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Literature Circle Group Roles for ELLs of Varying Proficiency Levels

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Kristin obtained a BA in English Literature and an MA in teaching. Currently teaches English Lit and ESL at an International High School.



It can be difficult to facilitate engaging conversations in a mixed-level English proficiency classroom, especially when your students range from newcomers all the way to those students who have tested out of ESOL. The key is to group students heterogeneously rather than homogeneously. Groups should contain high-, mid-, and basic-proficiency students. High-level students should not bear most of the responsibility in the group, whereas basic-proficiency students should have a meaningful role. Assigning specific roles or tasks to students will ensure that everyone in the group has a purpose and everyone is accountable for producing something that will help reach the group’s mutual goal. Here are some examples of roles for students at each level.



  • Laminated group role cards that identify and explain each role
  • Highlighters
  • Markers or colored pencils
  • Sentence starters
  • The text students are working on

Group Roles for High-Proficiency Students

  • Discussion Leader – The discussion leader is someone who can create questions to drive the group’s discussion as well as facilitate the sharing of role responses.
  • Researcher – The researcher should be someone who understands search terms and knows how to use Google to find reliable sources of information.
  • Annotator – This student uses highlighters to locate important quotations from the text. They should be able to explain the importance of the quotations to the main idea of the passage.

Group Roles for Mid-Level Students

  • Summarizer – The summarizer should be able to write basic sentences that articulate what the main idea of the passage is and should be able to pick out the most important details.
  • Recorder – The recorder should be able to write down the words that group members are speaking. This student should be able to understand most of the words they hear and be able to spell.
  • Reporter – The reporter should be able to orally explain the group’s findings to the rest of the class. They should be able to speak in complete sentences and should be working on more complex sentence structures.

Additional Role Ideas for Students

Student role ideas for literature circles

Student role ideas for literature circles

Group Roles for Basic-Proficiency Students

  • Vocabulary Finder – The vocabulary finder should identify words that they do not understand and should define the words and identify synonyms that are easier to understand.
  • Illustrator - The illustrator will draw an important scene or part of the text and explain why that scene is important using words or phrases.
  • Connector – The connector will use words or phrases to explain how the passage relates to their life or the real world.


Include sentence starters on laminated paper or bookmarks to help students with the discussion. You can find sentence starter resources on Google. One of my favorites is this reciprocal bookmark.

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I think ___________________________because ________________________________.

I disagree because ________________________________________.

The story says ____________________________which shows ____________________________.

You may want to create a script for the discussion leader to follow. The script should help the discussion leader explain what the next task in the discussion is and who is presenting. For example, “It is now time for the summarizer to summarize what the reading was about. Summarizer, please read us your summary.” The summarizer would then read their summary and the discussion leader would ask the group, “Is anything important missing from this summary?” before moving on to the next person to report their task response.

For more on group roles visit ReadWriteThink for a basic introductory lesson.

Lit Circles in Action


Yvonne Teo from Singapore on July 31, 2017:

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