Book Clubs, discussion, Reading, Student

General Questions to Use in Book Clubs or Lit Circles

This resource was posted in my Patreon community in July to kick off the school year, if you would like to have access to the resources there, you can join the community here. I share monthly book lists, livestreams, answer questions, and all resources that I create.

Book clubs or literacy circles are some of my most favorite explorations to do with kids. Making space for deep discussions, led by the students, and framed by an inquiry question is something that I love to be a part of. That’s why we have done book clubs twice a year for the past many years. I would not do more than that, kids also want to have experiences where they are not forced to read a certain book with peers, even if they have a lot of embedded choice. And as always, when in doubt, ask your students how often they would like to do them, make space for their ideas and allow for personalization and ownership.

I have posted about book clubs and all the behind-the-scenes work for years, so if you search this blog you can easily find the old posts. If you want the newest resources, then those are posted in Patreon.

One resource, though, that I had not been able to find online was a list of general book club discussion questions that went beyond reactions and predictions. While I could find snippets of meaningful questions that went beyond discussing opinions of the text and predictions, I was really searching for questions that could shape my mini-lessons as well.  I figured I couldn’t be the only one searching for something like this, so I took some time to pull together as many general questions that you could use for minilessons, or that students could choose to use in their discussions.

These question sets can be mixed and matched and are a work in progress.  While geared for middle school and up, they can easily be adapted for younger students, what matters is the lesson that goes along with them.  

Here is the link to the question set document.

There are 4 sets: initial get-to-know-you type of questions, as well as questions for each week.  They typically build off of each other so you see the same patterns on questions – the repetition is meant to create depth through the spiral approach.  I have used these for the past few years with kids and they work really well for the spectrum of readers I teach; those who are flying through the books and need to be challenged and those who I am coaching through the book.

If you have great questions you like to use, please share them and they can be added to the document.  Here is the link again. 

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher

On Book Bans…Again

I keep thinking about book bans.

About the kids whose existence we say doesn’t belong in the stories on our shelves. About the kids whose lives are not accepted in our spaces; classroom, libraries, hallways, and schools.

About the lives we don’t share in our book clubs, read alouds, or mentor text explorations. Because we are scared to be challenged. because we are directed to censor. Because we are told to remove titles. To withdraw invitations. To not share things that may potentially offend.

About the kids whose lives need to be validated and protected in this continued time of hate in the US.

In the land of the free, we have always known only some are truly free. Free to be the center of attention. Free to hold the power. Free to be held up as something worth paying attention to.

Why do I care while I sit in Denmark, a country that has prohibited book banning since the 1800’s (yes, really!)?

Because what is banned in the US, doesn’t get translated to other countries at the same rate.
Those authors don’t get invited to conferences, to schools, to gatherings at the same rate.

Their sales are hurt by the book bans, it is not a badge of honor, which then hurts further publications.

When they write from their own experience, book bans and challenges once again show them that the story they carry is not one that is palatable to share with the world. That they should be ashamed to share who they are.

Because what is gatekept, simply not purchased, not shared, not published, or not even written out of fear of how it will be challenged and banned, directly impacts kids’ reading experiences globally.

The US publishing industry is the biggest in the world.

That means that once again the US sets the tone for the reading lives of so many others. Even those who will never set foot in the USA.

That means when a school board removes books, it limits sales, and that directly impacts the books I can access here in Denmark, a country far way from the hallways of American schools.

But it’s not just that.

It’s personal.

It is my own kid’s identity that is constantly put under the microscope as being “too mature,” as “indecent,” as being sexually inappropriate. It is my own kid’s identity mirrored in stories that are being banned outright or shadowbanned in the spaces of our schools and libraries. As if they control who they love or who they are. As if their very existence is one that is too mature for other children.

All because some adults decided that the bankrupt moral code they follow is more important than honoring the identity of my child. Than protecting my child. Than creating a society that respects the lives of the very children we produce.

And it angers me.

And it scares me.

Because when we remove the stories of others, we leave a void of misunderstanding. Of fear. Of thinking that there is somehow something morally wrong with simply existing in the LGBTQ+ community.

