Civil War and the Underground Railroad. They read the books "Follow the Drinking Gourd" and "Pink and Say," complete story maps, and dramatize a scene from "Follow the Drinking Gourd."... + Lesson Plan Curated OER

  18. Four Simple Steps to Creating Your Own Literature-Based Unit Study

    Step 3- Find learning activities that fit your chosen themes. One of the most fun things about unit studies is finding fun, hands-on activities. This is the next step of planning a literature unit study. Take those themes that you pulled out from your source book and find activities. You can just do a google search for "activities for ...

  19. ELE 6290 Chapter 12 Flashcards

    The teacher has planned many actives based on this novel. These students are participating in: select a book that would help him teach the required standards. As he was planning a literature focus unit, the principal correctly advised the new teacher that he should: develop a schedule for conferencing with students.

  20. RED FINAL-Chapter 10 Flashcards

    What are literature focus units? A multi-genre approach focusing on a theme, skill or pedagogy. Centered around one book or one story, many books of the same author, or books of similar topic or genre. One to two week's duration.

  21. Literature Focus Unit by Danielle Spieler

    In literature focus units teachers guide and direct students as they read and respond to a high-quality books, but the emphasis in this approach is on teaching students about literature and developing lifelong readers. Step 4: Coordinate Grouping Patterns with Activities

  22. PDF Literature Focus Unit

    Literature Focus Unit: Civil War By: Erica Hudson THEME: I am going to have my students participate in a Civil War unit for two weeks. I think the students will be interested in learning more about the war and the Underground Railroad. I also want them to appreciate the books that were written

  23. EDCI 3336 Ch2 Read Guide2 (docx)

    The four patterns of practice are literature focus unit, literature circle, reading and writing workshop, and thematic units. Literature focus unit revolve around a list of selected books that every student should read. They are either read independently or aloud, ...