Academic Reading Circles

Problem: Students struggle to engage with academic readings for way to many reasons to list, but to name a few: specialized or unknown vocab, length, unknown cultural context and background knowledge, difficult grammar structures, and many others. Then, after all of these issues, we expect students to be able to make connections, participate in discussions, and remember ideas to reuse later.

Academic Reading Circles (ARC) is an innovative approach to teaching academic reading to English learners outlined by Tyson Seburn (2015). Traditional Literature Circles aren’t very useful in the ESL classroom, but the ARC approach meets almost all reading objectives. Students are given one of five roles, each with a different focus and task to execute for an assigned reading. Students approach the text from their specific role, then later come together in a group discussion. These discussions are almost entirely student led. Over the course of a session, students rotate until they have experienced all five roles.

Check out a few examples of the materials I have created and borrowed below when using ARCs in my class. I also suggest buying Tyson Seburn’s text as a resource. 


I start off by assigning students this introductory Prezi made by Dan Pell at the University of Wisconsin Madison, having students take notes on the roles to discuss the next class.

The next step is to assign a reading as practice. Here is an example of an annotated text from Tyson Seburn that I use as an example. I group students together by role and have them analyze a portion of the text based on their roles perspective, then students rotate to a new role. While working, I move from group to group, posing questions to students and clarifying different roles’ perspectives. At the end of the class, we regroup, and I assign the first reading and roles for their own ARC.

For each role, I have made materials that help them prepare. The materials below are those I created for the Leader role.

  • Leader Handout Template (link): Students make a copy and complete this on their own for their group. On the day of the reading circle, students are expected to bring printed copies for their group members. 
  • Overview Slides
  • Leader Checklist 

After each ARC, students are expected to answer post-circle follow-up questions in a discussion board post where they reflect on what they found easiest in the role, what happened that was unexpected, and what advice they would give the next person who has this role.

In addition to these follow up questions, each group collaborates to create an “ARC Report” for the assigned reading. Below is an example of a completed report from an Advanced Reading/Vocabulary course. Students collaborated by leaving comments on the shared GoogleDoc to one another in order to negotiate the content.