Of others telling my kid that they are probably just confused. Of telling our kid that they certainly can’t know these things because they are too young. Of failing to understand something that is simply who they are. Of others asking my kid when they will grow out of it. Of others asking my kid questions that no kid, or adult, should be asked. And thinking it is okay. And telling us to lighten up. And failing to see how every question is another cut, another punch, another closed door.

And I am so sick of “well-meaning” adults thinking that they somehow know better than we do as the parent of our own child. They don’t see how the words they so carelessly spew, the actions they support, and the hate they spread directly impacts our child, impacts us as a family.

So yeah, I may be in Denmark but I Am still going to fight with everything I can.

I am going to fight so that kids can see themselves in the stories we share. So adults can feel the value that sharing their stories have.

I fight because the youth of Denmark deserve a chance at being seen globally.

I fight because we cannot say we value kids and then support book bans at the same time.

The fight has not just begun, it has been going on for a long time. But it is ramping up and just like there are groups that are organized just to orchestrate book bans, so must we.

So what do we do? PEN America, whose images are used in this post and whose latest report is well worth a read, has a few ideas. They say to

  • Identify
  • Document
  • Assess Safety
  • Notify and Communicate
  • Block, Mute, Report
  • Bolster Your Cybersecurity
  • Reach Out
  • Take Care of Yourself

Read more here.

But we also take a moment to check in with the kids we have in our care. How are they? How do these book bans and challenges affect them? How do we continue to fight back?

I know it is scary to speak up.

I know it is scary to place a book in our classrooms that may potentially cause a challenge.

But think of the kids you validate. The kids who need you to show them that you have their back.

That their story matters because they matter,

I think of how our actions now will reverberate for years to come. Of the kids who will search for questions on our shelves and come up empty-handed versus the kids who will find themselves and find peace.

Of those who will find love on our shelves. Of those who will find power.

I fight back for those kids, and for those who don’t even know which questions to ask yet.

I fight for my own kid, how can I not?

Who do you fight for?

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being a teacher

I Got Hacked…

Yesterday, I received the following email about my Instagram account

At first, I laughed but thought I would check my Instagram account anyway.

And it was gone.

No username, no email, no phone number.

According to Instagram the more than 2,900 posts I have created never existed in the first place. I tried everything Instagram help center articles told me to do, consistently getting absolutely nowhere. When Instagram says you don’t exist there are no reports to file, no forms to fill in, no support to receive. They just keep referring you to the same article over and over.

So I emailed the hacker back.

They wanted $2,000 in bitcoin to release my account back or they are selling it to others to use however they see fit. No guarantees. That kind of money is not something we have to spend. So I cried while I raged, I know it is so silly to cry over something like this, but my account hold years of photos and videos, connections with people all over the world, and represents years of building connections with others. Since we moved to Denmark it has been one of my main ways to stay in touch with friends, former students, and all of those we left behind.

Instagram has been my favorite way to post the last many months as I transition into Denmark and make literary connections here. The people in Denmark have no idea wo I am, Instagram and all the years of posts helped me introduce myself.

I spent the rest of the day frantically securing every account I could think of while getting bombarded by bots saying they could help me recover my account – they can’t, they are just another way to scam you.

Meanwhile, 40 emails in as I went back and forth with the person who hacked my account, they said I could pay $200 in bitcoin to recover it. After discussing with my husband, I did.

And then I got this.

And that’s not something we can do. So I am starting over. All those years of posts are gone but I am still here. I can’t recreate all of the content, I will re-post some things, but I have to look forward as well.

So please come and follow me on my new account @pernilleripp I know there isn’t much to look at right now, but there will be. I will continue to post book recommendations, ideas, quotes, and snapshots from our life. I continue to want to learn and spread ideas. I am really hoping there is some sort of silver lining in all of this, I haven’t found it yet, but I will.

If you haven’t secured your accounts with two-factor authentication, do. It doesn’t guarantee anything but perhaps it would have stopped this.

