Book Clubs give readers a chance to have engaging, meaningful, socially satisfying conversations together about a common text of their choosing. They allow readers to take on the social expectations of listening, speaking, and conversational turn-taking while expanding their ability to express ideas using academic language. Book Clubs give readers a space to try on these behaviors with greater independence and ownership over time.
While interactive read-aloud provides the model for what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to think and talk together about books, the success of Book Clubs depends on a teacher’s ability to nimbly negotiate the level of support and facilitation a small group of students need for their experience to be interesting and productive. You can optimize the Book Club experience by thoughtfully preparing yourself and your students before reading, by working flexibly during the book club discussion, and by planning for reflection after reading to ensure continuous improvement.
1. Set expectations for participating in a Book Club. Readers are not born knowing how to listen actively, agree and disagree respectfully, build on the ideas of others, and ask questions. These are critical life skills that need to be introduced and practiced regularly. Here are some examples of some principles (taken from The Reading Minilessons Book) that students need to work on before joining a book club:
- Show respect to each other in a book club discussion.
- Agree or disagree respectfully with each other’s thinking.
- Ask questions to understand each other’s thinking.
- Add to an idea before you talk about a different idea.
2. Give a great book talk to introduce Book Club texts. Book talks are quick “commercials” that entice readers to choose one of the books in your book club collection. Book talks build suspense and excitement before reading. Notice how the example from the Fountas & Pinnell Classroom™ Book Club Collection, Grade 3 below asks a provocative question that readers will want to pursue.
3. Know each reader’s strengths and needs. The better you understand the strengths and needs of the students in the group, including their social dynamics, the better the facilitation of the book club will be. Who loves nonfiction? Who is reluctant to share their thinking? Who tends to dominate conversations? Initially, observations of readers during interactive read aloud and other instructional contexts can inform your approach.
4. Get to know the texts in your Book Club Collection. Effective facilitation depends upon your deep understanding of the text, clarity about its key understandings, and your choice of appropriate goals for the group of readers. Readers spend a significant amount of time preparing for monthly book club meetings and your preparation will assure that everyone makes the most of the meeting time. The discussion cards in the Fountas & Pinnell Classroom ™ Book Club Collection summarize the text, identify its message and its important text characteristics, and provide a selection of grade-level appropriate goals for listening, speaking, comprehending, and writing about reading. This information is designed to support your role as a facilitator.
5. Make a clear plan for facilitating the Book Club conversation, but be prepared to be flexible and responsive to the readers. As you think about the key understandings of the texts and the goals you have in mind for the readers, prepare to guide the conversation to explore specific understandings about the text. Be clear about the language you will use to keep the questions open-ended and inviting. Notice in the example below how the discussion card that accompanies each text in the Fountas & Pinnell Classroom ™ Book Club Collection provides general prompts for discussion from the Fountas & Pinnell Prompting Guide, Part 2 alongside open-ended, book-specific prompts.
6. Move toward gradually releasing responsibilities to students. Your goal in Book Clubs is to develop readers that are able to have an exciting, interesting conversation largely without your intervention. Your presence is essential to teach, demonstrate, support, and sometimes help them get back to the text; but the goal is to move toward increased independence. As you facilitate Book Clubs across the year, notice how many comments are directed toward other readers and how many times readers respond to others without your own talk in between.
7. Reflect and set goals for talking together. At the end of the discussion, make time for readers to self-evaluate their conversation. Did they come prepared? How well did they take turns? Did they build on each other’s thinking? Did they discuss the most interesting and important aspects of the text? Was everyone’s voice heard? What do they want to work on next time? Set aside time to self-reflect on your role as facilitator, too.
As the year progresses, Book Clubs, alongside the myriad of other opportunities you offer readers to talk about captivating texts each day, has limitless benefits. Readers build connections, learn to value listening, share new thinking, and grow to know and appreciate each other’s unique perspectives. It’s rewarding and exciting to see the individual readers in your classroom grow into a community of learners.