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Facilitating Elementary Book Club Discussion Meetings in 3 Easy Steps

In past blog posts, we have discussed the benefits of Reading Workshop, 5 easy ways to launch Reading Workshop, and how to start Book Clubs with your elementary students. In this post, we are going to chat about how to help your students run successful book club discussions.

I know what you are thinking…student-run book clubs?! No way!!! You are probably imagining a chaotic zoo of children running amuck with absolutely no learning involved. Okay, so that may be an exaggeration, but I am sure you are at least imagining off-topic conversations and off-task behavior. Remember how we talked about student buy-in for Reading Workshop? Well, that same buy-in helps these book club discussions run smoothly.

Since students are able to select their own book clubs and even apply for those clubs, student ownership significantly increases. The thought process is that they “earned” their spots in these book clubs. (Teacher tip: Really play it up when announcing the students’ books clubs. Congratulate them for being selected into these clubs. Even with older kids, this helps!) Year after year, I have found that students are proud to be in these clubs. Therefore, they WANT to be successful. They just need to know what a successful book club looks like. Cue the teacher! That’s where we come in!

There are three EASY steps to implementing successful student-run book clubs. Once the students are trained using these three steps, book club discussions will quickly become the best part of the day for both you and your students!

Book club meetings will quickly become the best part of the day for both you and your students!

Step 1: Assign roles.

The first step is to have book clubs assign student roles. This is critical to creating book club meetings where every student is engaged. What you don’t want is to have half the class chit-chatting away while the other half passively listen. Having said that, I recommend allowing students to choose their roles. By allowing students to select their roles within their own book clubs, again, you are increasing student ownership, and you may be surprised! I often find that students who I would have never expected to lead a group, choose to be the book club leader. Many students are more comfortable leading a small group with a book they chose rather than speaking in front of the whole class. These book club roles give even the shyest of students the opportunity to step out of their comfort zone in a safe, more comfortable setting.

As I discussed in my last post, I recommend that book clubs are comprised of 3-5 students. The sweet spot is 4 students. I include 4 roles in book clubs, but if you have less students in each club, either remove the optional role or have the leader take on two positions. For groups with more than 4 students, you can have 2 students share a role.

Book Club Role Job Description
Leaderfacilitates the discussion by encouraging everyone to share and asking follow-up questions; chooses the “Big Idea Question” for each meeting
Time Keeperkeeps the group on-task and focused; in charge of moving the group through the three parts of a book club meeting (see step 3); leads the group in creating a reading schedule
Note-Takerjots notes of what was discussed during each book club meeting
Communicatorshares what was discussed during each book club meeting with the class and the teacher; asks the teacher questions when needed (on behalf of the group)

Step 2: Create a schedule.

This requires some brief training. In order to have your students create a reading schedule, they essentially need to be taught how to backward plan. I would give them an end date. In other words, when does their book need to be finished? From there, let them know how often book clubs will meet. This is heavily determined by your own classroom schedule. If your book clubs are a supplement to your core ELA curriculum, you may only want to meet once a week. However, if you are using book clubs as your core curriculum, you may want to consider meeting two or even three times a week. I have done both ways successfully, but now, I use book clubs as part of my core instruction. I have my book clubs meet twice a week, allowing the other three days to be set aside for a mix of independent reading/intervention, mini-lessons on skills needed for book clubs, writing mini-lessons, and occasional assessments.

If you want to learn more about when I implement reading intervention during Reading Workshop, check out this post.

Once you know how often your students will meet with their book clubs, it is time to create a reading schedule. I created a template to help your class get started.

Freebie Alert!

Step 3: Facilitate your first meeting.

Now that your students have assigned jobs and your book clubs are planned, it is time for your first book club meeting! Trust me, it is all going to work out. That first meeting is all about training and practicing. Your students will need to be explicitly taught how to facilitate a book club discussion. I recommend breaking your book club meetings into three parts: Share Out, Discussion, and Reflection. Let’s break down each section:

Share Out

This is time for students to simply share their thoughts about the assigned reading. The book club leader should facilitate this part of the meeting. Students take turns sharing what they liked about the reading, what was confusing, and any questions that they had. They may also want to pose questions to the group, asking for their thoughts and predictions. (I recommend holding a mini-lesson about how to pose questions beforehand. I usually introduce this concept after a few book club meetings.)

Depending on the grade level and language levels of your students, you may also consider teaching discussion sentence frames (i.e. I agree with, I respectfully disagree with, in other words, for example, etc.). I often teach a mini-lesson on this before our first book club meeting. I then provide a “cheat sheet” or anchor chart for the students to refer to during their share out. I would highly recommend at least having a mini-lesson on this topic, even if it is a brief review.