If you want to help me, please share my new Instagram account with those who used to follow or may want to follow now.

aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, being me

On Change

We have settled in. Sort of anyway. The kids know how to get to school, when to leave, where the parks and library are. We meal plan, have Friday night movie nights, and try to be outside as much as possible as fall is here and the leaves are changing. We have ideas for how we want to fill our time and sometimes they come to fruition. I have never felt so adult in my life.

And yet, I still feel unsettled. My routines are partially in place, I get to work on time, get home on time, cook meals, and put the kids to bed. But the other things that make up a life are still not there really. I am out of my reading routine, I am not sure when to call people that I normally talk to, I am posting on social media at the wrong time. I don’t even feel like I know how to dress anymore. And what am I even anymore now that I am not teaching kids actively?

And so I dream of the things I want to do, waiting for that right time. When life has finally settled more. When the kids seem to be okay. When I feel right for longer stretches of time. But when will that happen? Do we ever really feel well-rested and fully ready to take on anything?

Change is hard when ordinary life is overwhelming. When we tread water and try to just make it to the finish line of the day.

Change is hard when we have been in the same place for a long time. We know how to make things work, so why rock the boat?

Change is hard when we have to worry about the daily lives of others, make sure that we don’t up-end too much because who knows how it will reverberate in the future.

Change is hard when it is just us trying to make our way.

It seems there is no time when change is not hard.

I have wanted to winter bathe for years. In Wisconsin, there wasn’t much time for it. But here in Denmark, it is everywhere. I spoke my idea aloud to my husband, tried to sign us up for a membership (sauna included after the dip) but was told there were no open member spots.

Friday night, I got sick of waiting for the time to change. For life to feel under control enough for me to take more on. After all, there is no guarantee that that will ever happen. I cannot think of a time in my life when time was abundant and energy was too.

So Saturday morning we drove to the ocean and ran into it. 53-degree air temperature. It was not warm, not winter either. And we ran out and huddled in our towels and laughed. This morning we did it again.

Enoe is gorgeous and 10 minutes from our apartment

We don’t have access to the sauna. I don’t have my flip-flops, they are in a shipping container coming our way. We each have one towel which tends to be damp most of the time. There is sand everywhere in our car. We are probably not doing it right, I think we are supposed to sit in the water for longer.

But we feel alive. And we like it. And we want to do it again. It was just the change I needed to feel good about the now we are in.

Change is funny that way. We can wait for the right time in our lives to finally change. We can wait for the big moments such as a move across the world to finally change. We can wait for others to tell us, to make us. Or we can simply take a step and make the change we have wanted for so long.

I could have waited for our membership to go through. I could have waited to get the right gear. To grow bolder. To grow older. For the time to feel more right.

But I didn’t. Because the change was needed now.

How often do we wait for the right time in our classrooms to change? How often do we think, “next year”, or when I switch grades, or when the time is better. Or even when I am not just trying to survive every day. Our routines save us time and time again but at what cost?

So what are the changes you have been dreaming of? What have you been too afraid to do?

The time will never be right, so consider what you can tweak? What can you replace so it doesn’t feel like more is added? What is that unit? That lesson? That shift in practice you have wanted to try?

If you are scared, tell yourself it is a pilot. Allow yourself to try and know that it doesn’t have to be permanent. We jumped at the chance of moving home because we knew we could return to the US if it didn’t work it (it wouldn’t be easy to relocate don’t get me wrong but that door is not closed).

If you feel there is no time, audit your schedule; where can you fit it in? (What might you pause in order to try something new).

If you feel there is no support, involve your students in the planning. Their excitement often carries us through.

If you don’t know what to change but know there is a need; ask your students. What works? What doesn’t? What are their dreams and hopes? What can you plan together?

I spoke of moving home to Denmark for years, casually mentioning it, and always thinking “some day.” But to take the leap, to say yes, and actually do it has been the scariest adult thing I have done since having children. And it is easy to get paralyzed by that. It is easy to feel like that change was enough change and now we settle into our routine as quickly as we can.

But it turns out there are still many other new things to try.

The change continues. What is the life I have wanted to have for so long? What are the routines I wanted to change? How do I want to raise my children? How do I want to live my one and precious life to quote Mary Oliver?

Because we can wait for the time to be right.

