Student Book Clubs

Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 4: Circle of Viewpoints Across Multiple Texts

In my last post, I shared how I set up “mixed” American Lit book club groups to facilitate a final cross-text discussion.  My 2A Honors class utilized the Making Thinking Visible strategy of Peeling the Fruit to make connections across texts.  For my 3B Honors class that met the following day, we utilized another Making Thinking Visible strategy called Circle of Viewpoints.

Just like the Period 2A class, Period 3B students were organized into mixed groups; this particular class required some adjustments at the beginning of class that due to an unusual number of absences.    However, the tweaking of groups did not take long, and students did the same silent written response and then “Turn and Talk” warm up thinking/discussion activities as 2A.  These activities took the first 30 minutes of class prior to our lunch break.  When students returned, we reviewed the protocols and instructions for looking at themes and big ideas across books through the Circle of Viewpoints lens:

Students were asking to craft their poster using the Circle of Viewpoints protocol:

  • The center of our circle was a big idea, issue, or theme that spoke to all of the books; group members selected this theme.
  • In the second layer of the circle, students identified a character from their books and choose to look at the theme/issue/big idea through that character’s eyes.
  • In the third layer, the students explained how the issue, theme, or big idea looked to that character through the character’s eyes.  Several students chose to write from a first person perspective; a few completed this task using a third person point of view.
  • The final outer layer provided students to post a big question–this could be a question that students had after engaging in the analysis or a question they felt their character might ask about the big idea, theme, or issue they were analyzing across texts.

Just like Peeling the Fruit, the Circle of Viewpoints thinking structure generated intense discussion in every group.  Most groups discussed their ideas first before sketching a rough draft and then crafting their posters.  Several students also pulled their annotation notes and organized them into a folder as a reference point for textual evidence to support their responses.

Just like Period 2A, we hung our posters around the room.  Because the activity did take the entire 90 minute block, we did not have time for a formal gallery walk, but many students took the initiative to walk about and examine what their peers had to say.


Though I wish we’d had more time for a formal gallery walk and subsequent whole class discussion, the activity was engaging for students and generated intellectual energy while giving students a chance to share and think about their books in a mixed book club setting.  Given that this was the final day of class prior to final exams and took place as AP and EOC exams were ending, I was pleased with the level of engagement I saw from students.

In my next and final post in this series, I’ll share some student reflections on the book club experience and how our semester long independent reading turned out to be a pivotal key in the success of the book clubs.  If you would like to read the previous posts in this series, you can access those posts easily below:

Adventures in American Lit Book Clubs, Part 3: Connecting Themes Across Texts with Peeling the Fruit

In my last post, I shared the nuts and bolts of the student book club work and meeting structures.  After our May 14 book club meeting, I wanted the remaining class sessions leading up to the week of final exams to be meaningful for students and engaging.  I wanted positive energy and for students’ final learning experiences to be relevant and challenging.  On Tuesday and Wednesday (May 15-16) , my students composed book club reflections and complete a self-assessment; they also had the opportunity to work on a quote analysis assignment for their individual book.  For the final two days, Thursday and Friday, I wanted my students to have an opportunity to work in mixed book club groups and participate in conversations that would give them an opportunity to hear about other books and to do some critical thinking.

On Thursday, May 17, my 2A Honors class used the Peeling the Fruit thinking routine (also see here) to examine big ideas across multiple book club texts.  As students arrived, they received a handout with a set of 8 questions on one side and their mixed book club groups seating assignment to help them find their “new” group for the day quickly and easily.  Setting up the groups in both classes was a little bit of a balancing act because some students were taking district or state tests that day, and because there were varied numbers for each book club group, I was not always to have a member of each book represented in every mixed book club group for the day since those numbers varied.