This part of the meeting should only last around 5-10 minutes. It acts as a brief warm-up for the students that will allow them to get more comfortable with sharing their thoughts, as well as provide them an opportunity to simply share their love of reading. This part definitely helps build a sense of community amongst the book clubs. The timekeepers are responsible for keeping track of the time. Once 10 minutes are up, they will move the group along to the discussion part of the meeting.

Discussion

The goal of the discussion is to practice whatever reading skill you have chosen to target. This is the time that students find evidence and examples from the text to help answer a “Big Idea Question”. You can either provide the question you would like the groups to answer or you can have the groups write their own questions. I have done it both ways. I often start book clubs by providing the questions, and then over the course of the unit, I teach the groups to write their own questions. Allow me to explain…

For the first couple of meetings, I provide the questions. These questions include both academic and content-specific vocabulary. I lead mini-lessons on identifying these vocabulary terms. Essentially, I am teaching the students what makes a strong question. (Ideally, these book clubs will be scheduled after students are familiar with some vocabulary words. See the table below for some examples.)

Academic VocabularyContent-Specific Vocabulary
identifysetting
describeprotagonist
summarizeantagonist
evidencecharacterization
explainplot
analyzeconflict
compareclimax
contrastresolution
examinepoint of view or perspective
predictmood or tone
infermotif
justifytheme
theorizesymbolism

After the first few meetings, I start having the clubs create their own questions. I often give them vocabulary that must be included in the question. For example, if we are learning about multiple perspectives, I may ask them to include the words point of view or perspective in their question. I may even ask them to include specific academic vocabulary words, such as examine or compare/contrast. You could even have the communicators show you the question for approval. I recommend doing this at least the first couple of times.

Once students are comfortable with this process, you may want to consider allowing them to develop their own questions without identifying the required vocabulary for them. This gives them the chance to reflect on what they have been learning in your lessons. This also gives them the opportunity to apply the vocabulary words to their own questions. I noticed that once I gave them this freedom, their understanding of both academic and content-specific vocabulary soared. This process also increased the student buy-in we discussed earlier.

Once the questions have been written, the book clubs then switch their attention to gathering evidence from the text to answer their questions. They flip through their books, jotting down page and chapter numbers, as well as direct quotes. This is also the time that you can provide intervention. First, check in with each club, noting if any specific groups need teacher support. Afterward, meet with the individual groups that may benefit from a small group lesson.

Reflection

After the book discussion, which should last the majority of the time assigned for ELA, it is time for reflection. This can take one of two forms: written response to the “Big Idea Question” or group report where each book club shares their thoughts and evidence. I typically plan a mix of the two options.

The written response is completed by individual students, though they are allowed to receive peer support from their book club members. This process takes no more than 10 minutes. Students simply look over the notes they took during the book club discussion and use that evidence to compose a brief paragraph response to the “Big Idea Question”. I highly recommend having students create a writing checklist that includes the writing skills you have targeted as a class. For example, if I taught them mini-lessons on writing strong topic sentences and using transition with commas earlier in the month, I would make sure to include those goals in the checklist (see example below). I would instruct the students to read their writing and only check the topic sentence to make sure it clearly introduces the topic. Then, they would read their writing again and only check for evidence. Last, they would read their writing a third time and only check for transitions and commas. This process teaches them how to self-correct their own writing. It also reinforces the writing skills you have taught in previous lessons.

Writing GoalCompleted
Strong Topic Sentence
Evidence from the Text
Transitions and Commas
Writing instruction is easy to incorporate into book clubs.

I try to schedule at least one group report for each reading skill. For example, if we are learning about analyzing themes over the course of a month, I will plan to have the book clubs report their findings at least one time that month. Please note that these reports do not last long. They are typically only a few minutes per group. If you wish to plan a more formal assessment, you could always add an official group presentation to your plans.


Other Blog Posts to Help You Implement Reading Workshop

The 5 Goals of Reading WorkshopDiscover the benefits of Reading Workshop. Teach your students to love reading and differentiate your reading instruction at the same time!
5 Tips on How to Launch Reading Workshop SuccessfullyLearn how to level books, celebrate student successes, and recommend books to students.
Reading Workshop: Incorporating Classroom Book ClubsLearn tips and tricks on how to successfully add book clubs to your reading workshop.

Published by Learning N Progress

I am an elementary teacher who specializes in differentiated instruction and intervention. I have taught grades K-6, including intervention and gifted students. I am here to help other educators make differentiated instruction easy to manage and effective in reaching EVERY student in their classes.

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