Or we can embrace the time that is now.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, change never is, but it can make us feel alive again.

Don’t wait. It’s not as scary as it sounds.

In fact, you could say, come on in, the water is just fine.

PS: Are you looking for coaching or virtual presentations? I am available and would love to support your work. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can travel if needed. In fact, I will be in the US and Canada in February 20223.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.

being me

On Moving Home 24 Years Later

It has been three weeks since we landed in Denmark, the country of my birth that I left 24 years ago for the US. Twenty one days of an absolute whirlwind of getting our kids enrolled in school, starting my new job, moving into our temporary apartment, buying furniture, battling jet lag, doing all of the documentation for my husband’s residence application, findings doctors and dentists, buying a broken car that we didn’t think was defective , and all of the many daily things that we do as parents to ensure that our four children feel like they are settled as well. Three weeks of the craziest to-do list I have ever worked through as an adult.

And I suppose that today the dust settled just enough for me to take a moment and take it all in, to surrender not to the to-do but to the to-be and while there has been so much joy surrounding this decision to uproot our entire lives to pursue a better future, today the sadness also hit me. Not just for those I left behind, who I miss so dearly, but for the me that I left behind as well.

I am not a teacher currently, couldn’t even get an interview when I tried. I am no one’s expert. I am no one’s close friend or confidante. Beyond the scope of my family, no one relies upon me to be in their immediate vicinity and help. I am not a go-to person for those I work with or trusted yet.

Because here in Denmark I am just Pernille. Just a Dane that moved away and now came back. Not a facilitator, coach, or expert in anything.


Just Pernille who doesn’t know how to do her job and has so much to learn. No one emails to collaborate. No invitations to go teach others. No opportunities to write, to learn, to grow besides the ones I carve out for myself.

You would think it might be freeing but it turns out it is really lonely. It feels scary. It feels like I have completely left so much of what I held valuable within my identity behind and have no idea whether I will ever get to be that again. And I miss it. A lot. More than I thought.

And so I think of the students in our care who show up new to us. Who perhaps also left so much behind with the previous teachers that they had meticulously built, who had a place and a space in their previous years that we know nothing of. Who are hoping we see their value, who are hoping we see their need to be seen. To be known. To be something more than just another kid we teach. How do we create opportunities for them to be known? How do we create opportunities for them not to feel less than but instead continue to build on the momentum they had?

We start with conversations and invitations. We listen more than we speak. We offer opportunities for genuine collaboration and for them to show off what they already are and what they already can do. And we ask questions about them and we offer opportunities for them to fill in the blanks on the questions we don’t even know to ask. And we plan for it because it cannot be left to chance.

Because starting over may be freeing in so many ways but it is also exhausting, even embarrassing at times when you don’t know how to act, when your sense of self is based upon things that are no longer present.

And so we sit together in the messiness of not knowing each other and recognize the power of the moment. We slow down enough so that we remember why we came together in the first place; not just to teach, but to learn. About the world, about ourselves, about each other.

And we give ourselves grace. We embrace all of the moments and all of the emotions. And we breathe and plan and adjust and readjust and hopefully inch by inch, or should it be centimeter by centimeter, we grow into this brave new world and continue our journey. Even if it feels overwhelming right now.

I know we made the right decision for our children to move home, not just for their future, but for their now. I hope it was also the right decision for us, their adults, I hope I find a place to fit in again. I hope I can be Pernille, someone who means something more, again.

being a teacher, building community, writing

Using Improv to Boost Narrative Writing with Students

When I speak to children about their writing a few complaints often come up; I have no ideas, I get stuck, I hate writing, and my stories are boring. I get their frustration, I feel the same way as I stare at my computer and try to be creative. Writing is often seen as a solitary quiet thing by kids, something meant only to be shared with a demanding adult that does not matter, does not entertain, and does not serve a purpose beyond getting it done for school. Despite being constantly immersed in communicating with one another, writing is often seen as something that will never be used and therefore not worth any real investment.

Knowing this, I wanted to change the way we do writing and tr to bust it out of its solitary quiet ways (not saying there is anything wrong with that, that’s my preferred way of writing). Enter writing groups, story teling kits, and improv.

