The benefits of reading are well-known amongst teachers and parents, including mental stimulation, improved analytical skills, and vocabulary expansion. Book clubs are one way to help foster a love for books and a positive attitude toward reading. Some benefits of book clubs include social interaction, collaboration, and the development of critical thinking skills. With proper preparation and guidance, teachers (and parents) can organize and run effective book clubs both remotely and within the classroom. Book clubs have arguably become even more critical in the wake of COVID-19. The pandemic disrupted the typical classroom environment by shutting down schools, and even now that in-school teaching has resumed, virtual learning may be here to stay. Additionally, parents may want to encourage their children to develop a habit of reading outside school.
Having a solid idea about the readers you’re hoping to get involved in your book club sets the stage for everything else. You will need to know the age group you’re targeting and what reading level (separate meetings for fast or slow readers is something to consider). How big should each group be? Laura Milligan, a former middle and high school teacher, and the founder of ReadWriteStart, recommends that groups be no more than about 6 – 8 students. She suggests keeping the length of a book club to 2 weeks, with students meeting every 2 – 3 days online. Book meetings should be kept to under an hour in length (or 30 minutes for elementary and middle school children). Milligan also encourages using video messages; she sends messages to students before and after the two weeks. Students begin reading on the same day, and it is OK if some read ahead or fall behind.
It is important to communicate expectations at the beginning. Stress the importance of preparation before each meeting. Will there be a rubric? Assessments? Rules? Other methods for holding members accountable? It is also essential to consider your target readers. What age group are you looking to work with, and what reading level are you expecting for members? You may want to divide readers by level or speed of reading.
What software should you use for your group? Lawrence Haywood at Ahaslides.com provides some examples:
- Zoom – a video conferencing program that can host meetings
- AhaSlides – to create polls, quizzes, and other interactive content online (both paid and free plans)
- Excalidraw – a virtual collaborative whiteboard
- Social media forums through Facebook or Reddit
Get to Know Everyone
Icebreakers are a good idea before the first meeting (or even the second or third meeting). Everyone should know each other’s names. Icebreakers help create a sense of community and don’t need to be too challenging or personal (e.g., favorite book, animal, or game).
Let Students Lead
Student-to-student discussion is more beneficial than the teacher leading the discussion. Give children a choice of books, maybe through a class vote. Involve students in deciding on the expectations for the group, and establish ground rules together (e.g., what does respect mean?). Ask students to bring a pen or pencil, paper, and the book to each meeting. Some children may feel more comfortable writing down answers to questions before sharing with the group.
Optimize for Time
Tools including apps, worksheets, websites, and video messages can help optimize each session. Milligan uses BombBomb (a free Google extension for teachers) to track who has watched the video before the session, which allows her to plan how to begin each meeting. Assigned reading portions ahead of time also helps students prepare for the discussion and better understand the material.
Text to Self Questions
Text-to-self questions help students better understand the story. Michelle Bouslog, an education technology teacher, explains that “in order for students to gain the skills they need to not only read but to comprehend, students need strategies to help them self-monitor.” This self-reflection also leads to self-discovery through connection to the story through comparing the self to characters. Text-to-self questions include:
- Which character do you think you could be friends with in real life?
- Which character do you think you’re most like?
- What have you learned from the story?
In addition to asking questions during meetings, encourage students to write any questions while reading between sessions. Guides or templates can help navigate difficult conversations (e.g., Courageous Conversations).
Preparation is participation. It is crucial to include and create space for every student in the group. Students may differ in how they engage with the material based on shyness or other personality traits. Preparation can take different forms (drawings, quotes, questions). Discussing in smaller groups allows for more healthy risk-taking, especially for more timid students.
Above all, remember to have fun! These tips will help you design and run a fun, engaging, and educational experience that will meet your students wherever they are in their reading journey.