My Students Still Hate Book Clubs, So Now What?

I knew I was up against some pretty deep-seated negative notions, but I guess I didn’t know how deep they really ran until yesterday when I started to read my end-of-year surveys.  One questions asked, “What is the one thing Mrs. Ripp should never have 7th graders do?” Usually answers are varied, spread across an entire year of trying to meet every child’s need and invariably always upsetting someone else.  But not this year; this year there was a clear winner; book clubs.  This awesome way to create a reading community was one of the most hated things by far we did all year.  And I am stumped

You see, we didn’t do book clubs the traditional way.  Students self-selected their books from more than 50 choices (we even involved the library for some groups that didn’t like the 50 presented to them).  Students set their own rules, reading pace, and expectations.  They were given 3 weeks to read the books and ample time to do so in class, so that it wouldn’t become another homework assignment.  I asked them to try to speak about the books for no more than 10 minutes, keeping their conversations focused and to the point.  I encouraged them to write down things they wanted to discuss and we also brainstormed guiding questions that they were then given on bookmarks to help start their conversations.  Their final product was a book talk with a small 5 slide presentation to use a backdrop for their conversation; and again, they were given time in class.  Yet, they hated it.

They hated having to read at the pace of someone else.  They hated the stilted conversations.  They hated that I was even asking them to have a shared reading conversation, often carrying resentment that I had shaped their groups.  We had discussed why I had made the groups, and some ended up loving theirs, and yet, others said it was the worst experience I could have forced them to do.  It wasn’t that they didn’t want to talk about books, they just didn’t want to go deeper with them, not in that way, not with those people.

So as I sit and dream of next year, because isn’t that what we do over the summer, I cannot help but think what else I can do to make book clubs an enjoyable part?  Should I abandon them altogether?  We do read aloud where we discuss text, so we still have a shared reading conversation where we interpret, experience, and try to figure out the book together.  Should I make it book partnerships where they interview three potential partners, one recommended by me, and they pick another person or two to read the same book with but perhaps with final approval from me?

Is there even a purpose for book clubs or are they a left over notion from when we were doing literature circles and felt we had to be in more control?  How do we rescue something that most of my students hated, but I still see value in?  Do I continue to just force it on them, trying to listen, or do we change our ways?  Are book clubs even necessary for developing readers?  I would love to hear your thoughts…

For more behind the scenes information on ideas for book clubs, both good and bad, please go here 

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.  The second edition of my first book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students” is available for pre-order now.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter@PernilleRipp.

22 thoughts on “My Students Still Hate Book Clubs, So Now What?

  1. Wow, it is so refreshing to see another confront this kind of setback with something that SHOULD work! Story of my life! I’ve abandoned SSR for this very reason, but I kept plugging with stuff like Genius Hour, and it’s become a hit (2 years later).

    I really love the idea of the partners, but maybe they just talk about what they’re reading, whether or not it’s the same thing. They might choose to read what their partner read–or not–but they still get to talk about reading for enjoyment in a way we adult folk would do. Maybe they switch partners–or can request to switch–once or twice.

  2. I have noticed a similar trend in my classroom, depending on the year and depending on the kids and I have come to realize that while book clubs are incredible for some groups of students they, like everything else, can’t possibly work for every group of students or every individual student.

    One of the things that I noticed this year is that I had WAY more buy in when the book groups began organically from the kids. I had a group of four students who all wanted to read the same book and I told them that we happen to have multiple copies of the book in the building and asked them if they wanted to read it together as a book group since they were all interested in reading the book. They were THRILLED. They created a schedule and then met twice a week during independent reading. The conversations were incredible and they wanted to stick to the schedule because they enjoyed the discussion. Once other students saw that this was happening, then I asked if other students wanted to take part in book groups and then I shared with them what books I had multiple copies of. They selected books they were interested in reading and then the groups were created around the choices of what they wanted to read instead of me selecting the groups and then asking each group to select one book. It was really successful.

    And still. We only did one round of book groups where I usually do two or three. This group happened to be incredibly motivated readers and while they enjoyed the book discussions, they also loved being able to read their own books at their own pace and talk with others who had read the book in the past or others who wanted to read the book in the future. That’s just who this group happened to be.

    I guess all of that is to say, I struggle too. Often and it never feels exactly right and I guess that is what keeps us going and thinking and reflecting and striving. And I have to believe that is a good thing.

    • Jess, I love the organic buy-in, which means I need to buy multiple copies of books this summer. You are right though, I could see this working for many of my students as well because they want to have the shared experience and not a forced one.

