How to Launch Your Own Student Book Club

Editor’s note: We are excited to introduce Powerful Practices, a new feature by author and teacher Donalyn Miller and teacher and literacy blogger Alyson Beecher.

A voracious reader, Donalyn Miller spent 10 years teaching middle school language arts and is embarking this year on a new adventure: teaching fourth grade self-contained. Donalyn is the author of
The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child (2009) and the upcoming Readers in the Wild, which describes her methods for inspiring and motivating her students to read. She writes The Book Whisperer blog for Education Week Teacher.

Alyson Beecher has worked in early childhood, elementary, and special education at the state and district level, including six years as an elementary principal. Alyson is passionate about helping teachers and students understand the value of reading for learning as well as for pleasure. She serves on the Scholastic Book Fair Principal Advisory Board and the Schneider Family Book Award jury. Alyson shares her insights on reading and favorite children’s titles on her blog,

By Donalyn Miller, fourth-grade teacher at O.A. Peterson Elementary, Fort Worth, Texas; and Alyson Beecher, program support specialist at Pasadena Unified School District in Pasadena, Calif.

Welcome to Powerful Practices, our new collaboration in which we’ll discuss best practices for helping our students love reading as much as we do. We’ll also introduce you to great titles that can help you motivate independent reading. This month let’s focus on an old favorite of ours – book clubs.

Book clubs – groups of readers who meet on a regular basis to discuss books – appeal to readers because they combine book discussions with an opportunity to engage with reading peers. Vibrant online reading communities connect readers around the world.

Students involved in positive reading experiences such as book clubs report more motivation and interest in reading both inside and outside of school. Book clubs provide avid readers a community of other readers who share their enthusiasm, while the social nature of book clubs can engage developing readers who lack positive reading experiences.

Sponsoring book clubs over the years at several schools, We recognize the power of book clubs to motivate young readers and help them find reading peers. Kids will stay after school, even on Fridays, to talk about the books they read and discuss their reading lives.

Some current titles that are sure to motivate student book club involvement are Trouble with Chickens by Doreen Cronin, a fun mystery that will win over first- through third-graders; Bobby vs. Girls, Accidentally, a realistic tale second- through fourth-graders will easily relate to; and The Strange Case of Origami Yoga by Tom Angleberger, a story for fourth- through eighth-graders about a misfit named Dwight who proves everyone has something to contribute.

Launching a book club seems daunting at first. Consider the following factors when starting a book club at your school:

1. What is the purpose of your book club? Keep your goals simple. Encouraging students to read more and enjoy reading is the primary emphasis. Resist turning your club into an extension of the academic day. Do not assign reports, projects, or comprehension work such as graphic organizers and response questions. Many students connect reading with drudgery and endless assignments. Although a few discussion topics or activities can increase students’ enjoyment and appreciation for what they read, don’t disguise tutoring sessions as book clubs. Show students that reading is fun.

2. When and where will your book club meet? Think about how many participants you anticipate will attend book club meetings, and designate a meeting place that provides a consistent, comfortable location. Holding book club meetings in our classrooms became a challenge when membership rose above 25 children, so we moved to the library. With comfortable seating, space for large groups, and a backdrop of bookshelves, a library provides an ideal setting for book club meetings.

If you can’t hold regular meetings in your library, get creative. One year, we held book club meetings in the choir room. An avid reader, our music teacher enjoyed listening to our discussions while she prepared for class. Require students to clean your meeting space and respect other teachers and students who use it all day.

Determine how often your club will meet. We suggest holding meetings every week or two. When meeting only once a month, students may finish the book long before the meeting, lose interest in reading it, or fail to remember their reactions to the book.

Also consider students’ transportation needs when setting book club meeting times. If many students ride the bus, holding meetings outside of the school day may be impossible. Encourage students to carpool with book club friends — another opportunity to forge relationships between readers who can continue discussions and share books during car rides home. Holding a lunchtime book club is another alternative, but students will not meet as many readers in different classes or grades.

Forty-five minute to one-hour meetings provide students enough time to visit with friends, eat a snack, and engage in meaningful book discussions and activities.

3. How will you select and purchase books? Funding book club materials requires creativity when few school budgets allow for extra expenses. Many librarians conduct book sales or other fundraisers during the school year to support a library-based book club. Ask your PTA for sponsorship or approach local businesses. Give parents a list of the books you plan to read and invite them to donate copies or locate copies at the library or used bookstore. Use Scholastic Book Club points to buy low-cost books for book club use.

When selecting titles for your book club, think about students’ needs and interests. Which series, authors, or genres do students enjoy? Choose at least one book adapted into a movie each year. Titles such as Because of Winn Dixie and Holes appeal to a wide range of readers and entice inexperienced readers who are familiar with the movies.

Offer at least two different titles at each meeting, which values students’ choices and interests and accommodates diverse reading levels and experiences. More confident readers can move on to the second club selection instead of waiting for other members to finish. Booktalk new titles and provide students time to preview books before making a selection. Read every book offered in the book club before sharing it with students to determine if the title is appropriate, engaging, and worthy of group discussion. Students read what we bless, so offer a wide variety of texts such as nonfiction, graphic novels, and poetry in addition to fiction works.

4. Will you serve snacks? When meeting before or after school, students may shortchange breakfast or miss an afternoon snack to attend book club. Bring snacks for the first meeting and ask students to sign up for snack duty rotation for subsequent meetings. If students cannot afford snacks, ask for parent or PTA/PTO donations. Keep snacks simple. Popcorn and juice boxes are fine. Share guidelines for snacks with your students before they bring anything to eat and determine if anyone has allergies or food sensitivities. A simpler approach is to ask students to bring their own snacks.

5. How will you invite students to join your book club? Ask teachers and librarians to promote the club, broadcast meeting dates on schoolwide announcements, inform parents through school and classroom newsletters, and hang signs around your school. Don’t be discouraged if only a few students attend initial meetings. Continue to advertise. Encourage members to bring friends and siblings. Once the word gets out that book club is fun, more students will join.

6. How will you conduct meetings? Determine students’ roles in leading discussions, sharing books, and running meetings. Will students have time to read during meetings? Will book discussions follow a consistent format? Will students read the entire book before discussing it? Set behavioral expectations and reading guidelines at the first meeting. Decide in advance what you will do about misbehavior or students who attend meetings but don’t read the books.

Hand out books and share recommendations at every meeting beginning with the first one. Don’t lose sight of why students join book clubs in the first place: because they want to read!

Move away from formal, teacher-led meetings and discussions. Facilitate meetings, but don’t direct them. As preparation for book club discussions, bring a few thought-provoking questions about the book and offer background information about authors and time periods — but as conversation starters only. Talking about what they read with each other increases students’ reading comprehension — a powerful, easy-to-implement, but underused strategy. During book discussions, visit student groups, answering questions and provide insight and opinions when asked.

7. How will you maintain or expand your book club? Adding enrichment activities extends students’ reading enjoyment. Invite a local storyteller or writer to attend a meeting. Set up a blog, wiki, or website where students can publish book reviews and resources. Invite students to contribute ideas for meetings. One elementary book club asked the art club to design “Reading Rules” tee shirts, which were sold to fund a summer reading camp. Your club doesn’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming. At one middle school, students bring their own books to their book club, which meets in a science lab.

Your students appreciate your time, interest, and reading enthusiasm more than anything else. One day, they may credit your book club as the place where their love of reading began.

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