Writing groups are fairly easily explained; students select a few peers to be a part of their writing team and we build in time throughout our class for them to meet, read each other’s work, be a sounding board and offer up encouragement and feedback. These require more planned setup in the beginning of the year as students often don’t know many people beyond their chosen peers. I will often watch how kids interact for a few weeks and then create some loose groups. It is also a good idea for kids to interview each other to see if they will be a good match. If students don’t want to partner or team with anyone, then they can team with me.

Storytelling kits or loose parts and their use I have written about previously, I love the soft start they allow kids to have into writing and also how it reminds us that writing is really storytelling.

Improv is also fairly easy to explain. Using known exercises to generate ideas and dive deeper into their stories, there are many ways to get kids to think beyond a basic storyline and consider how they want their story to unfold and also how they want it to be understood by their audience. But which exercises or improv games work well?

For generating story ideas:

  • One Word at a Time – In a partnership or more, you each offer one word at a time to build a story that makes sense. You have to create a mood and a climax in the story, which makes it even harder.
  • What Happens Next? One student acts out an action determined by group members, once they feel they have finished that action (such as walking in the woods) they ask “What happens next?” as a way to continue the story, the idea is to build out a story as coherently as possibly. You can offer up starting actions to all groups and then have them share in the end where they ended up, it is a great way to help students remember that the same beginning can leading many different directions.
  • Genre Circle – a game that focuses on listing all of the different associations with whatever genre is presented. This is also a great game to re-introduce book genres for students. When kids are stuck trying to think of what type of story they want to write, this game can be used to get them to think of what types of elements they are drawn to writing about.

For adding details and building out scenes

  • I Am a Tree – a game where one person stands in the middle, strikes a pose, and declares “I am a tree” – the rest of the group then jumps in striking poses by adding details in order to set the stage for the story.
  • Advance & Expand – A great game for creating a concrete understanding of when to zoom in or out in a story. This is a skill many students need help with and so having someone else “control” when to fast-forward or when to slow down is helpful. You can use this game with drafts, asking their writing partner to either tell them to expand or advance certain sections, or you can act it out.
  • Genre replay – Starting out with their story idea, students play out or share the scene they have written, then they replay it our rewrite it using a different genre. How would the beginning of their story sound if it was written like a murder mystery, a love story, or a horror story?
  • Character circle – a great game to help with coming gup with characters and fleshing out their characteristics, if you know your character well you can determine how they would navigate the given situation you have placed them in. The writer is in the middle of the group and the group shouts out different names, the writer selects one they like, then the group starts to shout out different characteristics, they can be outward or inward characteristics and together you build the character. There are many other games as well that can be used for this.

For building confidence and community:

  • Gibberish – a game for those who don’t mind being a little silly, it gets easier once you do it together. At first, you walk around pointing to things and naming them correctly, then next round you point to things but say incorrect names for them then, then third round you make up gibberish names, 4th round you try to teach others the gibberish name for the thing you are pointing to and explain what it does all in gibberish. You can also have students tell jokes or stories all in gibberish as a way to understand story structure – how can they build suspense for example all in gibberish? There are a lot of games that involve gibberish and they are great for when kids feel like they do not have the right words or stories to tell.
  • 8-Beat Story -A narrative circle game where each person moves the story along based on the following story structures: Once upon a time, and every day, until one day, and because of that, and because of that (again), and because of that (again again), until finally, and ever since then…. – Start with an initial action and then add on using the prompts. Great for trying out story starters and building confidence in storytelling abilities, as well as thinking of story structures.

So there you have it, a few further ideas to help kids sink into writing, get more physical, build community and also dive into storytelling. The world of improv has a million ideas that can easily be adapted into your writing and speaking instruction, hopefully, this offered you up a few places to start.

I am excited to be heading out on the road again to be with other educators in-district or at conferences while continuing my virtual consulting and speaking as well. Whereas I am physically located in Denmark now, I can still offer virtual and in-person work.  If you would like me to be a part of your professional development, please reach out. I am here to help. For a lot more posts, resources, live and recorded professional development, please join my Patreon community where most of my sharing takes place these days.