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Effective Book Clubs in the Middle School ELA Classroom

 Book clubs used to scare the bejeezus out of me.  Even way back when I was in college, book clubs were widely taught as one of the most effective ways to teach reading, but you had to make sure you did “this”, and don’t forget about “that”, and if you truly want to be effective, you must show up in full costume with a choreographed tap dance with the autograph of a celebrity to share.  I mean, perhaps that’s a bit of an over exaggeration, but when you are just getting started all the information and strategies to implement can seem just as overwhelming. 

So, after 15 years of running middle school book clubs and making all the mistakes, here are my top 6 tips to cut out all of the noise to deliver effective book clubs in your middle school ELA classroom.

Don’t begin a book club until later on in the school year.

Book clubs take structure, routine, and trust from the teacher.  All of these things are built over time in the classroom, thus it is better to wait until your classroom expectations are established.  I generally do 2 book clubs a year when we are not studying a classroom novel.  So, typically, my first book club didn’t come until the weeks after Thanksgiving.  My second book club generally came right before or right after Spring break.

Group students by interest, taking stamina into consideration.

It is so important to students’ love for reading that during book clubs, you take their interests into consideration.  You only have so many book sets to provide, I understand, but of those, it should be a priority to group students based on the books they determine they’d enjoy reading.  The only exception to this rule-of-thumb would be if a student’s reading stamina couldn’t handle the book they chose.  You can also allow for students to abandon their books and reading groups if they find that they do not like it, so long as they are not abusing the system to switch groups to be with their friends. (You already know “the one” that you’ll have to watch!)

Student run meetings.

This is pretty standard procedure for book clubs, but I provide a few things for accountability and to help the meetings run smoothly.  First, every student comes with three questions they have about the text.  These are not discussion questions persay, but actual questions they might have to aid in their understanding.  I also provide calendars so students can plan out their own reading schedule.  Finally, I provide a schedule of how the meeting should run (including how much time they should spend on each point), extra questions in case conversation becomes stale, and “early-finisher” ideas that promote conversations around the book.

Jobs should promote discussion only.

Early on, I assigned all the jobs that seemed so engaging and fun for the students, but what I learned was, if the jobs didn’t promote reading discussion, all students did was check them off their list and some skipped them or gave little effort because they did not see the point.  I didn’t blame them after really thinking about it.  So now, all my jobs promote reading discussion.  For example, Discussion Leader, Important Quotes, Favorite Parts, etc. Students should be allowed to read on if they love the text, so make sure the expectation for “NO SPOILERS” is set for job completion (they have to do the job based on the section assigned).

Make grading easy on you.

Grading for book clubs can become overwhelming, so I scaled back on my grading expectations.  Keep a running record chart for each time students meet.  Assign participation points if students come prepared with their 3 questions and a completed job.  After the last group meeting, collect the packet of jobs and grade these all at once.  Finally, I assigned an individual book review and a fun group project to be completed at the end for a grade.

Assign fun projects that allow students to share their book.

Group projects can be a nightmare sometimes, so if you do not like the idea of a group project, assign individual projects.  The whole objective is to allow students to share what they have read.  You don’t have to assess for any certain standard other than comprehension.  Allow students to be creative in how they want to share the story.

Book clubs in the middle school ELA classroom don’t have to be hard.  If you can avoid getting wrapped up in all the different things you “have to do” and just simplify it to make it an enjoyable reading experience for your students, you’ll find that book clubs can be quite effective in your classroom.  If you’d like to use my book club unit, you can find that here!  (All the “noise” is cut out and it is just what you need to be effective...implement book clubs ASAP with this resource.)

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