book club

Introducing Book Clubs with Partner Reading and Noticings About Themes, Central Ideas, and Issues

Yesterday, I introduced book clubs by issuing students their books with their reading tickets/schedules (see previous blog post, please).  Students also got new seating/table assignments when they arrived; I projected these onto the board as students arrived.  Students are either seating with their entire book club OR in a “subgroup” of a larger book club since some groups are reading different texts around a similar theme or genre (memoir, specifically).

Once we reviewed our reading schedule/assignment for the first week, we did a quick mini-lesson on themes, central ideas, and issues and how we might begin to notice these elements of our literary nonfiction/memoir books.  I used one of my favorite texts, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats by Kristen Iversen, to model my thinking.  My mini-lesson and subsequent activity are modifications of a mini-lesson from the Lucy Calkins Literary Nonfiction Unit of Study in reading.

Students then broke into small groups by book club/same books or partners for subgroups of book clubs for the read aloud portion of our activity.  I have blogged earlier this academic year about the power of partner read alouds, and yesterday only reinforced my belief in their value.  Most classes were able to get about 15-20 minutes of reading time in.  Students then jotted down any initial noticings about theme, central ideas, or issues they noticed in the day’s reading.  Students will be adding to this graphic organizer as we get deeper into our books.

Yesterday was hectic, so I apologize I don’t have video for you to see/hear the partner or small group read alouds, but you can see/hear this awesome energy in my previous posts on read alouds.

Literary Nonfiction and Memoir Book Clubs: Organizing Groups and Resources for Success

We just started our literary nonfiction (my favorite genre!) and memoir book clubs yesterday!  In this post, I’ll outline the “legwork” I did to get the clubs formed and ready to go.

Book Sampling/Book Tasting

We began with a book sampling/tasting in early December; compared to years past, I kept this activity pretty low key.  I basically put 5 copies of each book selection at a table or seating area, and students rotated at their own pace.

Book Voting and Tallying/Sorting Votes

Once students completed the book tasting, they voted online in a Google Form their top three choices.  I downloaded each spreadsheet per class from Google Sheeets and sorted the spreadsheet by the first choice.  I tallied how many books got the “first choice” votes and calculated how many books I would need to meet the “first choice” requests if possible based on how many copies we owned from our bookroom (or didn’t own in several cases since I picked some newer titles for the activity).

Based on the needs, I created an Amazon wish list and shared widely through social media and my blog.  I am delighted and humbled to share that my list was pretty much completed, and I was able to give every child one of his/her top two choices.  I tweaked the working book club assignment list several times based on the incoming books purchased right up through the beginning of this week to make the clubs happen.  I actually finalized the list Wednesday night on the eve of issuing books!

I organized clubs either by book title or by related topics/genres.  You can see the clubs below by class period (I teach four sections of 8th Language Arts).

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Additional Support for Book Club Readers

The other important task I tackled prior to issuing the books and identifying the club members yesterday was to create a reading schedule for each book–all 15!  I created a master handout (you can access it here), ran copies, cut into strips, and stuffed them into the matching books.

We reviewed these schedules yesterday, and students are keeping them in the sheet protector with their overarching January course calendar.  I am also going to post these colorful versions in the room later today just in case someone loses his/her individual copy on plain paper.  This task was time consuming, but I felt it was an important one to help my students be successful in staying on track so that we can finish our books by January 31.  I am providing students two full days of class time to read and do their prep work (more on that coming next week!) with an optional third day; of course, they can also work at home on their book club reading and prep activities.

Next Steps

In my next blog post, I’ll share our first day of book club learning activities and how I re-organized my seating assignments to support my book club readers.  I’ll also share our first mini-lesson learning activities that got the students into their books to give them a “boost” with their reading and thinking!

Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 2: Organizing Prep Work, Learning Activities, and Conversation Structures

In my last blog post, I shared how I used book tasting to help students pick one of five books for our American Lit book club project.  There are many ways teachers may structure book club meetings and assignments—some choose a path that is very open and flexible while others may provide more structure.  I tried to hit a happy medium knowing my juniors were not ready to be turned loose with no support or scaffolding, but at the same time, I did not want to over-structure or complicate the experience.  Drawing upon what I had observed with my students’ learning habits and keeping in mind we were moving forward as we began the state testing season, I provided my four classes a daily schedule of what they should be working on in terms of:

  1.  A reading schedule for each book with deadlines.
  2.  Learning activities

I gave students a reading schedule for each book:

I also shared with students the number of annotations due (see this previous post) due by each book club meeting; this number varied slightly by course level between Honors and “on level” classes.

