If you’re looking for answers from an expert, stop reading now and pick up Harvey Daniel’s book. I’m just throwing out some thoughts.
One book or multiple books?
While I’ve certainly had success using literature circles with a whole class novel, Daniels says that the whole point is that “[w]hen, with artful teacher guidance, kids get to pick their own books for reading and friends to read with, they can experience success, not frustration.” He goes on to say that “doesn’t mean we don’t also study some well-chosen whole-class books, but we alternate them with titles of choice.” (Daniels, “What’s The Next Big Thing in Literature Circles”)
So maybe trying to use literature circles as a way to cope with the language in expected practice defeats the purpose of literature circles.
How do we group them?
The idea is that students buy in because they have choice. Teachers can direct, guide, limit that choice using their professional judgement. Same with groups. It’s probably not a good idea group kids according to ability if they’re not likely to be comfortable with those kids. I like the idea that came from the Tribes program for selecting Tribes which had each student write down at least two names of people they would like to work with and then teachers formed the tribes, trying to make sure the student was with at least one person they liked.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, and yes students need to learn to work with people they don’t like, but literature circles are supposed to be FUN. They’re supposed to promote accountable talk too.
That’s all for now, but I’ll post stuff later on instruction and assessment.