Book Clubs, Literacy, Reading, Virtual Learning

Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School

Tomorrow, our very first virtual book clubs kick off. The project has been an immense puzzle and also quite a time consumer, and yet, I am excited to see these hopefully take off and help the students not only discuss amazing books but also just be together. We have been apart for more than 8 months physically, I hope that this will be a social boost for many and also a meaningful learning opportunity. I am also excited to jump into this inquiry unit as its focus is whether we already live in a dystopian society? I cannot wait to see what the students come up with and how they will expand their questions and answers as the unit progresses.

As we first started to plan for these virtual book clubs back in October, we quickly realized that unlike previous years, there were a lot more moving pieces to consider and that the orchestration would be a lot more immense. After all, we are fully virtual, kids do not come to school, so how would we pull this off?

So I am sharing everything I have here in this blog post in case you find yourself wanting to do virtual book clubs as well but it feels a little unwieldy. Perhaps the behind the scenes work we have done can help you start with them or perhaps you have some amazing ideas of your own to share. Either way, here you, you can make a copy of everything if you want to edit, just give credit. To see what I have done in previous years when we are in regular learning mode, go here.

To select their books – 4 weeks prior.

We knew that selecting and then distributing their books would be the first major hurdle but once again our incredible librarian team were prepared. They already have a safe weekly pick up for books, what we needed to make sure is that they had enough time to pull the books and prepare them for the pick up.

A slide from their book club choices

I introduced very briefly the unit in early November and then assigned students this slideshow to go through and select their top 5 books. They were asked to please select a book they hadn’t read before and also pick one that would feel manageable to them. Once students had looked through the slideshow, then then filled in this form so that I could start puzzling them together. And puzzle them I did. It took a while to get all of the students into manageable groups (less than five kids) and also to make sure that we had enough books. Our librarian had given us total number of books available for each title and a colleague had taken the time to breakdown how many books each of us would get. We revealed them in class the following week and kids then could email me if for some reason they had ended up with a book they actually didn’t want or if there was another group they would rather be a part of. Only one student did.

New this year is the short story option, we have a few students who are really trying but life is just a lot right now. We wanted to make sure they could also find success and not feel even more overwhelmed with the proposect of reading a long book. We pulled three short stories (The Pedestrian, Harrison Bergeron, and The Perfect Match), one for each week, and then distributed those to students. We will meet on Wednesday’s (our fully asynchronous day) and discuss the stories. I am excited to see if this will work and how the participation will work out.

The following week, students then picked up their books during our three pick up times. If a students was not able to pick up their book, they would get it delivered right to their mailbox. This was a massive undertaking but it worked, I am so grateful to all of the people who made physical book copies possible for the students to have.

Setting Up their Reading Schedules – One week before

Now that students had their books they needed to create reading plans and also set up discussion norms. In class, we had them work through three tasks: 1. Set up their reading plan, 2. Sign up for their discussion time with me, 3. Discuss and add to their norms. This took about 30-40 minutes, a lot longer than it would in class, but that seems to be the normal pace for virtual learning.

Their reading plan document is housed in the Hyperdoc we have created for the students with resources. This is their one stop shop for everything related to their book clubs such as teaching points, rubric, discussion help, meeting times, and reading plan. While it is available to the students, I honestly don’t know how much they will use it and yet having a shared collection of everything they need can only help.

To figure out their reading plan, they all went to this shared document and broke down their book. We reiterated that they shouldn’t finish their book more than two days ahead of the last day and if they wanted a bigger challenge they could read more than one book. This was hard for some students and easy for others so I jumped around from breakout group to breakout group to assist where needed. One group I am still assisting and will pick up the pieces with them tomorrow.

For their meeting times, I am hoping to have 2 groups discuss in front of me live during our 70 minute block. That means that only one or two groups a class have to discuss outside of their class time. I am also grateful to the support staff I have embedded within our class that are also observing and assessing discussions with us. They know the kids and the curriculum as well as I do. Kids signed up on a first come-first serve basis as it then served as a motivator to get their reading plan completed. They can see the meeting times document at any time, but I have also sent Google Calendar invitations to all of them with the link to our Google Meet for when we discuss.

For the discussion of their norms, we used Jamboard. I have had mixed results with it, but this time I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. You can see what it looked like here. Kids had decent discussions about accountability and also how they wanted this experience to run.

While all of the students have done book clubs multiple times before, 7th grade tends to be the first time they have to decide what they will be discussing and prepare accordingly, rather than the teacher telling them what to track. So we have a “cheat sheet” which really is just scaffolds in order to help them be successful. Some of these discussion points are learning targets from the Teachers College Dystopian Unit which we use as a foundational guidance and others are once we have discovered with book clubs throughout the years. Choice reigns supreme and it is important for us that students can steer their discussions ina natural way, they do not have to stick to these but this is a starting point.

Actual Book Clubs – Three Weeks

So how will all of these moving pieces work? Well, I am hoping (because I am writing this before I have kicked it off tomorrow) that our next three weeks will offer students a chance to work independently, as well as not feel overwhelmed. So in order to make that happen, I wanted to offer them up some self-paced learning opportunities using Peardeck, as well as short mini-lessons using our mentor text Ponies by Kij Johnson, and then give them time to read and discuss as much as possible in class much like we would if this were regular book clubs.

