“[B]ook clubs are small groups of readers that meet on a regular basis to systematically discuss books (and other texts) of the members’ choice. These groups have a variety of response methods to prompt and extend book club discussion, and membership varies according to the desired configuration. In other words, the key feature of book clubs is flexibility.” (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006, p. 1)

Two defining principles of book clubs are choice and ownership. Book clubs are “a space where a specific group of individuals meet physically and/or virtually for a fixed period of time for the purpose of reading and discussing a self-selected text” (Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2019, p. 6). The central purpose of book clubs is “for students to engage in meaningful discussions, that are rooted in their choice books, but not confined by them” (Ripp, 2019). Increasing responsiveness, raising reading volume, and connecting students to other readers are three important ways book clubs have a positive impact on students’ reading experiences (Kittle & Gallagher, 2018).

Book selection, planning, student-led discussions, and written response/reflection are essential features of book clubs that promote maintaining choice and ownership.

Book selection

  • Inviting students to choose what they will read in book clubs encourages them to discover and develop their identities as readers, creates ownership, and increases motivation (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006).
  • Students can choose their book club book from a pre-determined selection of titles.
  • Teachers can offer book club options that focus on a specific topic or theme, represent a genre or form, or reflect the interests of readers in the class.
  • Books can be introduced through book talks or book browsing and students can rank their top choices in order of preference.
  • Groups are formed based on students’ selections; honoring students’ first choices as much as possible.

Planning

  • Once groups are established, they should be given time to develop a reading schedule that members will uphold to be prepared for their book club discussions (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006).
  • Reading time can be incorporated into class time and combined with at-home reading.
  • It is also important for group members to discuss and commit to norms for respectful interactions (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006).
  • Regular time for reflecting on what is going well and identifying areas of improvement are an essential part of group planning (Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2019).

Student-led discussions

  • Student-led discussions, the heart of book clubs, provide the “social spark that ignites students’ enthusiasm for reading” (Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2019, p. 9).
  • Engaged independent reading is supported through student conversations as they collaboratively interpret texts (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006).
  • Student-led book club discussions “help students understand how reading, speaking, and composing can be mutually supportive processes” (O’Donnell-Allen, 2006, p. 76).
  • Book club discussions can occur face-to-face or virtually through discussion boards, blogs, or video conference platforms.

Written response/reflection

  • Written responses help students prepare for book club discussions. These can include double entry journals, sketch notes, or jotting thoughts such as questions, personal connections, wonderings, learnings, etc. from their reading on sticky notes.  
  • Book club members should spend time reflecting, both individually and collaboratively, on how the conversation is contributing to their understanding. Invite students to write or discuss how their book club meeting contributed to or enhanced their understanding. They can also set goals for future conversations.
  • Culminating reflections for book clubs might include:
    • posting a book review to social media or the class blog,
    • elaborating on a few selected sticky notes or reading journal entries that represent key ideas about the book,
    • sharing new insights gained about themselves and others from their reading and discussions, or
    • creating a reflection (written or oral) on a specific aspect of the book (theme, character development, imagery, etc.).
  • Written responses and reflections are designed to “demonstrate students’ understandings and insights” and are not meant to be lengthy or inauthentic writing tasks (Cherry-Paul & Johansen, 2019, p. 10). Student autonomy on how to respond and reflect on their reading and conversation is important.

 

How to Use the Beyond Words Resources to Support Book Clubs

  • Use the book summaries and links to related materials to identify and explore possible titles for book clubs that will support your instructional purposes and meet the needs and interests of your classroom community.
  • Individual, small group, and whole class activities provided in the Teacher Resource section offer a variety of options for individual responses and reflections, book club discussions as well as whole class sharing and reflection.

 

References

Cherry-Paul, S. & Johansen, D. (2019). Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers. Heinemann. Download a sample chapter here. (Links to an external site.)

Kittle, P. & Gallagher, K. (2018, April 4). Reimagining Reading: Connecting and Promoting Lifelong Readers Through Book Clubs. (Links to an external site.) (Blog post International Literacy Association: Literacy Now).  Retrieved from https://literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-now/2018/04/04/reimagining-reading-connecting-and-promoting-lifelong-readers-through-book-clubs (Links to an external site.)

O’Donnell-Allen, C. (2006).  The Book Club Companion: Fostering Strategic Readers in the Secondary Classroom. Heinemann.

Ripp, P.  (2019, August 17). How We Set Up Book Clubs in Middle School (Links to an external site.). (Blog post). Retrieved from https://pernillesripp.com/2019/04/17/how-we-set-up-book-clubs-in-middle-school/

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