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.