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Friday, June 19, 2020

Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers


As teachers, we often have a goal to build a community of readers in our classrooms. We want them to have a love of reading like we do. In class we teach them an array of reading skills and strategies
to help them be a good reader and to better help them understand a text. One way teachers can build a love of reading in their classes is through incorporating book clubs.

As coaches, many of us often gravitate to the research and work of Jennifer Serravallo and Lucy Calkins to inform us of structures, such as book clubs. When a fifth grade teacher reached out to me to learn more about incorporating book clubs in her class, it prompted me to want to learn more about them. In this blog, I will share with you the many things I learned about book clubs from the authors of the book, Breathing New Life into Book Clubs: A Practical Guide for Teachers, by Sonja Cherry-Paul & Dana Johansen. 

A highlight of the book is that at the end of EVERY chapter, the authors have placed a chart containing the resources and ideas from the chapter in a logical sequence to help you with your implementation AND include example mini lessons that you can use for clubs or in whole group. 


Chapter 1: Creating a Culture of Reading Through Book Clubs

In book clubs, we envision students...
1. Putting learning into action.
2. Setting reading goals.
3. Cheering each other on.
4. Using words of encouragement with each other.
5. Thinking critically about a text/idea.
6. Generating written responses.

Book clubs are guided by two defining principals:
1. Student choice
2. Student ownership
(always keep student interest in mind, not their reading level) 

But why book clubs in the classroom?
Book clubs...
  • nurture a student's love of reading to share with others.
  • allow student's to be part of a community of readers.
  • improve reading attitudes & engage students as readers.
  • provide time to practice reading skills (transfer of instruction).
  • provide time for in-depth conversations and discussions.
  • empower students to read & respond in authentic and meaningful ways to them.
  • allow time for students to work together to make sense of a text.
Types of Book Clubs:
1. Genre based clubs
2. Goals-based book clubs
3. Identity based book clubs
4. Theme/topic based book clubs
5. Series/author based book clubs
6. On-line book clubs


In the book it's pointed out that book clubs don't have to all be the same genre and should be based around student interest to foster choice and buy in.

Chapter 2: Organizing and Setting Up Book Clubs

When launching book clubs in the classroom, the book goes in depth of the following steps and things to think about when launching them.

Steps to start up book clubs...
1. Determine the 'type' of book club(s)
2. Get books
3. 'Roll out the books' to students and talk them up.

  • Example ideas: book trailers, book blogs, free book exploration, guest book talks, book talks
4. Help students choose their book choices, using strategies such as,
  • 5 Finger Rule
  • Pick 3
  • Rank book choices in order on an index card
5. Create book club groups

Chapter 3: Launching and Managing Book Clubs

Planning/Scheduling: 
When starting out book clubs, the logistics piece is where we as teachers can get hung up. The following are tips that the book offers to help bypass the roadblocks of logistics. 

Begin planning with a blank calendar. Anticipate each book club being around 3 weeks in length (15 school days). When doing this, look at your curriculum calendars, reading units, and standardized testing schedules. The average number of pages a book club member readers each day, is roughly 20 pages, which would come out to roughly a book between 150-300 pages to be read in a 3 week period. 

When thinking about when book clubs would typically meet, aim for about 2 times a week between Monday and Thursdays. Once your students are used to the structure, the book recommends increasing to possibly having groups meet 3 times a week, meeting on Fridays only if it is okay with students. 

A good thing to keep in mind is that when book clubs meet, the teacher is using that time to observe and take note of student reading behaviors. When scheduling your small groups (i.e., guided reading/strategy groups), don't plan to meet with them during the time book clubs are meeting. 


Where Will Clubs Meet?
Think about when you meet with your friends to talk about books. It is usually a relaxed setting. Try to embrace an inviting, clubhouse feelings when clubs meet. Some clubs may decide they want to meet in a school's common space, in one of the corners of the room, or even the center of the room. The important thing is to honor student choice in book clubs as much as possible.

Digital Meeting Space: 
With all of the amazing technology that schools and students have access to, students don't always have to physically meet in book clubs. Finding a platform that fits your goals for when your students meet digitally is important. Some platforms that teachers have found to be great as digital meeting places for book clubs are:
1. Google Classroom
2. Padlet
3. Kidblog
4. Flipgrid

Students need practice and guidance on holding good discussions. They will also need mini lessons on how to have a discussion in a digital space and with getting them comfortable with working with the selected platform. The book offers simple mini lessons to support you as needed in these areas.

First Days of Book Clubs:

When clubs meet for the first time, there are three essential goals for day 1:
1. Make reading plans:

  • make a reading schedule to complete the book on time.
  • determine how the club will budget their time and map out their nightly reading to make reading goals.

2. Create a plan for written responses:

  • determine how many written responses per week.
  • make a list of possible ways to respond in written form to the reading (as a class).
  • determine what is a fair length for a response.
  • keep in mind that reading is the priority with book clubs, therefore the written response does not have to be very lengthy. 


3. Band together to form a strong book club identity:

  • a book clubs discusses their reading beliefs. 
  • creates a club name [day 1].
  • creates a club banner and selects a mascot (i.e., stuffed animals doll)[day 2].
  • list out club goals [day 3].
  • takes a club picture.
  • positions the banner, mascot, and photo near where the club will meet.
Chapter 4: Lighting the Fire of Discussion

How can we 'power up' talk in book clubs through written response?

