Whether you’re considering a classroom book club aka literature circle for the first time or are already guiding your students through their third book this year, here’s a list of benefits and some tips for success you can employ right away!
NYC’s District 75 published their Middle School Units of Study, Developing Autonomy when Engaging with Literature, online. In it they list some of the benefits of book clubs in the classroom:
Thoughtfully planned book clubs position learning in the hands of the students and provide discussion tools students can use as they work out their responses to the book.
We, at the Center for Professional Education of Teachers, provide approaches to professional development that bridge theory and practice to generate solutions that work for a multitude of schools. With that bridge in mind, enjoy the following as you think through your classroom’s book club possibilities!
10 Tips for Success in Your Classroom Book Club
1. Generate excitement
Reveal the book club idea, like a fun surprise, building anticipation about the “way we’re going to experience our next book together,” use pictures or video, have students create their own collage of what a book club might look like (imagine no limitations!). Draw from their collages when introducing the book club concept.
2. Share decision-making
While your book choice may be set, make as many other decisions as possible with your students: room set-up, groupings (can they pair with one person and then you put the pairs together?), how the conversations flow (first we write, then we talk, then we create something in response . . . ). You probably have all the pieces in mind. How much choice can you give the students on how those pieces are put together?
3. Communicate expectations
What are your expectations? Will each student talk/write/facilitate a certain amount? Is there a rubric you design that students can use in their groups? What sort of assessments will there be along the way? What are the students’ expectations? How will I know if I’ve done what I’m supposed to do in class on book club days? What if someone in the group isn’t doing their share? What if I didn’t read last night? How do I negotiate sticky relationships in the group?
4. Establish ground rules, together.
Using your classroom guidelines/expectations, ask students to work up a set of ground rules for their groups. What does respect look like? What does disagreement look like? Do they want to use an object (whoever has the frog plushy) to indicate the speaker? What does listening look like? Some of these will need to be taught, so watch for the things that aren’t on the students’ radar yet -- you may want to prep a mini-lesson on a particular skill. KEY: Identify roles within the group. Whether they rotate the roles daily or weekly, each person knowing their role, and the expectation for this role (facilitator, scribe, reporter, etc) is a helpful handle for them to stay engaged. Every person should have a role.
5. Lead by example
Whether you start with a fishbowl of a book club group or you sit in on each group as they begin, follow through on ground rules to help students feel secure that their agreement will be supported. Follow the protocols you and the students set in place, even when it’s hard because you want to make an important point about the book but don’t have the plushy frog yet! Listen, like the students, be patient, and get that frog so you can make your point -- just like the students do. Pull the teacher card only when necessary.
6. Gather tools
Students can go into their book club groups with a toolbox (paper, highlighter, pen, templates for discussion) and you can help them add tools along the way. Look for Book Club guides that you can tweak for your students. Use our What? So What? Now What? reading tool as a regular way of guiding conversation. Dig back into your own toolbox and refresh some templates for the book club setting -- students will be familiar with the process and also experience a new way to use the tool.
7. Anticipate tough conversations
Having already read the book (you’re almost finished, right?), you’ll be able to identify which sections may bring up sticky subjects for students to discuss. You can certainly bring the groups together for discussion on something especially sensitive. Also, you can provide a tool to help them make sense of their own thoughts and feelings before they begin their group discussions. Try the Courageous Conversations template to help students sort out what they Believe, Think, and Feel about a certain section of the book, and then what they plan or imagine they will or would Do in response.
8. Keep it student-centered
Ask yourself, as you look at your lesson plans for the next day/week/month, “Is this something a student can do/lead without sacrificing our educational goals?” If it is something a student can take on, why not have them lead it? Keep giving away what you can -- this opens up more time and energy for those things essential to your role as an educator and allows student to enlarge their investment in their own learning. For instance, do you need to do the opening reading aloud? Could a student hand out the tools for the day? Could groups collect their own responses and post them for you to review?
9. Celebrate completion
Book clubs love to celebrate! Usually it’s every time they meet, with snacks and drinks and a general good vibe because they got to get out of the house or office or daily routine to talk about something they enjoy: reading. Give your students a bit of that experience. Plan a celebration at the end of the book. Use the theme of the book to guide how you might celebrate -- can there be some food or drinks or decorations or fun activity you engage in to mark the end of the the book club experience? You know what we’re going to say next: plan it together! Get creative and have fun.
