Book club is now considered to be one of the “best practices” in English Language Arts. Book clubs differ from traditional literary circles in that they are less teacher-directed. The students take on the responsibility of selecting their roles, making their assignments, keeping track of their reading, and much more. Of course, both strategies are necessary for the ELA classroom because students often need practice with literary circles before they can function independently in book club groups. One of the best traits of the book club format is that it is easy to modify and adapt to your students’ needs. In fact, there are many different ways to implement book club into your classes, and depending upon the grade level and performance level of your students, you may want to consider a book club/ literature circle hybrid. The choice is yours. But no matter if you are a book club purist or a book club hybridist, here are THREE STEPS with FOUR FREE GUIDES for setting up and assessing book clubs in your classes.
1. Selecting a Text
One of the cornerstones of book club is student choice, and this element begins with allowing students to select their text. You as the teacher can decide how much freedom you want to give your students and also what guidelines they need to follow. It’s also important to consider if the book needs to be fiction, nonfiction, poetry, memoir, historical fiction, etc., or if the book needs to address a certain theme, historical event, or topic. How much direction you give your students is completely up to you and how the book club will fit into your curriculum. In the past, I have given students a book list to choose from, but I have also allowed certain groups of students complete freedom to choose their books (AP seniors come to mind). But no matter if students have a narrowed list of books or complete freedom to choose their own texts, I tend to require that the book fall between 200-300 pages—any less, and there might not be enough for them to work with over the course of 4-6 weeks; any longer, and they may not get through it in the allotted timeframe.
In order for students to really buy-in to the book club concept, it’s important that they have the time to peruse book options—just like adults do when they go to the bookstore or read about various publications online. This is an excellent time to take your students to the library, or even have them visit a local bookstore as a homework assignment. If you have computer access in your classroom or school, you can also have them research various book selections online. Students can also bring the books to class (or you can provide them depending upon your resources) for a “book tasting” in which they review the cover and read selections before choosing a book with their groups.
Once groups have selected a text for book club, they will need to fill out the “Book Selection Guide” and submit it to you for teacher approval. I have included this guide below. Click on the image of the guide to visit the Bespoke ELA Teachers Pay Teachers storefront to download a FREE COPY.
The guide takes students through the process of selecting a book and thinking about how they arrived at their decision. It is vital that you as the teacher take time to research each book selection to check for school appropriateness and also to see if each book selection meets the guidelines you may have set forth.
2. Assign Roles & Reading Assignments
After students have selected their texts, they need to decide upon group roles. This is where book club differs from literary circles. The teacher does not assign specific roles to each member of the group. Instead, the teacher may give some suggestions and guidelines, but it’s important that students be allowed to create their own roles as they see fit. Students should also set their own reading schedules according to the number of times the book club group will meet. I typically run book clubs for 4-6 weeks depending upon the time of year and unit of study, and book clubs will meet once per week (usually on Thursdays). This means that they will meet with their groups 4-6 times, so this will equates to approximately 50 pages of reading across 5 weeks for a 250-page book. I always like for students to get out their personal calendars and agendas when setting their reading schedules so that they can plan accordingly. One week might be a very busy week with tests in other subject areas, so that group might decide on a lighter reading assignment one week and a heavier one the next—book club gives them that flexibility. One year, a book club meeting day fell on the Thursday of prom week for my seniors, so most groups decided upon a lighter reading schedule that week and longer assignments in the weeks after prom. It is crucial that students practice taking this kind of responsibility for their setting their own work schedules so that they can practice being independent.
Releasing control of our students can be scary because we don’t want them to fail. Some groups are going to struggle with this kind of freedom, but it’s all part of the learning process. It’s better that they struggle now and learn the lesson now. If a particular group does not finish their selected book, then that will become part of their self-assessment and reflection at the end of the unit-- and it will also affect the quality of their culminating book projects.
In order to select roles and set reading assignments, students will need to fill out the “Book Club Set-up Guide” and submit it to you for teacher approval. I have included this guide below. Click on the image of the guide to visit the Bespoke ELA Teachers Pay Teachers storefront to download a FREE COPY.
The guide takes students through the process of assigning roles and setting reading assignments. Students should also exchange contact information. This is vital to the communication process and ultimate success of the group. It is crucial that you as the teacher review their assignments and selections to see if they are practical or not. For example, a group that has decided to read 10 pages for 5 weeks and then 200 in the final week will probably have an issue with finishing the book, so this group should be asked to revise the reading schedule accordingly.
3. Assessing Book Club
Assessing book club comes in two forms. Students need to hold each other accountable for their reading assignments, and you as the teacher need to hold groups accountable for analyzing the text. There are many ways to do this. In order for students to hold each other accountable within their groups, they can take turns writing 3-question reading check quizzes that they give to their group members at the beginning of their club meetings. Another option could be to have students take turns giving homework assignments to their group members. They can even select an option from the “Book Club Menu” (included here as a FREE DOWNLOAD) and complete it as homework to discuss with their group members during book club. Check out the FREE Book Club Menu of discussion & analysis options included below. These options give students a wide variety of activities to complete during book club meetings.
Some students may decide not to assess the reading assignments at all, but these groups may find that not everyone keeps up with them as assigned. If this happens, the group should be directed to get back on track as much as possible so that they are prepared for the final project.
In order to make sure that students are analyzing the literature, they can simply select one of the options from the Book Club Menu and complete the task with their group members on book club days. After completing their selected activity, students can then fill out the “Book Club Reflection Guide” to submit to you, which serves two purposes: (1) It helps students synthesize the main points from their book club meeting & (2) It helps you assess and monitor each groups’ progress throughout the unit of study. I have included a copy of the “Book Club Reflection Guide” here. Click on the image below to download this FREEBIE from the Bespoke ELA Teachers Pay Teachers store.
At the end of each group meeting, students should plan to reflect back upon their discussion in order to synthesize their findings and draw conclusions about key literary elements in the story. They should also consider making a plan to troubleshoot any issues they encountered while at the meeting (i.e. not enough participation, not everyone read the required sections, etc.).
In order to assess the overall book club, students should complete some sort of culminating project. These projects can range from a presentation to a film to a comic book to an essay. A project I like to have my students do at the end of book club is to create a trailer for a film version of their book. The trailer should address the major characters, setting, and prominent themes of the book, and it should “sell” the book to the class. Students can take turns watching the trailers and voting on the best one!
We’d love to hear back from YOU! Do you use book club in your English classes? If so, how do you set up and assess book club? Leave us a comment below. Be sure to sign up for the Bespoke ELA Newsletter that comes out once per month for more freebies and teacher tips!
About the Author
Meredith is the founder and creator of TeachWriting.org and Bespoke ELA. She has taught high school English for 10+ years in Dallas, Chicago, and New York City and holds a M.A. in Literature from Northwestern University. She has always had a connection to the written word-- through songwriting, screenplay writing, and essay writing-- and she enjoys the process of teaching students how to express their ideas. An avid tea drinker and anglophile, Meredith enjoys life with her husband, daughter, and sweet pups.