Book Club Prep Work:  Meetings 1 and 2

For each book club meeting/round of reading, students were assigned a “book club prep” handout to complete and a set of review questions that covered their assigned reading.  For the first meeting, each book club had the exact assignment; I made copies of this prep handout on different colors of paper for A day classes and B classes (we run a modified block here at Lanier High).

For the second meeting on May 14, each book club group had the same task of choosing three significant passages, but the questions for group discussion were customized for each book.  For the second round, the prep sheets were printed on colored paper with each color corresponding to a specific book.  I tried to strike a balance in having students come prepared with some specific passages for discussion while giving them choice in choosing those passages and some common questions the groups could discuss.

In the days leading up to each book club meeting, students had generous amounts of class time to read, work on their prep materials, and to work on their annotations.

Supporting Book Club Meeting Discussions

Book Club Meeting 1 Structure

Prior to the first meeting, all students completed a survey on what they felt book club meeting norms should be for meeting manners and etiquette.  Universal agreements included coming prepared, staying focused, and being respectful to each other.  Other agreements included:

For the first meetings on May 3-4, our book club conversations were structured into four segments since we had a ninety minute block:

Period 2A Honors did incredibly well with this structure–the joy and energy was palpable in the room, and they were incredibly engaged in the work at hand.  Period 3B Honors did a solid job, but they did not engage with the same gusto as 2A.  My team taught 4A struggled as only about 40% of the students came prepared enough to participate in the book club; those who did not come fully prepared worked in another room with my team teacher to catch up.  For my final class, Period 4B, I changed the fourth round to what I called “wildcard” discussion round—they could pick any discussion point from the prep sheet, the review questions, or their annotations.  Though Period 4B did a fantastic job with the first three discussion rounds, the fourth “wildcard” round was the one that generated the most energy and conversation–so much so that I had difficulty getting them to stop!  Based on this experience, I decided to incorporate the “wildcard” round into the second book club meetings that took place on May 14.

I also incorporated two additional tasks into the first book club meetings for each class:

  1.  For each class, I provided students a notetaking sheet to jot down ideas they heard from their peers.
  2.  Each student completed a post-book club meeting set of reflections and self-assessment.

Book Club Meeting 2 Structure

In the week leading up to the second meeting, students had ample class time to read and do the next round of prep work, but I also did some fun and brief formative assessments that I called “hashtag” assessment.  Student simply followed these instructions and posted their responses on sticky notes or neon-colored templates I provided them:

Not only was this a fun formative assessment to check for understanding, but it was also a great opportunity for students to see/hear from fellow students across other class periods.

Prior to the second book club meeting on May 14, I gave students about 10-15 minutes of what I called “pre-book club meeting” discussion time on Thursday and Friday, May 10-11 to meet with their book club groups and debrief on where they were and any talking points of excitement about their book as well as “muddy” or fuzzy points of understanding.  Whether students were meeting with the same group or were meeting with a slightly different group from the first meeting, this informal “warm-up” was popular with all my classes.

Because the second book club (May 14) took place on our “skinny” day in our modified block schedule (roughly 50 minute class periods on Mondays), I shortened the discussions to three rounds and did not require students to take notes or complete an immediate post book club  meeting reflection or self-assessment. The compressed time frame forced students to really focus the conversation and engage with each other as they talked about their books.  For the second meeting, I kept the first two rounds from Meeting 1, but I made the “wildcard” round the standard “third” round of discussion for each class period.   I felt this modification helped students have some common conversation points but plenty of room for choice as well.  I could see students had more confidence in this second meeting, and they were more spontaneous with their conversation points.  I was happy with the quality of engagement I saw in most groups, and students seemed to enjoy the second meeting just as much as the first one.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share how we concluded our book club experience with mixed book club groups and how we made connections between our books.  If you are doing student book clubs as part of the literacy learning experiences in your room, how do you support your learners and organize the book club activities?

Adventures with American Lit Book Clubs, Part 1: Book Tasting

Prior to spring break in late March, I wrestled whether or not to do a whole novel study like the rest of the junior classes or take the plunge with book clubs and give students a choice in book study.  My interest in book clubs dates back to my graduate school days at the University of Georgia; I did an action research study on an after school book club under the supervision of Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald.  In addition, I completed an independent study in the summer of 2005 on literacy communities and sponsors of literacy (which included book clubs) under the direction of Dr. Mark Faust.

