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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


On with the book club: What makes a person admirable?

Continuing on with our book club in Language Arts today, we discussed what personality traits make someone admirable. Again, the theme of our book club is “This is who I am” and all of the novels have main characters who display “admirable traits” and strength of character in some way.

I had students write what they thought were admirable traits on the board and here is what they had to say:Book club continued: What makes a person admirable? star photo


-Really cute

-Good singer

-High self esteem


-Make sacrifices for others

-Good personality



-An awesome actor

-Helps me with my basketball playing



-Sets a goal and works toward it



-Patient… and a few others…

We had an excellent discussion on the traits that they came up with, and then worked on trying to narrow our list down to 5 main traits.

Can someone be admirable and also be a horrible singer? Yes, of course – so we took “good singer” off of the board. Can you be admirable without a good sense of humor? Yep! So that “funny” was gone.

We worked our way through the list and finally decided on a few key characteristics that would make someone admirable:

They are kind, set a goal and work toward it, and make sacrifices for others.

The best part is that the class basically hit the nail on the head! The traits that they decided on are ones that the main characters in the novels display. Score! I love it when that happens – everything coming together the way it’s supposed to. They are already making connections all over the place and we’re only two days in. They’re connecting our read aloud, Firegirl, to the anticipation guide that we did on Friday and to the main character that we read about in our last read aloud, Shot at Dawn: World War I. Love it! Super pumped for when they actually get into their book club groups with their own independent novels which will be Session 5… and we’re entering Session 3 tomorrow.

Wish me luck! We’re on to a shared reading piece tomorrow about Myers-Briggs and personality inventories – should be interesting!

middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo

Uncharted Territory…Starting My First Book Club (and an Amazing Giveaway!)

We started our book club yesterday! This is my first one ever (and so I may be asking for advice) but I think the kids are really going to love it! I know what you’re thinking: Why did you launch it on a Friday? That’s another story for another time.

Anyhow, the book club that goes with our grade 7 Language Arts program is themed  “This is Who I Am”. It’s all about the type of person you are, how who you are is reflected in choices that you make and how your personality can sometimes be altered by critical and pivotal points in your life. Perfectly suited for grade 7 – it even fits right along with some of our Health outcomes on choices and friendships.

The read aloud for the book club is Firegirl. It’s not filled with a lot of twists and turns, or complicated story lines. It’s a very basic story about friendship and strength character. A girl joins a class mid-year to be closer to the hospital for her treatments, as she was in a horrible accident and has disfiguring burns. The way the students in the class act toward her is very telling of their character.

I think that it was a great choice for the read aloud for a few reasons, but its simplicity is one of them. I think a lot of my students will see themselves or their classmates in the main characters in the novel. And, at the very least, they must consider what they would do if placed into the same situation. What kind of friend would they be? Would they be brave enough to befriend someone who everyone else avoids? It should be interesting and I’ll keep you posted on how it’s going.

What do you think is the most challenging part of running book clubs? What should I be aware of?


Okay – switching gears…

I also have some pretty exciting news for you…An awesome giveaway by Teacher’s Notebook begins today, Jan. 5th and runs until Jan 31st. It’s simple to enter and the winner will receive their choice of an iPad Mini, a Kindle Fire HD or a Nook HD. How amazing would that be? You can enter each day between now and the end of the month – so be sure to take a couple of minutes to get yourself entered! If I win, I want the iPad Mini!


 middle school lessons from the middle school blog canadian blog, middle school math photo