10. Share your ideas below
You’ve got a lot of experience. You’ve got a lot of ideas. You’ve tried things out that have worked great and have tanked miserably! Share your wisdom and experience with other teachers by commenting below or on any of our social media platforms.
A reading tool for you and your book club
Use it when you’re reading on your own.
Take notes, make predictions, ask questions.
Bring it to book club and use as a discussion starter...
...either filled out in advance by each member or take a few minutes at the start of your meeting for each person to fill out the template, noting what they want to discuss, investigate, or do in response. Share in pairs and/or in the larger group.
DOWNLOAD THE READING TOOL
Perhaps you already enjoy grabbing a highlighter when your sit down to read or underlining your favorite lines of a book. Annotating (adding marks, notes, diagrams, etc, to comment or explain a text) is a helpful way to engage with what you’re reading, whether a story, poem, letter, or article. If you haven’t tried it yet, here are a few good reasons to jump in and a couple of tools to get you started!
Guide to annotation marks:
DIY Reading Kit: put 1 highlighter, 1 pen or pencil, sticky notes in a Ziploc bag, or rubber band them together. There you have it! A portable reading kit. Add heart or star stickers for extra fun & easy ways to mark favorite passages or important details.
Note: Skip making marks in library books. You don’t want fines added to your reading experience! Try sticky notes for annotating in borrowed books; remove notes before you return books.
The answer is a simple, “No way!” Facilitation styles and goals are different, and can be flexible to meet the book club’s goals and work most effectively with the group’s personality and relationship dynamics.
Considering two questions will help you work out the most effective way(s) you can facilitate discussion for your book club.
First, who are you?
Be Yourself: there is no “typical” book club facilitator. It takes all types of people to support all kinds of book clubs. You bringing your best self will make the best book club experience for everyone!
Know what is fixed and what is flexible for you. This will help you develop a realistic expectation of yourself as a facilitator and let go of any perfectionist ideas that will only stand in the way of you bringing your best self to the discussion.
Second, who is your book club?
Know Your Group: articulating the goals and considering the members of your group will give you some clues on how best to facilitate the conversation.
Ultimately, be in a book club that excites you! If you find yourself dreading facilitation most of the time, it might not be because you don’t want to facilitate, it might be because you’re not in the best fit for your style.
Coming Soon: Structuring Your Book Club: Low, Medium, High
Previous Blog: Book Club: How do I find the perfect one?
The answer is simple, “There is no perfect book club.” Book clubs come in all shapes and sizes. It’s a matter of finding the one that fits you best.
One look at the Book Club Meetups in New York page and you’ll see a wide variety:
Book Clubs vary from, “We talk about the book, only the book, and all about the book,” to, “We drink wine and occasionally bring up the book,” to, “We use the book as a jumping off point to discuss topics that interest us” and all kinds of models in-between.
How do I know what kind of book club I want? Consider the following statements:
Why am I joining a book club? Is it that you want to talk about and hear from others about Americanah in particular? Is it that you need to get out of the house and/or just be around people, and the book is a helpful tool that helps bring a focus to your conversation? Is it that you want to host something yourself, invite people into your space and/or find a community space to welcome people into for an Americanah conversation?
What do I want to get out of a book club? Do you want to walk away with more understanding of Americanah? More questions than answers? Do you want the experience of connecting with others, and if it’s about the book, that’s good but not a requirement? Do you want to leave book club with a sense that you had a well-rounded experience, having talked about the book and about life in general, having heard from others about their experience with the book and their day-to-day struggles/celebrations?
What do I bring to a book club? Just like so many things in life, you get out of book club what you bring to it. Do you bring a perspective aligned with Ifemelu, as a person who has moved to a new country yourself? Do you bring a curiosity and open mind? Do you bring a loud voice and welcoming attitude, a soft voice and the ability to hold space for others, a desire to connect with others and a willingness to reach out? What is it you want to contribute?
What are my limitations? Limitations are real. Knowing what is fixed and what is flexible for you will help as you choose, whether it’s to join book club or to start one of your own. Do you need a book club close to home so you’re not away too long? Do you need it to meet on a particular night to fit into your busy schedule? What time of day will/won’t work for you? Do you need more or less structure within the conversation? What else do you need to consider?
Which, if any, of these limitations are fixed? Which are flexible?
All that said, don’t let finding the “perfect” fit keep you from exploring and experimenting. You never know who you may meet and how bringing your perspective and style can make the club you join just right for Americanah and YOU!