Though I supported literature circles and after school book clubs as a media specialist, I had never implemented book clubs in the classroom until this past spring with my seniors.  While whole novel study would have made my life simpler, I knew that book clubs would offer my 11th graders a new and memorable learning experience.  Inspired by the work of Penny Kittle, Kelly Gallagher, and Julie Swinehart (who really helped me visualize the possibilities–thank you Julie!) , I decided to go for it.

After reviewing what titles were available in enough copies to work across four sections of classes with more than 140 students, I decided to offer these choices:

  • A Raisin in the Sun
  • Our Town
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Catcher in the Rye
  • Of Mice and Men

Our media specialist, Suzanne Gordon, pulled enough copies of the books so that every student would have a copy to browse and organized them by carts.  I then arrived and set up “tasting” groups by putting all 5 books at each student’s seat.  As students arrived, they found their table assignment and put away their bookbags.

I asked students to spend 12-15 minutes with each book; they could begin reading front to back, jump in the middle, or pick any starting point.  I also asked students to think about the cover and title as well as to read any “teaser” info on the back of the book.  Each student received a book tasting form to record their reactions and responses to the reading:

I projected a large clock on the screen that Ms. Gordon had set up for us, and students could track their own time and move along at their own pace.


When students had sampled all five books, I provided them a final evaluation form to complete for ranking their top picks:

It was fascinating to watch the students work and how they selected which books to sample in their own unique order.  You could easily tell by facial expressions when a student was really connecting with one of the novels or plays.  Most really invested themselves in the effort since they knew they would be living and breathing their top choice; most chose their top picks very carefully.

Once I got their work, I tallied the results for first choices for each period.  With the exception of roughly 3-5 students, I was able to give every student his/her first choice; those that did not get a first choice got a second choice.  Here is the breakdown of book assignments by period:

Book Title Class Period Number Needed
Of Mice and Men 2A Honors 9
Gatsby 2A 6
Catcher in the Rye 2A 14
Our Town 2A 0
Raisin in the Sun 2A 4
Of Mice and Men 4A CP 7
Gatsby 4A 3
Catcher in the Rye 4A 3
Our Town 4A 5
Raisin in the Sun 4A 11
Of Mice and Men 3B Honors 10
Gatsby 3B 7
Catcher in the Rye 3B 12
Our Town 3B 0
Raisin in the Sun 3B 4
Of Mice and Men 4B CP 8
Gatsby 4B 7
Catcher in the Rye 4B 13
Our Town 4B 0
Raisin in the Sun 4B 4

I compiled this list plus a “roster” of names and books by period so that our media center staff could easily pull the number of novels needed per period and to make sure each person got the novel he/she had picked.  I am indebted to Suzanne Gordon, our media specialist, and our media clerk, Kim Pierson, for their help and support with the book tasting and then the actual checking out of the novels!  In addition, I am thankful they not only gave us a three week loan period, but they have allowed us to keep the books up until the very last days of school; having been a media specialist in the recent past, I can appreciate the depth of their help!

In my next post, I will outline how I set up the reading schedules, “to do” tasks, student established norms for the book club meetings, and how we juggled this project with state Milestones/End of Course testing as well as various other tests.

Supporting Student Conversations About Books: Senior Book Club Meeting #1

Student book clubs are a concept dear to my heart.  I’ve sponsored them in an after school context, I took a graduate class at UGA on book clubs, and I even did an action research project on student book clubs in my graduate studies at UGA.  The graduate book club class–once known as ELAN 7700 with Dr. Mark Faust–was the very first one I took on campus in Athens way back in 2002, and the experience set in motion a new course of study that shifted my professional life in a new and positive direction.   Until this year, though, I have not had an opportunity to incorporate book clubs into my own classroom.

Aderhold Hall, UGA

In a recent post, I recently shared how seniors participated in a book tasting in my classroom and how I organized students into book club groups.  With one final tweak to avoid having a small group of three students, the book club rosters were finalized around topics and themes.

Groups established meeting norms, roles, and how many pages they needed to read each week for their book on Wednesday, February 21.  These are published on our bulletin board.

On Friday, February 23, we reviewed our guidelines for the book club experience and our calendar for March the following Friday (we meet alternate days on our modified block).

