books, collaboration, education, Passion, Personalized Learning, Reading, student choice, student voice

How to Do Book Clubs in the Middle School Classroom

I knew when I moved to 7th grade that book clubs would be one of the things that moved with me.  That shared reading experience where students would get to just read and discuss is something I have loved having in the classroom the past few years.  I knew it would be a  different experience in the middle school classroom, after all their maturity would push their thinking, what I had not accounted for was also how my whole approach to the purpose of it would need to change to cater to a more critical mindset.  So what do book clubs in the middle school classroom need to be successful?

 An honest conversation.  I would not have gotten student buy in if I had not had an honest conversation with them beforehand.  They needed a chance to vent all of their frustrations with book clubs in order to see how this time around they might be different.  They needed to know that their thoughts and yes, feelings, were validated and considered.  While most would have invested themselves in the process simply because it was expected, I didn’t want that type of buy-in, I wanted a genuine desire to use this for good, to enjoy the 4 weeks or so it would last.

Choice in books.  I know it is easier to have a small amount of pre-selected books for students to choose from so we can help facilitate the conversations, but with more than 100 students to cater to I knew I needed choice and lots of it.  With the help of my amazing library team, bonus points from Scholastic, and the phenomenal Books4school, I was able to present the students with more than 50 different choices for titles.  This way no group needed to share books and all students should be able to find something to agree on.  I also told them that if they couldn’t find anything, to let me know, we would find the right book for them.

Choice in rules.  While I may have an idea for how a book club should function, I needed student ownership over the reading, as well as how their discussions would unfold.  All groups decided their own rules and posted them on the wall.  It has been powerful to see them guide their conversations, and yes, also dole out consequences to members within their groups that have not read or are not participating.

Students self-made rules hang as a reminder on our wall
Students self-made rules hang as a reminder on our wall

Choice in speed.  All of my groups read at different paces, so they determine how many pages a night they need to read as well as when they would like to have the book finished by within our 4 week time frame.  One group, in fact, has already finished a book.

Choice in conversation.  Book clubs should not function around the teacher, in fact, I have noticed that when I do listen in to an otherwise lively conversation the students immediately get timid in most cases.  I have learned to listen from a distance and only offer up solid small ideas to push their conversation further when they really needed it.  Too often our mere presence will hijack a group and students don’t learn to trust their own opinions and analysis.  Removing yourself from the process means students have to figure it out.  For those groups that struggle we talk about in our private mini-lesson.

Choice in abandonment.  I do not want students stuck with a book they hate, so some groups chose to abandon their books within a week and made a better choice.  Rather than think of it as lost reading time, I cheered over the fact that my students know themselves as readers.  All of my students are now reading a book that they at the very least like and that is an accomplishment in my eyes.

Choice in length and meeting time.  Students are allotted time every other day to meet in their book clubs and have 28 minutes to discuss and read some more.  While I have told student to try to push their conversations, I have also urged them to keep them under 10 minutes unless they are having a great discussion.  Students vary the length of their book clubs depending on what their self-chosen topic of discussion is and figure out how their group works best in the process.

Choice in final product.  While our true purpose of having book clubs is to have a shared reading experience, I am also asking the students to do a book talk of some sort when they finish.  There are two reasons behind this; to assess the standards we are covering in the quarter but also for them to develop their critical thinking skills.  If the book they read is not suited for future book clubs then I need to know why.  I don’t want students to have a lengthy project because that is not what book clubs are about.

While my method for integrating book clubs may seem loose at best, I have found incredible buy-in from the students.  They have been excited to read their books, they have been excited to share their thoughts, and the accountability that they feel toward one another is something I would not be able to produce through force.  Middle schoolers need a framework to grow within, they need our purposes to be authentic as much as possible, and they need to have a voice in how things function within our classroom.  Book clubs offer us a way to have these moments in reading that abound with deep reading conversations that I may not be able to have as a whole group, they allow even the quietest student to have a voice.  They allow students to feel validated in their thoughts and they allow them to share their knowledge with each other.  What have you done to create successful book clubs?

