I started book club in my classroom for whole class reads three years ago and have been so impressed with the thinking and motivation of the students that I’ve expanded it to ALL my whole class books.
The first book of the year we do book club for some but not all chapters—1-2 times per week. For the other chapters we do all group activities—close reading, character analysis, non-fiction articles for context and real world connections, lessons on language and symbolism, writing activities, etc.
For this book club I group students according to ability. The higher level thinkers/stronger readers need less support are relieved that they don’t have to explain everything to their peers or be the leader. This grouping gives me time to spend with the groups who struggle with deep reading, and also allows me to walk the room and note interesting/impressive conversations that I then share with the class at the end of the book club. I have also been delighted to find that the other students rise to the occasion of both leadership and critical thinking and through the peer interactivity, are much more likely to keep up with the reading.
The second book club we do it for the entire book, every other class, and I offer a higher level parallel book that students can choose, reading the class book for independent reading and the higher level book to discuss in class. I have students self-select for these books. I read the back of each book and tell them the reading level of each. Typically, all the GATE and high achieving students gravitate toward the more challenging book, and those who don’t are easily convinced (even flattered when I suggest it) to read the higher book. I also have low achieving students who have chosen the higher level book, and I have been so surprised and impressed with who they became. They have risen to the challenge, are more prepared for class than they ever had been before, and demonstrate a depth and leadership that I didn’t know they had. And to my delight, they have sustained the newfound motivation for the rest of the year!
When it comes time to make groups, I have done two things based on the class—1) put them on opposite sides of the room and told them to independently get into groups of four, or 2) had them fill out a google form telling me 4 students in the book group they would like to work with. Option 2 takes some sorting… I sit down with the lists and make sure everyone is in a group with at least one of their choices.
I have students bring food for book clubs, because we eat at mine! I use this as an opportunity to talk about hosting skills. The kids LOVE bringing food and sharing with their friends, and I think it helps them take the whole role of host more seriously.
My book clubs typically last 20-25 minutes, depending on what I hear as I walk the room. If there’s something important that I think students are missing, or worry they won’t get to, I put up some prepared “ideas for discussion” on the LCD mid-club as an option. I find they can’t resist looking, and those who have already covered those topics feel good and those who haven’t are glad to have a prompt.
I use several strategies to grade book club. First, after every book club students fill out an evaluation of their peers giving specific evidence as to why their peers deserve a given grade. I find it interesting to see how similar the grades are… sometimes I have one student with a 5/5 and a 2/5—in which case I look at the evaluator and see if it’s a friend. Then I look at the explanations of preparedness and participation. My groups are 3-4 students, though sometimes there are absences. I then do some loose averaging to come up with a score out of 15. The evaluation itself is worth 5 points, 25% of the grade, to encourage students to use specific evidence and strong writing to support their evaluation. As I walk the room I note if someone didn’t have their discussion questions ready and can quickly compare that to the evaluation comments to catch dishonesty.
I also periodically check annotations by having students take a picture of two specific pages (different for every class) and turn that in. This done before book club speaks to preparedness, and after book club speaks to participation and listening. I do both at different times. It’s very quick to grade.
The third strategy is to collect the Discussion Ideas worksheet. I do this digitally before book club to check preparedness, and it’s very quick to grade.
Checking annotations and collecting the Discussion Ideas sheet replace comprehension activities for me. So far it has been very easy to figure out who is behind in reading and address it with them and sometimes their parents.
I don’t do all three at once (or even two at once). That’s too much grading! When they never know which one is coming, they are more careful to be prepared.