Book Club Discussions: Moving Beyond the Text To Make Meaningful Connections

So we’re about half way through our book club and things are going okay. My class is a group of very verbal kids (and then some not so verbal kids). They seem to be enjoying their novels and I know that they’re engaged in the read aloud text: Firegirl. I have been struggling with one thing, which is getting students to discuss their novels in a meaningful way, without my prompting.

book clubStudents are struggling to keep the conversation going for more than 5 or 10 minutes in their book clubs, after their assigned reading. They are finding it difficult to break away from taking turns, …I talk…then you talk…then you… rather than having a conversation. 

When I realized that this was going to be a struggle (after the first book club meeting) I modelled a conversation for the class. Basically, after reading the section of our read aloud text, a few student volunteers and I had a conversation in front of the class about what had happened. I tried to model what the dicussion should look like, asking questions, building meaning etc. It was a start – but just not enough! If prompted, they can come up with all sorts of ideas, connections and predictions. However, without my prompting, I am listening to very basic comprehension types of statements without any real excitement!

It’s sad. All this time is being spent on the book club and the real meat of the club – talking about what they’re reading – is falling flat. Now I won’t be too hard on them (or me, I guess). There have been some glimmers during their conversations, I just find that given the students I have – I expected more! I struggle to shut them up ( you know what I mean) on a good day, having to ask them to put their hands down because we’ll just never get to finish the lesson (sometimes their connections are not always on topic and once that train falls off the rails…).

Well, we had a short after school PD session on Guided Reading for K-8 yesterday, and it got me thinking about how I’m doing things in this book club and what they are actually getting out of it.

I talked to our presenter after the session about the conversation dilemma and she actually directed me toward a great resource that our school has: Teaching and Comprehending Fluency: Thinking, Talking and Writing about Reading (with DVD). I read the chapter on book clubs and got a couple of great ideas from it. The DVD that comes with the book has lots of other resources on it as well! The one that I plan to us is the video modelling what a book club discussion is supposed to look like – with real students discussing a real text.  I can’t wait to show it to my students and see what they have to say about it, especially in comparison to their own groups. I’m really hoping that it’s going to put some spark into their book club discussions.

I guess maybe I was a little naive, as this is my first book club. I just thought they’d dive in, like on Oprah and divulge their thoughts and wonderings, building elegantly on one another’s ideas. Ugghhh…What was I thinking?

Oh, one other idea that I got from the book was to have students use a “think mark” – basically just a folded piece of paper – to write ideas down as they come across things in their reading. They can mark page numbers down, predictions, opinions, wonderings, words they don’t understand etc. and then take those to book club to use as they discuss. I’m going to try this one tomorrow.

So, help me out! What other strategies can I try, to make the second half of this book club more engaging than the first? I’m completely open to your ideas!

I’ll tell you what I’ve got so far…

-Students are already expected to have a Reader Response ready and topic of discussion for the book club meeting (completed after they read). And, I’m going to try the think mark idea tomorrow.

-Students have “Guidelines for Book Club” to encourage listening and making sure that everyone has a chance to speak.

What I plan to try…

-Showing them the DVD of the book club discussion as a model and talk about what the students are doing well.

I’m ready and listening…share your wisdom…please!middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo


About krystalmills

I am a Grade 7 teacher in Prince Edward Island. Lessons From The Middle shares lessons from the classroom, and occasionally from my life as a mom of two young boys. The goal of this Canadian teacher blog is to share middle school lessons, activities and ideas from my classroom and to collaborate with the wonderful online community of teachers out there as well! Thanks for stopping by!   Find me on Facebook Twitter Pinterest Browse my TPT Store Browse my TN Store

Posted on January 23, 2013, in Book Club, Freebies, Literacy, Middle School, Professional Reading and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. My students have to mark 3 places with a stickie, where they’ve used some kind of comprehension strategy, words they enjoyed, etc. When they get into their groups, the first person will read one of the parts they put a stickie on and then describe why they put it there. Each of the other members must comment on either that section or what the first person said. Sometimes it turns into a discussion. Then the next person reads the part they put a stickie on and the whole thing starts over again. My guys don’t write anything except what they write on their stickies. Have you read the book “grand Conversations” by Faye Brownlie? I got that idea from that book.

