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Using Read-Aloud Discussions to Strengthen Book Club Muscles

By Julie Ballew on February 4, 2013
  • Grades: 1–2, 3–5

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts, it’s no secret that I’m swimming in a sea of book clubs lately. I have already shared some amazing work that I’m seeing in 2nd grade book clubs and 5th grade book clubs at my school. This week, I’m happy to share a strategy that several of the 3rd grade teachers in my building are using to make their book clubs more efficient and more purposeful. They are using their read-aloud time to help students strengthen the mental muscles needed for engaged, meaningful book club conversations.



Read-Aloud With Accountable Talk

Every day, Mindy Brock and Georgina Benavides read aloud to their 3rd graders. They have a set time for this carved into their schedule, and they plan specific places in the text to stop and think aloud or to stop and invite their students into a discussion. This is different from the kind of read-aloud I had as a student, where the teacher turned off the lights after recess and read us a favorite book without discussion. (As a side note, I believe both kinds of read-alouds can have a place, but I want to be clear on the kind I’m describing here.)

As far as the text is concerned, sometimes they choose a short picture book with an important lesson, or they might read a longer chapter book over several days to see how characters change over time. Right now, they are in a nonfiction unit of study, so the texts chosen for this read-aloud time are nonfiction.

Ms. Brock reads an article to her class.   Mrs. Benavides reads a book to her class.

Preparing for Book Clubs

This week, Ms. Brock chose a nonfiction article about cold weather to read to her class. Because she wanted all of them to be able to see the text features, she printed out the article and put it under a document camera. Mrs. Benavides chose the nonfiction book Dinosaurs! Strange and Wonderful. Both teachers invited their students to discuss the text at several pre-planned stopping points.

Students give a thumbs up to show they are ready to share.

You might be thinking, “How is this different from a normal read-aloud?” The discussion is where Ms. Brock and Mrs. Benavides gave their students opportunities to prepare for book clubs. Instead of having students share their thinking individually or turn and talk to a partner, these teachers asked them to talk to their book clubs every time they stopped for discussion.

Students talk in book clubs    Students talk in book clubs

      Students talk in book clubs     

Engagement was incredibly high in every group. Students were so interested in the text that I could see many of them struggling to wait their turn to talk. This is a great problem! They are learning that their thoughts are important enough to share, and they are great about making sure everyone gets a chance to share.

This kind of practice provides an important scaffold for students. Because the teacher is reading the text out loud, all students are on a level playing field. Instead of balancing the process of reading with the thinking and discussion, students can focus solely on the discussion. This eases them into the independence and the multitasking that book clubs typically demand.

Teacher talks to students in book club

Have you tried book clubs yet? I’d love to know how they’re going. Leave a comment below!

Comments (10)

I loved your article about this type of variation of a read-aloud in your classroom; it seems to be very engaging and successful for your students! Typically, a read-aloud has many benefits, but your discussions within for your book group members add to it and allow for your students to gain even more. This, in turn, will greatly improve their understanding of the text, as well as important literacy skills. It is also a great scaffolding activity as your mentioned. Since you are a literacy coach, my question for you is how could this specific read-aloud be tailored to secondary grade levels? Would the format be the same in terms of group members discussing at different points? Would there be any additional guidelines in order for ELA students to think more critically and improve on their literacy skills and strategies? Thank you for the great idea!

I love this strategy for scaffolding literature circle discussions. This year we started out using literature circles for a novel we ALL read. Initially, I would bring all the kids together and fishbowl one groups meeting. This was a very powerful tool. The kids in the bowl loved being the center of attention. I started off with my strongest groups so they provided an excellent model for my other students. The kids outside the bowl liked the opportunity to offer praises and pushes to their peers. Now my students know what is expected of them in literature circles so I can differentiate by reading levels and assign books with the confidence that the different groups all know what to do.
Stacy Schwab @ new-in-room-202.blogspot.com

Hi Stacy,

That kind of scaffolding is so important! I absolutely love the fishbowl strategy but have not used it with book clubs before - that's such a great idea. Thanks! :)

We have been doing similar type read alouds with small sections of text in our school also. We have been practicing this through our study of 'close reading.' I absolutely love it. There are many opportunities for turn and talk and independent thinking. The kids must refer to the text frequently and support their responses with evidence. In addition to close reads, I've been doing book clubs 4-5 days a week. Each of my 25 third graders are in a group of 4 students reading an assigned text. I'm trying to have most groups read non-fiction texts that link to our social studies curriculum. They are required to buddy read then respond to questions in both writing and orally. Overall, I'm pleased with their responses, discussion and ability to keep on task. Naturally, there are those groups that struggle with this high expectation of independence as I'm only able to meet with one or two groups per session. A huge help has been having a student teacher this semester! I'm thrilled with the reading progress and improvement of written responses to text. I plan to continue this practice next year - but provide much more support for appropriate small group behavior upfront.

Hi Alicia,

Your book clubs sound amazing! I have been having many discussions recently about how we might scaffold this work in the earliest part of the school year. That upfront support always pays us back ten-fold later in the year! :)

Book, books, read a louds, my FAVORITE part of the school day. If teachers can somehow determine how read alouds provide this meaningful time for this transfer of knowledge and ideas, read a louds would happen more often in our classrooms today. Yes, if you want your students to become interested in literature-try read a louds. Also, providing time for students to share during read a louds has a trememdous impact on students, especially the students who are less inclined to share.

You are so right! I would spend my entire day reading books aloud if I could! :)

My 5th grade students have been working in book clubs twice a week for 3 weeks. It has been somewhat frustrating because they aren't high-level thinkers. I am starting to see some progress in their discussions. At first I gave them the questions they were to write about and discuss at the next meeting. Now they are in charge of the questions with some Bloom's Taxonomy starters. I would probably try this again, but not this year. They need a little more structure. Each class has its own needs. This year's class is a challenge.

You are right about the dynamics of the group playing a big role in book clubs. We have found that practicing in book clubs with easy books allows them to improve conversational skills before moving on to harder books.

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