In my last blog post, I shared how I used book tasting to help students pick one of five books for our American Lit book club project.  There are many ways teachers may structure book club meetings and assignments—some choose a path that is very open and flexible while others may provide more structure.  I tried to hit a happy medium knowing my juniors were not ready to be turned loose with no support or scaffolding, but at the same time, I did not want to over-structure or complicate the experience.  Drawing upon what I had observed with my students’ learning habits and keeping in mind we were moving forward as we began the state testing season, I provided my four classes a daily schedule of what they should be working on in terms of:

  1.  A reading schedule for each book with deadlines.
  2.  Learning activities

I gave students a reading schedule for each book:

I also shared with students the number of annotations due (see this previous post) due by each book club meeting; this number varied slightly by course level between Honors and “on level” classes.

Book Club Prep Work:  Meetings 1 and 2

For each book club meeting/round of reading, students were assigned a “book club prep” handout to complete and a set of review questions that covered their assigned reading.  For the first meeting, each book club had the exact assignment; I made copies of this prep handout on different colors of paper for A day classes and B classes (we run a modified block here at Lanier High).

For the second meeting on May 14, each book club group had the same task of choosing three significant passages, but the questions for group discussion were customized for each book.  For the second round, the prep sheets were printed on colored paper with each color corresponding to a specific book.  I tried to strike a balance in having students come prepared with some specific passages for discussion while giving them choice in choosing those passages and some common questions the groups could discuss.

In the days leading up to each book club meeting, students had generous amounts of class time to read, work on their prep materials, and to work on their annotations.

Supporting Book Club Meeting Discussions

Book Club Meeting 1 Structure

Prior to the first meeting, all students completed a survey on what they felt book club meeting norms should be for meeting manners and etiquette.  Universal agreements included coming prepared, staying focused, and being respectful to each other.  Other agreements included:

For the first meetings on May 3-4, our book club conversations were structured into four segments since we had a ninety minute block:

Period 2A Honors did incredibly well with this structure–the joy and energy was palpable in the room, and they were incredibly engaged in the work at hand.  Period 3B Honors did a solid job, but they did not engage with the same gusto as 2A.  My team taught 4A struggled as only about 40% of the students came prepared enough to participate in the book club; those who did not come fully prepared worked in another room with my team teacher to catch up.  For my final class, Period 4B, I changed the fourth round to what I called “wildcard” discussion round—they could pick any discussion point from the prep sheet, the review questions, or their annotations.  Though Period 4B did a fantastic job with the first three discussion rounds, the fourth “wildcard” round was the one that generated the most energy and conversation–so much so that I had difficulty getting them to stop!  Based on this experience, I decided to incorporate the “wildcard” round into the second book club meetings that took place on May 14.

I also incorporated two additional tasks into the first book club meetings for each class:

  1.  For each class, I provided students a notetaking sheet to jot down ideas they heard from their peers.
  2.  Each student completed a post-book club meeting set of reflections and self-assessment.

Book Club Meeting 2 Structure

In the week leading up to the second meeting, students had ample class time to read and do the next round of prep work, but I also did some fun and brief formative assessments that I called “hashtag” assessment.  Student simply followed these instructions and posted their responses on sticky notes or neon-colored templates I provided them:

Not only was this a fun formative assessment to check for understanding, but it was also a great opportunity for students to see/hear from fellow students across other class periods.

Prior to the second book club meeting on May 14, I gave students about 10-15 minutes of what I called “pre-book club meeting” discussion time on Thursday and Friday, May 10-11 to meet with their book club groups and debrief on where they were and any talking points of excitement about their book as well as “muddy” or fuzzy points of understanding.  Whether students were meeting with the same group or were meeting with a slightly different group from the first meeting, this informal “warm-up” was popular with all my classes.

Because the second book club (May 14) took place on our “skinny” day in our modified block schedule (roughly 50 minute class periods on Mondays), I shortened the discussions to three rounds and did not require students to take notes or complete an immediate post book club  meeting reflection or self-assessment. The compressed time frame forced students to really focus the conversation and engage with each other as they talked about their books.  For the second meeting, I kept the first two rounds from Meeting 1, but I made the “wildcard” round the standard “third” round of discussion for each class period.   I felt this modification helped students have some common conversation points but plenty of room for choice as well.  I could see students had more confidence in this second meeting, and they were more spontaneous with their conversation points.  I was happy with the quality of engagement I saw in most groups, and students seemed to enjoy the second meeting just as much as the first one.

In my next post in this series, I’ll share how we concluded our book club experience with mixed book club groups and how we made connections between our books.  If you are doing student book clubs as part of the literacy learning experiences in your room, how do you support your learners and organize the book club activities?