    • I like that idea MJ! I think I may try the think mark tomorrow and we’ve used stickies lots this year, so perhaps I’ll get them to try this as well, maybe the next day. Then they can compare what way works for them to get the most out of their book and discussions. The only thing that I don’t like about the think mark or the stickies is that once the discussion is over – they’ll be as good as gone! If it’s not in a scribbler, it doesn’t have a long life in my room;)

      I haven’t read that book, but I may have a look for it now! Thanks:)


  2. First, I loveeeeee your post. I just loved reading how you thought about the whole process. I also liked what other things you were looking into. I think your students would like to see a group of students model the book club.

    Could it have been that they didn’t love the book? You have 7th grade boys who may not have become immediately engaged simply because of the title.

    Could it be that they aren’t experienced in thinking out loud or sharing because they don’t do it in other classes? If you brought in some news tidbits about bullying, would they chime in and lead small group conversations with each other? Maybe they just need practice in sharing with each other.

    • Thanks so much Queen of CLick! I was hoping after I hit “publish” that it all made sense! This group has me a little stumped! They can talk a blue streak about nothing – or anything! They do okay in their groups, but like I said – I’m not seeing any kind of excitement. It’s true – they’re grade 7. Maybe I set my sights a little too high:) Firegirl is the read aloud part of the book club and then they are reading one of four novels, that share similar themes to our read aloud. So, they’re discussing their novel, not the read aloud – although if they made connections to it – that’d be great! For sure it be in some groups, that they’re not loving the book. That could absolutely be part of the issue.

      What you said about taking in a bullying piece. You’re brilliant! You just gave me an idea! I also teach them health. Maybe I could take in some pieces on friendships, bullying, relationships, substances etc. that will catch their attention and have them discuss these sorts of texts – as practice – basically. What I need is a time machine, so that I can start over and try some of these thing first;) There’s always next year, I guess! Well, and the rest of this year, of course!

      Anyhow, thanks for your comments and suggestions!


  3. I have students use hand signs to signal that they are ready to share… we talked a lot about how they need to be listening to others as well as speaking (and I have them reflect after the lit circles to say one important thing they shared and one important thing they learned or heard… so that holds them somewhat accountable)… but… back to the hand signals. They put out 2 fingers if they have a connection or can somehow build on what the speaker is saying. It is the speaker’s responsibility to call on anyone who has a connection once they are done speaking. If a student has a new idea, they put a thumb up… once all the connection hand signalers have the chance to share then the speaker calls on anyone with a thumb up and a new conversation begins. It is slow going at first. I am playing the role of observer since this is our first go-round of lit. circles this year. I try not to intervene, but help them if they get stuck and then help them with the reflection to help them come up with ideas of how to improve the group for next time. I have used resources from to help… they have a literature circles unit.

    • Thanks Jennifer! Actually, those hand signals were in the chapter of the book that I mentioned. I wish I would have done more prep before this book club started. Isn’t that alwasy the way? I think that the signals would be great to give people time to gather their thoughts and then let the others know, without interrupting that they’re ready to share. Reflection – that’s the other huge component. I had my students do a quick self assessment about how they’re doing in general with the book club. However, it does seem as though, perhaps they should be reflecting after each book club meeting, which we haven’t been doing. Thanks for your suggestions!
      Let me know how your groups progress!


  4. I do a much more informal lunch book club with fifth graders. I give them post-its and they come with a question, quote, or comment to each session. That helps us to keep it student driven because my goal is to show them how they enjoy literature without it being a school activity. It does take them awhile to stop looking to me to ask basic comprehension questions and realize I am not going to lead the group, but they eventually take off and love it.


  5. Dora Alvarez-Roa

    When I do book groups or chat, we practice what I’ve already showed them how to do- I give the students post-it notes to
    1. “mark” a part that is interesting,
    2. where they learned something
    3. make a prediction of what will happen next
    4, mark the place where they have a question about something
    5. a situation that they have experienced before- and can give a personal story
    I give them a choice on what they are looking for and then have a group discussion based on what they have.

    It takes practice, but the students can really come up with some really good points.

    Good luck-