Implementing Student-Led Book Clubs
These past few months I feel like I’ve really hit my groove with book clubs. All of a sudden people were asking me for resources instead of the other way around.
I have to admit, I have never felt like the strongest teacher when it came to guided reading, so the thought of putting my students in charge of their own learning with lit circles really got me excited. I set out to perfect my system in this past year.
Now I feel like I finally have all the resources together in a way that I can share them with you all!
First of all, this is a resource than can be utilized in so many ways, so I am going to do my best to give an overview of how I use it in my room and the options you have for implementing it in your own room.
I try to complete four rounds of book clubs each year. In the first quarter I utilize short stories so that students learn what is expected of them during book club time. We focus specifically on taking notes while reading and building stamina for discussions about books.
After the first quarter, each cycle begins with students using the book choice recording sheet to “browse” the book selection that I provide. I purposely set out various genres and reading levels to give my students as much autonomy as possible. You could “theme” your books or choose all of them from the same genre. You can also skip this step altogether and pick books for your students and then keep going with the rest of my routine.
I always make sure upfront that my students know they won’t always be given their first choice book. This is because I have to make sure that everyone is reading a book that is appropriate for them (I let them go up and down a level or two from their instructional level) and that the groups are all about equal in size. Of course, I also think about who will work well together and building groups that will actually function.
Once groups are chosen, the first official day of book clubs starts with a team meeting. This is when I pass out their books and journals. During this time students will decide on team norms and decide how many pages they’ll read each week. Students are encouraged to divide the book into fourths and then choose the closest chapter ending for their weekly reading assignments.
Students are required to fill out their journals each week. There are two types of journals included. One simply asks students to jot down interesting words, questions, and notes as they read each week. Then there is a reflection at the end for them to fill out.
The other journal option has weekly reflection questions. If you go this route, I would have students use sticky notes to mark things of interest as they read so they’ll have something to reference when they discuss the section with their team. We practice making these marks during the first round of book clubs when we’re reading short stories.
At the start of the second week is the first reading discussion. This is when students will discuss the reading they did during week one. This past year my students struggled to have their reading ready on a Monday, so I might alter this schedule and do Tuesday reading discussions this next year. Do whatever works for you and your class!
At the beginning of the year, I start by building stamina for these discussions. Students often struggle to discuss stories without teacher support, but my goal with these book clubs is to make them as student-led as possible. For the first book club discussion of the year, I ask students to discuss their short story for five minutes. Then, I try to add five minutes each week. By the end of the first quarter, their team can hopefully discuss a book for 20 minutes without much disruption. In the following cycles, I start over with a goal of ten minutes for week one, and build up to 20 minutes for weeks three and four.
In addition to discussion stamina, these book clubs are also an opportunity to develop some leadership skills. Each week students will choose one role to play as they facilitate the discussion. These are clearly outlined in their journals, but I also pass out larger versions on these days so students can see their role and look at their notes at the same time.
During discussions I wander about the room making sure students are on task and noting students I might want to follow up with to make sure they are comfortable with the process. Sometimes I carry a clipboard around and jot down exemplar questions or comments I hear to share with everyone after. I try not to become part of any one conversation. This is, after all, supposed to be student-led!
Finally, each discussion ends with students scoring themselves and each other on their participation in their journals. There is also a rubric for this.
Each week repeats, building on the weeks before. Here’s an example of what a recent book club looked like in my classroom:
Now, you could stop here with your student-led book clubs, but I have tried a couple of additional components which you might be interested in as well.
First, I usually meet weekly with each of my book club teams outside of the weekly discussion. This is a great way to touch base with your teams. If you are already also doing guided reading groups, this might be too much to accomplish and that’s okay.
In the first week, students are just starting to read their books, so I don’t want to discuss their actual stories with them at our small group meeting. Instead, I touch base with them about their team norms, make sure everyone understands their expectations, and answer any questions they have.
Second, I often have my students complete a project to culminate their book club learning and hold them accountable for some deep thinking. I have done both prescribed and open-ended assignments for this project. For example, I’ve had all my book club teams complete a short story version of their book to share with younger students in the school. I’ve also allowed them to choose a medium to show their learning. Students have made discussion guide questions, movie posters, news articles, movie trailers, and more. They complete these as a team.
If I require a project, I give my students approximately two extra weeks in order to complete the full book club cycle. Then, my time spent with my book club meetings is more geared towards their project completion. In the example schedule I provided, the theme of my meetings each week was related to their team roles, project choice, rubric creation, etc. Basically, I just wanted a set time to touch base with them and make sure they were on target to finish on time.
If I don’t do a project assignment, I might still meet with my book club groups to discuss topics such as theme, main idea, questioning, etc. specific to their book. I like to plan ahead which topics I’ll cover each week, so I don’t get lazy and just skip these moments altogether. An easy option would be to use the reflection questions from the student journals to steer the conversation.
Finally, after each book club, I have students reflect on their learning. I like to include these in their conference portfolios and have students read a bit of their story aloud to their parents. I’ve included two reflection options for you. These build on their journal reflection, but I think it’s okay to give them a chance to refine their thinking before presenting it to me or their family.
Overall, I think that book clubs have been a huge success in my classroom and I’m excited to share the resources I’ve created in order to make them run as smoothly as possible.
Good luck getting started in your room!
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