We first started with 10-15 minutes of quiet thinking and writing; students wrote jot notes on their papers in response to these questions:

Next, students spent about 20 minutes with Turn and Talk time within their groups as they shared their thoughts and responses to the eight conversation starter questions:

The turn and talk time gave students an opportunity to debrief each other on their books and to have some common starting points for talking about their books and the big ideas in the books.

Next, it was time to do some collaborative critical thinking.  I gave each group a “Peeling the Fruit” template (I used this one) and reviewed the procedures for “Peeling the Fruit”; these were our big ideas:

  • Layer 3 or The Core:  what theme or big idea speaks to each of your texts?  What theme or big idea do they have in common?  Though the core is the ending point when you use this routine over a series of days or weeks, I used it as our starting point since we were doing the activity in a compressed time setting.  However, if I were doing mixed book clubs in the future, I would use this routine throughout the book club process and let students arrive at their conclusions of their own big idea as they traced their thinking through the book over time.   This starting point generated intense discussion and the students in Period 2A were engrossed in weighing and comparing themes to come to a consensus.
  • Layer 1 or “Getting Under the Skin”:  normally this layer is your starting point when you use Peeling the Fruit over a series of days or weeks.  However, in my modified use of this thinking structure, students made this their second step after deciding a common theme or big idea.  This space on their charts is where they gathered textual evidence from their books that exemplified the theme.
  • Layer 2 or “Substance”:  in this section, students shared how their textual evidence represented the theme; this space is where students connect the textual evidence to the big idea.

I also reviewed “intersection points” for making connections across texts.

Once students finished their discussions and planning, they received markers and oversized Post-It notes–and off they went to crafting their posters!  It was fascinating to see how each group approached their work.

Students worked intensely the entire 90 minute period–no small feat for the final day of class prior to finals!  Though some students transposed their layers, they still engaged in the critical thinking piece, and ultimately that was my goal for them and to see connections across their different texts : Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, and Raisin in the Sun. Because they worked up until the very end, we didn’t have time to do an extended gallery walk or poster presentation though students did get to browse them prior to the final exam in class.  In the future, I would do this activity and then end with the book club reflections and self-assessment to allow enough time for a meaningful gallery walk or poster presentation session and discussion.

My big takeaway:  I don’t know if I have ever students work with such enthusiasm on the final regular day of class in the 25 years I have been teaching!  It was a wonderful last day of regular class, and the students really enjoyed digging into the big ideas of their books.  In my next post, I’ll share another Making Thinking Visible structure, Circle of Viewpoints, that I used the following day with my 3B Honors class and how we used that thinking structure to kick up our cognition across multiple texts.

Supporting Student Book Clubs with Scaffolding Structures: Senior Book Club Meetings 2 and 3

Earlier this month, I shared the “glows” and “grows” of our first 12th ELA student book club meeting.   Building on the glows and grows of that meeting, I wanted to share some learning tools and structures I incorporated into the second book club meeting to help support student talk.

Support/Scaffold Structure 1:  Kickoff Quotes

To give students a tangible starting point for conversation, each student was asked to prepare a passage for discussion along with questions or talking points they wanted to share with the group.

For students who came prepared, this was an easy task to complete to get ready for the meeting of the day.   Those who did not hastily selected passages that did not provide the richness or depth of text to discuss as did the passages that had been selected with forethought.

Support/Scaffold Structure 2:  A Working Conversation Structure

I provided a loose conversation frame for all groups, but it was especially designed for two of my four groups that were struggling to sustain a meaningful conversation during the first meeting.  When I reviewed the conversation structure with the students, I told them they had flexibility with the framework, but it was there to help them make sure they were hitting all the conversation elements we were aiming for in our talk.  This tool, along with some better preparation by more students from week 1, was very successful as nearly every group had sustained and rich conversation in meeting 2 for nearly 40 minutes.   I didn’t see it being quite as successful for our third meeting this past Friday, March 16 as at least two groups (one that has struggled each week and one that had previously been very strong) simply read their passages and didn’t have much of any discussion about the how/why they chose the passage or why it was meaningful; fellow members didn’t speak up to ask questions or respond.  Right now I don’t know if the fact prom was 24 hours away was a factor, or if perhaps these two groups had just hit a little bit of a rough patch in their efforts.

Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 3:  Hard Copies of Conversation Stems and Conversation Ideas on Neon Paper

Though students had received a copy of the conversation stems and ideas for discussion on Monday, March 5, I printed up new copies on neon paper for the third meeting this past Friday (March 16).   Everyone received a copy to use for reference as needed during the meeting.

Scaffold /Scaffold Structure 4:  Modifying the Visual  Notetaking Medium

Though the visual notes were richer in meeting 2 compared to meeting 1 (see the exemplars below) I still found that there was uneven participation and contributions to the visual notetaking on butcher paper from group to another.  As you can see below, some groups had rich contributions from nearly every group member.

I wondered if perhaps modifying the visual notetaking medium might invite more active participation on this front from every student.  For the third meeting, I provided personalized “notetaking placemats” with the student name and his/her role for the week.  I included a placeholder for their “kickoff quote” and then plenty of space on the front and back for notetaking and drawing.  Like previous  weeks, each group received a supply caddy full of various Sharpies and markers.


Ironically, though some students did show more active participation with the visual notetaking and mindmapping of the group discussion, the majority of the student work fell flat with very few visual or written notes.  Again, I don’t know whether to attribute this unexpected outcome to the fact prom was less than 24 hours away, the fact that the same one who have come unprepared to every minute and not fully participated were the very same ones who struggled again in meeting 3, a combination of both factors, or perhaps some other variable I’m not aware of at this time.  I’m deciding right now if we should take a second pass with this medium or return to the butcher paper for the final meeting.  I wanted to use the visual notes as a visual record of meeting ideas for each group and put them on display, but this learning task is an area of struggle for most of my seniors even after showing them models prior to the first meeting and models from their classmates after the first meeting.  This aspect of book club meeting will be something for me to consider with more thought over the summer as to how to get more student engagement on this front and to help them better understand the purpose of the visual notes.  I’ve seen other students of a younger age do amazing work with visual notes of book club meetings in the moment, so I know what is possible, but I also must consider that this kind of learning task is new for most of these students.

One immediate intervention I WILL do this week prior to our last meeting:  I’m going to ask my exemplar group to talk to the class about how they go about their work and talk the class through their work—I think it will be powerful for students to hear tips from their peers in their own words, and I’m interested to see if this student led modeling/mini-lesson makes a difference whether we are doing visual notes and mindmapping the meeting ideas on butcher paper or individually.

Modified Self-Assessment

One final thing I did differently for the third book club meeting was to change up the format of the self-assessment.  Instead of a series of numbered questions, I presented the self-reflections in this format:


Interestingly enough, some students shared they found this format less “intimidating”, and some had more concrete talking points with this format.

Final Reflections and Next Steps

I felt most students really stepped up in terms of preparation and participation for the second book club meeting. As I mentioned earlier, the energy levels were up across the board and I could see more engagement from a larger number of students in the second meetings.

I was a little disappointed that some students seemed to take a step backward, though, for our third meeting this past Friday.  While students were participating, many were not as prepared as the previous week or two, and the energy level seemed lower compared to the last meeting.  I honestly think the impending prom was a factor, so I am hoping we will make our final and fourth book club meeting this Friday, March 23, our best yet.  I’m going to give students some extra prep time in class on Wednesday and forego our day of work with argumentative writing.  I also have some library time scheduled for students to do a little research on their book author and their social media presence to see if that adds to their understanding of the writer’s purpose with the book and any material to add to the conversation since one student had explored this angle and shared it with her group this past Friday.

What kinds of scaffolding or supports do you provide students to help them grow their student book club conversations?   What strategies do you like to help students grow their conversation and interaction skills with each other?

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!