Book Clubs – for the sake of reading together with choice

Prior to February vacation, one of my 7th grade classes finished up their book clubs. It’s the first time I’ve ran in-class book clubs. I wanted the format to be very loose and without roles. I’ve used literature circles in the past, but I never liked the idea of forced roles. Nor did I enjoy them myself in school. The main purpose of our book clubs was to read and discuss a book with a group of friends.

I pulled together the few books that I had multiple copies of, and bought a few myself. I wanted a wide range of genres and of course engaging reads. Students read over the choices and used a Google Form to tell me what their top three choices were. From this data, I created groups of 3-5 students each.

The plan was simple (and heavily influenced by this post by Pernille Ripp): Groups would figure out their pacing over the four weeks they had to read their books, how they would hold each other accountable, and then discuss their reading for no more than 10 minutes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We briefly discussed how to have a meaningful discussion and I provided a list of discussion ideas/topics if they were ever at a lose for what to talk about.

Over the four weeks, I learned that the biggest problem was students not reading or rather not being at the appropriate spot in their book to discuss with the other members. There were a number of reasons: sickness, absences, forgetting their books in school, or simply “I forgot”. In the end, I told the groups to figure it out. Sometimes that meant one group member would read outside quietly during discussion time. Yes they missed out on the discussion but they always caught up for the next one. I can’t expect perfection.

I did ask groups to answer some general questions about their books together. I’m not sure how I liked it. Some were surface-level questions others required deeper thinking. I don’t think I’ll use them next time. Rather, I want to focus on the questions that students have while reading.

Walking around each day, I heard mostly on-topic discussions. Again, I can’t expect perfection. I even told them off-topic discussions should happen as long as it starts from discussing the book.

After reading, groups created a 2-5 minute book-talk. They had complete choice over how with a lists of some discussion points (theme, a small summary, whether they liked it/disliked it and why). I was happy that every group decided to record a video, make a book trailer or put on a play. The process was messy, loud and sometimes off-topic, but it was enjoyable. I love seeing students up and about, working together and creating something.

Overall, I’m pleased with these loose book clubs. Most students asked to do them again. I’m glad we just jumped in rather than me trying to plan out every little step. Next time, I’ll provide a few more things such as discussion guidance and a more structured book-talk. They were much more enjoyable than lit circles. Only one group disliked their book, and maybe 2-3 students didn’t finish reading their books. It’s a lot better than forcing a whole class read that students fake their way through.

I can’t wait to implement book clubs in my other classes and go for round 2 with this particular class.



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