Written response helps students to reflect on and evaluate their ideas. They encourage students to brainstorm and jot down ideas to enable them to dig deeper into a text's ideas. Some examples of written responses are:

Sticky Notes:
Students can use sticky notes to...
  • Jot down what they are thinking about the text.
  • Jot down what strategy they are applying as they are reading.
  • Flag pages ('page flags') to remind them of cited evidence from the text.
Book Blogs: 
Students can utilize book blogs to ensure that all voices are heard. Some platforms include:
  • Google Docs
  • Padlet
  • Kidblog
  • Flipgrid
While using these platforms, members of the book clubs can comment on posts. They can even plan to post onto the blog before or after the club meets that day.

Readers Notebooks:
Teachers have found it helpful to provide their students with a few minutes to write in their readers notebooks before or after their book clubs meet. In their notebooks, students can..
  • Jot down noticing and glance over their sticky notes.
  • Explore an idea they heard in their book club.
  • Make predictions about their book. 
Discussion Tips:
It is important to keep in mind that when students are in book clubs and are communicating, it will be loud. There will be laughter, repetition, and students talking over each other. The room will be filled with energy, movement, and student talk/voice. Teachers have to allow themselves to feel 'comfortable' with letting go of control and trusting the authentic conversations that will come about when book clubs meet. Some teachers have found it useful to try the following:

1. Instant Messaging: 
Have clubs meet. Each person gets an index card and writes something on their mind about the book. Members shuffle the cards and pick out one at random. Whatever the prompt is that the group draws, all members will respond to it in their readers notebook and/or blog. Having this done via Kidblog, students can instant message and comment back and forth, allowing for a quiet discussion. 

2. Silent Chart Chat: 
Each group receives a large piece of paper then selects a question to write about in relation to their reading.  Students take turns responding to the question by writing on the paper's available space. 

Think about when you meet in an adult book club:
  • There are no roles and rules about taking turns. 
  • There are no on topic requirements.
  • There are no sentence starters.
  • There are no limits to responding or ways you have to respond. 
When there are imposed structures and roles, book clubs feel stagnate and unnatural. 

What will the role of the teacher be when clubs get going?
The key component for a teacher to remember is that when book clubs are taking place, their job is to be a researcher who observes and collects artifacts that help them make sense of what is happening in clubs. The teacher may be jotting down quick noticings, noting the number of pages that have been read by a club, noting what technology is being used, what types of written responses the clubs are utilizing, or noting who is prepared and who isn't. 


If a teacher is seeing trends or challenges across different artifacts and clubs, a teacher may use that information to pull students, clubs, or the whole class to teach a quick mini lesson that addressed it.

Chapter 5: Journeying Through Texts with Peers

In this chapter, the book discusses how students have a 'backpack of reading tools' that they can use across their book club journeys. As the teacher, we can provide our students with small, quick reminders of these tools to help with their comprehension skills. In this chapter, the authors provides example questions a teacher may use as tool reminders at the start, middle, and end of a book, which can be in poster from, a Google Doc, or in their readers notebooks.

To start a fiction book club, some reminders include:
1. What do we look for at the beginning of a story? What are you noticing?
2. Who is the narrator?
3. How will you keep track of the characters?
4. What is the central conflict?

To start a nonfiction book club, some reminders include:
1. How is the text organized?
2. What are the text features and how might they help you?
3. What is the main idea and what details are supporting it?
4. What is fact versus opinion?

Some middle/end of the text fiction reminders are:
1. What happens by the middle of a text?
2. What happens toward the end of a text?
3. What is the rising and falling action?
4. Is there character development?
5. What are the conflicts and resolutions?

Some middle/end of the text nonfiction reminders are:
1. What is the cause or problem?
2. Does the author use credible sources?
3. What is the effect and solution?
4. What seems to be the most compelling data?
5. What is the author's main message or call to action?

Reading Journey:
The book offered two questions to get students to think deeply about their reading journeys that I loved:
1. How have you changed by this reading and the discussions you've had with your peers?
2. How can the ideas within this book change the world?

Chapter 6: Living with Books All Year Long

"We don't teach reading; we inspire readers by making room for opportunities that BECKON kids to live readerly lives in AND out of school" (2017).

Ways to Celebrate Book Clubs:
Once book clubs have finished their books, students can share and celebrate their learning by engaging in:

Book Talks: 
Students 'sell' their books so peers can learn about what has been read. Students can even video their book talks and post them to a class blog, creating a collection of book talks!

Book Trailers:
Students can create book trailers, much like movie trailers, to get others excited about their books.

Interactive Book Posters:
These posters persuade their peers to read their book, using their visual and auditory senses.

Visual Vignettes:
Students can act out a short scene from their book to give an impression of the setting, mood, or characters of the text.

Book Bistro: 
Students engage with their peers in a bistro, coffee shop setting, where they make book recommendations and converse about the book titles recently read in clubs.

Book Clubs BEYOND the Classroom:
How can teachers keep this community of readers going and move them beyond the classroom?

Some ideas include:
1. All-school and grade-level book clubs
2. Identify and Interest book clubs
3. Jane Addams book clubs
4. Family/Friends book clubs
5. Summer book clubs
6. Teacher book clubs
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