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

21 thoughts on “How to Do Book Clubs in the Middle School Classroom”

    1. Most of them include things like: be prepared to discuss at least one idea, listen to others, disagree politely, you have to read your pages and if you don’t then you have to catch up and write a summary.

  1. Pernille, just happened to spot this post re book clubs. Couldn’t have come at a better time. I teach Year 5 and have been grappling with the book club idea. Been unsure how best to go about this. Truly would like to interest and engage kids in their reading. Whatever I have done before has been ok but not great. Am aware that you have adjusted your book club to suit middle school, but feel I can tweak this for my grade. Would like to know how you might have done it differently in your upper primary school grades? Think I will share your post with my class and perhaps also ask them how your book club model could be adapted for their age group. Or does it need to be adjusted? ( Sometimes I tend to dumb down my Year Fives and am most surprised when they respond to stuff I thought was way above them.) Taking a page out of your book- allowing my students to have a voice and a choice in their learning. Thanks so much Pernille. Love your honesty, sincerity and sharing your fears, concerns, successes and celebrations with the world!

      1. Some interesting and practical tips in your post about creating meaningful conversations Pernille. Yes, good conversations don’t just happen – students need to practise heaps and be taught how to have these deeper ‘book discussions’ that relate to real life issues. Also like the way they create their own rules in each book club. Will have a go at this tomorrow. Appreciate your prompt reply. Thank you.

  2. I totally agree with minimizing my participation in my book clubs. My middle school students meet in the library during their lunch period and have their own corner. The only rules I require have to do with behavior and clean up. Students may select from any number of activities. I have a stack of cards with questions on them to help spur conversation. While some questions are often silly to keep it lively, I also slip in literary terms here and there. I also use a talking stick to keep the group (up to 8 students) from getting out of hand.

  3. I started the school year with book clubs, and am so happy that I did. This is a first for me, but for 8th graders returning from a summer where little reading took place, this was a wonderful way to re-engage them in the joy of reading. I’m on the hunt for activities to engage them–and stumbled once again on your blog. I am always rediscovering your blog. Love it! Today, I’m taking away your idea to give the groups a specific amount of time in which to read and discuss. That’s incredibly insightful, and I’ll employ that next go around. I’m also interested in consequences when students don’t read or participate. Would you mind sharing some of what your students designed so I could share a few examples with my students? We’re in independent reading now, but we’ll cycle back into book clubs in a month.

    Thanks so much-
    Martha Rombach

    1. This got buried in my email, I am so sorry. The consequences were pretty standard; catch up on reading time, speak to Mrs. Ripp, lead the next discussion. It just had to make sense and be doable and I was okay with it.

  4. Pernille, great suggestions for book clubs! I am curious how you go about having your kids make their book selections and how you group them? What has worked best for you and your students in the past? Thank you!

    1. I group them based on needs, reading speed, interest, but also who they would like to be with. I do have a “mortal” enemy clause too, where students can give me one name of a child they clash with if needed, this is rarely used though. It is not an exact science but the groups tend to do alright.

  5. Pernille, these are great suggestions for book clubs and I agree with the points you made on choice. I started book clubs last year and I found that it increased students’ interest in reading books.

    What would you recommend as lessons on the days the groups aren’t meeting for discussion?

      1. As a follow up to this question, do you use a mentor text or short story to model things like character development, etc. I am also struggling to plan what to do on days that he students aren’t meeting.

  6. The kids have had a lot of exposure to book clubs before this year so we activate background knowledge on that, we also do a read aloud at the beginning of the year where we model character development and such and the students transfer that work to their own books. I am sitting with a group of students every single day, in the meantime, the other students are reading, discussing, or working on their analysis.

    1. Thanks! Just for curiosity purposes, how long are your blocks? I teach 6th and we also did a novel at the beginning of the year where I modeled various strategies and they applied to their own.

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