Because of previous success at Reading Circles, I am going to institute them this semester in my ESOL Reading and Writing class (which also includes a fair amount of grammar instruction). I will report back here in the summer about the experience.
In the past, in a small IEP (Intensive English Language Program), I was very pleased with the results of this activity. It is nothing revolutionary although it does require carefully choosen reading material. Given class time limits. it is important to give a reading to students, with the understanding that they read it in advance. They are also assigned various roles to play in the circle (e.g., discussion leader, summarizer, wordmaster, passage finder, and connector). For the discussions to be productive and enlightening, students need to be prepared to play their roles.
The largest class I've done a literature circle with is one that had 15 high-intermediate students. They were divided into three reading circles of five students, with each student playing a different role. If you have numbers that cannot be divided into groups of five, you can have extra wordmasters, connectors, or passage finders, or you can form a smaller circle with the participants playing two roles each. If you have less than ten students, you can eliminate one or two of the roles (e.g., summarizer). For the first 10 - 15 minutes of a 1.5 hour session, discussion leaders pair up to draft some general questions to put to their respective groups. All the other role players can pair up for the first quarter hour, too.
Afterwards, the pairs or groups split up to play their roles in separate circles. The outcome has been very positive. Students function independently in circles, allowing the teacher to 'observe' and informally assess the students' ability to use the language of meetings (i.e., agree/disagree, clarify, ask for more information, and so on) and 'elevated' vocabulary.
Below are some links to sites I have used for this activity, including role-playing organizers and some language of meetings. I have also attached a few reading recommendations for high-intermediate to advanced-level ESOL students.
This is a new resource for me, but the worksheets are well designed with a self-assessment area at the bottom for students to rate their own participation. Because my class is not a literature class, I use magazine articles, short stories, and excerpts for reading material. There are many short story links that I will encourage my students to explore on their own this semester. This one looked very good. You can find other links at this site. Finally, it is important to know your class if you decide to do a circle activity regularly. See my notes below. You might also like to revisit my post on Reading Circles for Cambridge Advanced English test preparation.
NB: A literature or reading circle only works well/effectively with a class of motivated students. Students who just want to sit and listen to others speak and do not read in advance will be unable to contribute to the activity. Also, students who have strong aural skills but are weak at reading (but don't like to do homework) may be able to pick up on the general topic of a reading and divert a discussion away from specific analysis of the reading. These students are detractors for the well-prepared students and should be pulled from the table as soon as it becomes apparent to the instructor that they have not prepared. They should lose points for lack of participation in that activity.