You may have read my “Why I don’t do literature circles and what I do instead” post, and now you want to try my classroom book clubs method. But you have some questions: What does it look like inside a “book club” meeting? What types of activities do you do? What questions do you ask students? What do you discuss and how? How do you keep it all organized? In this blog post, I hope to shed a little more light on the anatomy of my book club meetings. If you haven’t already read my first blog post about the concept or structure in general, click here. If you are ready to dive in and build your own classroom book club, keep reading!
1) Summarizing: Summarizing is a critical part of reading comprehension, so lately, I’ve been starting book clubs out with a short summary exercise. I like to use SWBST, and I have a teaching pack available if you’d like to give that method a try. It comes with materials you can use with any text including Twitter summaries and these new SWBST Sketch Notes for any text. I usually have students doing that as their bell ringer, and it only takes about 2-3 minutes, then we share out for another 2-3 minutes. I usually type some examples on the board as they share.
2) Engaging, dissecting, and enjoying content from the week’s assigned pages: This part, to me, is the “fun” part of reading a novel. There are so many activities and creative projects and paired reading tasks that you can do to “make literature come alive” for the students. I always start the meeting off with one of these little bite-sized nuggets that relates specifically to something covered in the pages we read. I like to start with this “fun” piece because it sets the tone, and I really want students to enjoy reading!
For example, during our book club meeting for Chapter 2 of Lord of the Flies, my students created a 3D map of the island using textual evidence. An activity like this requires students to go back and review those chapters and dig for details, while having fun. I played a little island music while they worked, and they had a good time.
After reading Chapter 2 of The Great Gatsby, I feel it’s always important to discuss domestic violence. We close read that section of the chapter highlighting details like the cause of the conflict and the disparity between the men’s and women’s reactions. We set up a KWL chart, and I found a really great TED talk on the topic that we watched. (BTW: My The Great Gatsby Complete Unit is coming late 2019! You can get my The Great Gatsby video viewing guide here now!)
When I design literature units, I try include something “creative” or a “paired text/close reading task” for each chapter or section. I mostly turn to those for this part of the book club meeting. Every now and then, there won’t be something specific for the chapter we’ve read, or I’ll just be in the mood for something different. In that case, I’ll use a quick activity from my “Response to Literature: Making Literature Come Alive” bundle. These are short, little activities that pack a big punch. Each activity is text-based, so it’s a purposeful use of your time. Some require students to take on real-world role create something: T-Shirt Designer, QVC Sells Person, Sports Broadcaster, Crime Scene Reporter.
Others are derived from social media: Twitter Subtweeting, Cell Phone Conversations, Character Song Lists, Making Memes. Plus, every time I think of something new, I add it to the bundle, so you get those updates for free!
3) Small-group discussion: There are several ways you can go about this portion, and you also need to decide if it’s something you think your students need or not. I started small-group discussions as a precursor to large-group when I had a group of lower-level/reluctant readers because they would come to large group discussion with nothing to say, their thoughts weren’t organized, or they were too embarrassed to speak up. Once I started doing it, it just stuck for every group I had. Now, even with my most advanced groups, we almost always have a small-group discussion. They even ask for it, so they can get their thoughts together in a smaller, safer setting.
One method I use is the 3,2,1 approach. This method allows for more open-ended discussion. Students just take a blank sheet of paper out and jot 3 questions about the section/chapter, 2 comments, and 1 connection or key quote. Sometimes they can answer their own questions in the small group, and I love that. They are always going back and digging through the pages to look for info and answers. Depending on time, I give anywhere from 5-10 minutes in small group for 3-2-1. Since they are reading out-of-class, several of them bring questions and comments with them to class, and I love to see them bubbling and wanting to talk about books! Then, they bring that list to large group.
Another approach for small group is a guided focus. After reading Chapters 1-3 of The Great Gatsby, I wanted students to discuss findings from the color tracker sheet they had done in their “packets” for that section. The idea of color symbolism hadn’t gelled with them quite yet, so I felt it necessary to break them up into groups and have them discuss. I had them discuss all the colors on the chart, and then I just gave each group one color to be the “experts” on, and they led the discussion for that color. In that case I set up a specific framework and topic for their small-group discussion.
Another way to guide small group discussion is with literary analysis task cards. You could even use task cards for large group, too. It’s totally flexible. Task cards are perfect to differentiate different levels of readers or just to mix up what students look for and discuss. My Response to Literature Literary Analysis Task Cards come in my “Response to Literature: Making Literature Come Alive” bundle. The task cards come in both printable and digital format. Read more about using task cards in this blog post.
My literature worksheets that come digital and printable in the pack are also a good way to focus small-group discussion if there’s something specific you want to students to note or focus on for a certain set of pages or chapter. These would also work really well for the out-of-class packets you could assign students, especially if you are building your own book clubs or your unit needs more meat. (More on the packets below.)
4) Large-group discussion: In large group, I have us sit in a circle when we can. I usually just let anyone start with a question from 3-2-1, and we go from there. I encourage them to answer each other’s questions and go back to the text where necessary. I model that often. I only interject if I think they are off-base, if they ask a question I know will be answered in a later chapter, or when a little prompting could lead them to a much deeper discussion. Large-group discussion can last anywhere from 15-30 minutes, depending on what else you have done that day and how much time you have. I have had groups that skip small group entirely, and we go outside on a nice day and discuss for the majority of the class period.
In the case that students are reluctant to speak up or if you have students who dominate (especially if you are hosting longer discussions) I require every student to say something. I also made cute emoji puppets for discussion. Those work really well for younger students. Here’s a quick video where I explain a bit more about the accountable talk emoji puppets.
Here’s a quick video tutorial where I explain large-group discussions a bit more.
5) Assessment: Since my students are reading out-of-class, they do take a quick quiz at the end of the book club meeting because I do want to hold them accountable. They are also working through packets as they read alone as well. Those are for a grade, too, and include comprehension questions, figurative language, grammar work, journal topics – just whatever I’ve created for the unit plan that would work to guide students through the reading and enrich learning. Every student completes every page in the “workbook” on his or her own. These packets replace the old-fashioned literature circle sheets students do that can be arbitrary or vacuous if not done correctly or managed correctly. I even think when done as well as possible, they don’t always teach students to really dig in and analyze a text. Here’s a link to a short IG story that shows a glimpse of a Lord of the Flies packet I put together.
I have 75-minute periods, so we have to keep it moving. We do all the above steps in that time period and always on Fridays, but if you have shorter periods, you might want to consider doing a two-part book club meeting each week. Every now and then I’ll do that, especially when I have a bigger project in mind. We might start on Thursday or end on Monday. Everyone’s schedule is different, so it’s hard for me to predict what might work best for your timeline. One thing that I’ve starting doing this year is making a slide show (PPT) for the meeting, so that students can see where we are going, and we can keep up with progress more easily. It also gives them a visual because I add pictures, but it’s also helpful for differentiation purposes to meet various learning styles. I’ve also had admin drop in for pop evaluations during book club meetings, and it helps them see at-a-glance what we are working on. I just make one slide per “segment” of the class (see 1-5 above), plus a “Daily Objective” slide at the beginning.
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