Book clubs are a wonderful way to engage students and contribute to the reading culture at your school. Your students and their learning needs are unique, so take some time to consider the best approach when you are setting up your book club. It can be anything that you (and your students) want it to be.
Great reasons to start a book club
Setting goals for your book club
Organising your book club
Ideas for structuring discussion
Keeping it fun
Making the book club sustainable
Giving students the opportunity to share their love of books and reading helps to create a strong reading culture at your school. You will model positive reading behaviour and show all members of your school community that you value books.
By setting up a book club for your students you will:
- encourage students to read more and to explore titles they may not find otherwise
- connect passionate readers from different classes and year levels
- give students the chance to swap highly valued peer recommendations and reviews
- give students the opportunity to practise public speaking and respectful discussion
- give book lovers a place to feel safe, valued and knowledgable.
In this video, Riccarton High School librarian Sally Blake talks about setting up their book club and the importance of having fun!
Before you put up flyers or invite students to participate you should have clear goals about what you want to accomplish with your book club. Do you want formal, in-depth discussions about one book at a time or more casual chats about many titles? Are you looking to entice reluctant readers or challenge your frequent users to try new things? Perhaps your goal is simply to build up relationships with students, get them excited to be in the library, and showcase new books.
Ask your students what they want and expect out of a book club before you get started. Talk to classroom teachers about possible students to target. Some quick conversations and surveys now will save time later and make your book club more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone.
Tip: Wanaka Primary School has a ‘Secret Book Club’ for reluctant readers. Students are given perks like a Secret Book Club card and are allowed to take out books that aren’t available to other library users. This is a great example of engaging a targeted group of students in a fun way.
Once you have your goals in mind, think about how you will evaluate your effectiveness. This will allow you to make changes as needed, meet your students’ needs, and share your success in a meaningful way with your school community.
Summer reading: measuring the impact for ideas you can adapt for your book club.
It may take a few tries to find the best approach for you and your students. Be creative, keep the lines of communication open and don’t be afraid to make changes as needed. Here are a few approaches that have worked for other schools.
What to read
Choosing what to read is a great discussion in itself. Everyone in the club could:
- read the same book and discuss it together
- read a book from the same genre/based around the same theme/by the same author and tell each other about it (without spoilers!)
- do a challenge together, such as read a book a week or read a classic
- bring along whatever book they are reading and talk about it
Tip: Having a ‘special collection’ of titles just for your book club members gives them something special to look forward to. You can buy books especially for them, or give them first choice of your new books.
Who can join
When it comes to membership consider the following:
- Will your club will be open to everybody?
- How will people find out about it?
- Will teachers be included?
- Will parents be included? if so in what capacity? as members? helpers?
- If you are targeting a group of students, how will you approach them?
- How will you build buzz around your club?
Tip: Viscount Primary School’s fantastic “Secret” Book Club is actually open to everyone, but only if they know the password (“May I join the book club, please?”)
How well discussions flow in book clubs can depend on members, and length of time a club has been operating. But there are ways you can help get things going such as:
- letting your students guide the way, and not despairing if their attention wanders occasionally - a safe place to relax and laugh with other people who love books is sometimes the very best thing you can give them
- asking students to come prepared with questions and discussion points - making sure everyone gets a chance to speak and knows what is expected of them
- guiding the discussion by showing off your new books and giving students a short book talk on each one
- instead of focusing on the plot, focus on other aspects such as the setting (everyone share a favourite scary town in fiction), or character (share your favourite fictional villain).
Scholastic's 2015 Summit resources includes information on Booktalk clubs.
Add a competitive element with quizzes and challenges, for example:
- a Wordle Book Quiz or make your own
- First Line Quiz: read out first lines and have students guess the titles.
- entering the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival: tell the story of a Newbery winner or honour book in a minute and a half
Making something adds additional creativity to your club, so you could:
- invite the art teacher to be a guest star and do a lesson on cartooning - Wimpy Kid fans will love it
- make book marks
- create a playlist for a favourite book - check the author’s website or blog to see if they have their own playlist (many do) so you can compare or be inspired.
Jazz up the library by:
- doing a Dinovember in the Library display challenge tied to book club titles
- planning an Edible Book Festival (This would be wonderful for parents’ evening or open night when people are visiting the library and looking for nibbles. Just make sure you photograph the entries before the guests arrive!)
- creating an Awesome Box and put your book club students in charge.
For writers why not try:
- Six Word Stories: try to sum up your books in six words. Check out these Six Word Harry Potter examples for inspiration
- First Line Prompts: Read out some (unknown) first lines and challenge your students to keep telling the story
- introduce your students to Storybird or Figment. You can even set up a virtual classroom just for your book club kids.
Tip: Put your book club in charge of library displays. Your meetings will be full of book discussion and creative activity. And, at the end you will have a fabulous display to share with the rest of your school. Go to Pinterest and search for school library display ideas to share for inspiration.
Many children’s and young adult authors release digital short stories and novellas starring favourite characters:
- The Julian Chapter by RJ Palacio
- Night of Cake and Puppets by Laini Taylor
- This Night so Dark by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
- Check Wattpad for favourite authors - they sometimes release free content there.
- Check authors' web pages and blogs for other content
- Check out this Hogwarts MOOC and study together
- Learn a language from Game of Thrones
- Take one of author John Green’s Crash Courses on YouTube
Create a virtual space for your book club using one of these social networking tools:
- Goodreads - you can set up a group for your club members
- Biblionasium - online reading community for primary and intermediate students
- Inside a Dog allows you to set up book clubs
One way to make your club sustainable is to collaborate with others. Getting a colleague on board means the club will go on when you are not available. Having someone to brainstorm with will also help to keep you both engaged and inspired.
Give students as much responsibility as you can. Can they run meetings? Take notes? Make a snack roster? Letting the students take control will free up your time now and make it more likely that the club would be able to continue if you are not there.
Image: DSC00026, by Colby Sharp on Flickr