As you can see from the embedded handout above, Mondays (our “skinny” day in our schedule) is an “acceleration” day to boost students and give them in class time to read with the understanding reading must be done outside of class to meet their self-determined weekly targets.  However, the Monday date provides students an opportunity to annotate and work on marking up passages as they read as they enjoy utilizing my Post-It note stash of many sizes and colors to meet everyone’s needs, plus I’m available to conference with students about their reading as needed.  We are working on argumentative writing and text structures on Wednesdays, and Fridays are our days (four total) devoted to book club meetings.

Since most of my students have never been in a book club, I have tried to build in structures to support their book club talk.  Our goal is to have 30 minutes of sustained and rich conversation about our books.  Students are required to bring the following to each meeting:

  • A one page written reflection on the week’s reading with a focus on a specific passage for discussion.
  • Annotations and marked passages with questions or talking points for discussion.
  • A current event article or reference article from any of our library databases related to their book in some way.
  • Prep work for their role in the group that week (inspired by my work with Sarah Rust a few years ago, we are using the College Board’s version of book club roles here).

Students reported directly to the media center this past Friday for our first meeting.   As students arrived, we moved tables (LOVE tables and chairs with WHEELS!), got our butcher paper for our visual notes, and distributed Sharpies and markers to each group.  Students put their phones on the designated parking lot so that they would not be a temptation for distraction and got out their meeting materials and books as we listened to the morning announcements.  After reviewing some reminders for our meeting participation and etiquette as well as tips for contributing to the visual storyboard the groups would create as an artifact of their meeting, we jumped in and students began their discussions.  I walked around the four groups with my AV cart and laptop, listening to student talk and typing notes for what I heard and observed with each group.  I made four rounds so that I could have notes on different points of book club observations during the 30 minute period.

When the meetings concluded after 30 minutes, each group received a “debrief” handout and took about 12-15 minutes to come to a consensus on their thoughts.

We then gathered to another area of the media center and groups presented their collaborative reflections from the meeting and visual notes.  As we transitioned to the meeting time, students turned in their individual work; as groups finished, they turned in their debrief notes and “posters”/visual notes of their meeting talk.

After the large group share from each book club, book clubs completed the planner sheet for meeting #2 coming up on March 9 to set roles for next week and share any notes for things I might need to know to help them prepare for the second meeting.  I made copies of these, and students received copies of their planning sheets in class today Monday (March 5).

We then ended our day with individual reflections:

After reviewing my notes with my observations as well as the student reflections completed at the end of the day Friday, I felt my students–even those in the strongest groups– needed some additional scaffolding to help them with their book club talk.  We’ll talk through these ideas on Monday before having in-class reading time, and I am eager to see if these glows/grows + scaffolding for richer talk will help students take their discussion to the next level.

As expected, the most prepared groups seemed to thrive this past Friday while the groups not as equally prepared struggled.  In the spirit of the growth mindset, I want to help students “grow” the depth an richness of their conversations, and I think those who didn’t come prepared found it difficult to fully engage in the discussions—hopefully, this teachable moment will stay with them and motivate them to be better prepared for our second meeting.

Overall, I think my students did well in their first meeting.   I know that students need time, modeling, and experience to grow their book club discussion skills, and most truly made a heartfelt effort to engage with their club members and books.a

I’d like to give special thanks to these friends and fellow Language Arts teachers who have been so incredibly supportive of my independent reading projects with all my classes and the senior book clubs:

  • Sarah Rust, Norcross High
  • Sean O’Connor, former Norcross High teacher and now Gwinnett County Literacy Instructional Specialist
  • Darrell Cicchetti, Norcross High
  • Kyle Jones, Lanier High
  • Julie Swinehart, Amman, Jordan
  • Harvey “Smokey” Daniels, godfather of literature circles and all things wonderful related to inquiry and literacy

Last but not least, a heartfelt thank you to our media specialist Suzanne Gordon at Lanier High (and fellow UGA alum) for pulling all the books I needed for the book tasting and for graciously providing us space with mobile tables and butcher paper in the media center for our weekly meetings!

How do you support student book clubs and how do you help your students grow their conversations?  How are you incorporating them into your curriculum?  Though I sadly did not get to attend their session in Atlanta a few weeks ago, I’m excited to read the forthcoming book by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle because I know from friend who did attend that Gallagher and Kittle shared their ideas and strategies for book clubs as part of a year of reading and writing studies in their new workshop about the ideas in the new book.    I also hope to book clubs in American Literature with my juniors like Julie Swineheart–check out her blog post for super ideas and inspiration!