  3. One thing that’s worked in our school is a project we call Co-Reader. Students choose a book, and a person they want to read it with – can be a parent/classmate/grandparent/friend at another school. They have deadlines by which they need to read certain sections, and then they have to “talk” together about what they’ve read (can use GoogleDocs, e-mail, paper notes, audio conversations, anything), and then collate and submit those discussions, and create a reflection on the process. This has evolved – when we started, the kids had to have an adult partner, and they hated it. They were incredibly frustrated when their parents didn’t meet the deadlines! Now, with a little more choice, they enjoy it more; level of enthusiasm changes year to year, though.

    I (I’m the French teacher) also run an extra-curricular book club, where kids come and talk with each other about what they’re reading, and share their passion for books.

  4. Forgive me if you have already read this book, but in Power and Portfolios Mahoney talks about writing “literary letters” in response to reading and exchanging those letters with other students. Then they write back and forth. This could easily be translated into digital form. But maybe doing something like this could transform the book club idea. It lets students work at their own pace and you could guide them in a way to try to make connections between their books, although that might happen anyway. The letters as described by the book are very open ended.

    • I have not, another great book to add to my summer to read list. I love the idea of the writing back and forth and wonder how I could translate that into a platform like Kidblog or WriteABout.

  5. I teach fifth grade in Texas. I also do book clubs with my kids. The parameters sound very similar to yours and they love it! They biggest difficulty for me was getting enough books. They challenged themselves and began to start/finish a book club in less than 2 weeks. We did sometimes have the problem of a student wanting to read ahead of the calendar that the group had set up. I always look at it as a good problem to have. I wonder why such a drastically different reaction?

  6. This is interesting. One of the things that my 6th graders shared on their end-of-the-year surveys is that they LOVED book clubs. They felt like they were able to self pick, set the pace, etc. They felt proud of their notebook entries they brought to every class, and they felt that they learned more being able to talk about the books. Even my reluctant readers were positive about them. Maybe that is a difference between 6th and 7th graders…who knows…

  7. I had to chuckle when I read your tweet about this because you are the very reason book clubs went so much better for me this year! I teach 2nd grade and have never been happy with how our book club units go. Then I saw you at NCTIES and applied the idea of “highway comments” to book clubs. This got me to realize that book clubs are as much about speaking and listening standards as they are about reading. Our students read books in a series or across a topic and then, based on notes from their graphic organizers, prepared highway comments before their book clubs. The highway comments were broad ideas that applied across texts so that anyone studying the topic or reading the series might contribute. They avoided getting bogged down in less important details, really pushed themselves to develop their own big ideas, and learned a lot about listening to others and connecting ideas. We did almost as many mini-lessons on speaking and listening as we did on reading!

    • I cannot tell you how delighted I am to hear that that comment helped you. Now if I had only had the same aha moment myself! I think this is exactly where I went off track, we didn’t spend enough time developing the way we would speak about books. I also love having the same context so that the broad ideas could be applied across books, woohoo, this is why I love blogging and speaking to people. Ilearn so much from others.

  8. This doesn’t so much answer your question as suggest someone who is better suited to do so. Ariel Sacks, author and middle school ELA teacher in NY, wrote Whole Novels. That book has been changing the way I think about guiding student reading, and I think it could offer you some guidance in this reflection. Might not be “the” answer, but I do think it could help!

  9. I haven’t done book clubs in a few years (moving from 5th to K has meant a change in a lot of what we do) so my first reaction was to think about my own book club, the one I’m in with friends. I don’t enjoy it when I don’t enjoy the people there. That matters much more to me than the books we read. Talking about books, whether I liked them or not, with people I like is a great experience. Maybe your students would prefer to choose their group, then decide on a book together.

    • I think you are right and I think the more I get to know 7th graders, there is a certain safety in their friends that they crave to take risks. I will be using that much more in our instruction next year.

  10. I think with middle school kids, the more they believe an adult is telling them what to do, the more they will dislike something. It isn’t because they are willful and terrible, but because they are breaking away from authority a bit and becoming young adults. That being said, they should be allowed as much choice and autonomy as possible. Book clubs seem to be forcing a square peg in a round hole for many of them. They want to choose. Perhaps you can use the pairing idea. I like that. I like to use as much as their natural tendencies to be social and talk to each other. Perhaps you can offer them a choice of a theme to center your reading around, give them a list of books on that theme and have something like a Socratic Seminar about them. Then, it might inspire kids to read each others’ books. My sevies sure love Socratic Seminars.

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