In class time will be spent on a mini-lesson – learning targets again are pulled from the Dystopian Unit created by Teachers College. I will be reading aloud our mentor text so we can refer back to it throughout the next three weeks, as well as any of the mentor short films they will be watching asynchronously. I will also have them go into breakout groups for 5 minutes in order to decide what they want to focus on discussing in their groups this week, before my listening on their discussion I ask them what they focused on and I listen for anything attached to that. They can use the “cheat sheet” linked previously in order to help them. Since tomorrow is the first day, I am thinking it may take a little bit longer to get them started but I need to wrap it up within 35 minutes in order to leave them 35 minutes to read, discuss, and work.

So during their in-class learning time and outside learning time, they will have a few things to work through. 1. They need to read their chapters and be ready to discuss. 2. They need to write down any ideas for discussion as well as find evidence. 3. They need to discuss in front of me. 4. They need to work through two learning opportunities in order to expand their knowledge. They will have all week to do this.

So for their discussion, students will be assessed live. I have yet to create a good electronic version of my rubric so I may just do what I normally do, which is print a ton of these rubrics as I like to write directly on them while they speak, as well as tally how much they say and any page numbers they use. I will then either scan and email it to them after their discussion, or transfer it to a markable rubric that will be posted in Google Classroom under their assignments so that each child has one ( I have it posted right now as an assignment for me to fill in).

For their Peardeck self-paced work, they will focus on two learning targets. The first one is simply diving into a book club discussion and understanding better what it is we are looking for. We normally do this during class time but due to virtual time constraints, it is moved into independent work. The Peardeck looks like this, it is short and sweet and to the point because this is not meant to feel like just one more thing to do but rather an exposure, example, and then a quick check for understanding. For the second learning opportunity of the week, they will learn more about utopia, dystopian characteristics and then compare and contrast their book to these definitions. They will also watch a dystopian short film and then write about the rules and how it links to our current society. This Peardeck looks like this. The students will be assessed on the analysis and evidence they use to draw their conclusions. Normally they would also be doing this in class but these are not normal times.

The next two weeks will follow the same format, I have not created the self-paced learning opportunities yet but you can certainly reach out to me if you would like to see what they look like. We will be focusing on our inquiry question; do we already live in a dystopian society and so the learning opportunities will center around that.

So there you have it, so many moving parts but I am excited and I think the students are too. I hope this was helpful to you, let me know if you have any ideas or questions.


Here are the self-paced lessons students worked through. They went pretty well, it was a great way to fill in more world knowledge and get kids thinking about the world we live in.

Week 3 – Are We Living in a Dystopia Already?

Week 4 – Who Has Equal Rights?

10 thoughts on “Virtual Book Clubs in Middle School”

  1. Hi, Pernille. I am a 62,year old ELA teacher in my 36th year in the classroom. Iresd Nancy Atwell’s , In the Middle in 1992, and because I didn’t realize it was new abd didn’t know better, I boldly walked in my eastern Ky classroom and instituted a full-blown reading-writing workshop. I had great support from a curriculum supervisor who was was a former ELA teacher and working in her PHD at Columbia. She made everyone who was horrified that students had choice and loved English class leave me alone, and we never looked back.

    In the current state of things, I am teaching year number 36 fully online this year and entrusted with 175 students from all ten middle schools in my very large Williamson County, TN school district. Our district opted for the Edgenuity online curriculum for this group of students whose parents chose full online school, so my role is to provide extra help and assistance to those who need it. All their assessments, with the exception of one written essay each quarter, are multiple choice. Each subject area does a weekly day of Zoom sessions that are completely optional for the students. Most of the other teachers present the same lesson three times. I wanted to give a variety of choices, so each week I do one session of creative writing, usually a quick write, share, and some naturally occurring little lesson I give, a content review based on one concept from the week’s assignments, and finally a book club hour. Some of my students attend all three. Several choose two.

    For our book club, I shared book trailers, state VSBA books, etc. and then let the students offer choices. We did a survey and pared down to three books first quarter, Refugee, The War That Saved My Life, and Spy School. This quarter they selected Space Case, The War I Finally Won, and Freak the Mighty. These books clubs are so different because they are optional , but they are neat to watch because they are not required. We do a few minutes together and have kids talk about other books they have read and enjoyed (a little one to two minute book talk), go to breakout rooms for discussions that I jump back and forth in to listen and sometimes connect,and then close together to just review the reading they agreed to do, make predictions, etc. Sometimes, I have one of the school librarians join us to recommend a book or author, share a literary activity in our town or schools,etc . Also, each week I post an article or video with topic connections and/or a Padlet to share thoughts on in a special Book Club Google Classroom.

    Can you think of anything you would add? I have a list of creative book projects/responses I share, and a few students did one and shared with me or their group. I am looking forward to seeing your self-paced learning activities and hoping they will inspire me to add another layer to help our children get the very most they can out of our experience together. I can’t tell you how muchI appreciate you sharing your honest, heart- felt thoughts and reflections as well as your wonderful work. It is so reassuring to know one is not alone.

    Respectfully, Lisa Wheeler Grassland Middle School Teacher Williamson County Online School Teacher

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hi Lisa, it sounds like you are already doing quite a bit. A few things I would consider is 1 – expanding your selection to include a more inclusive set of authors, I noticed that all of the books being used are by white authors and are white centered. Also, you could certainly add 12 word summaries which I have added on this blog as well. Otherwise, it sounds like what you are doing is a great start, optional projects, guidance in discussion, and the community surrounding the books.

  2. Pernille,

    I would love to see the activities that you come up with for the next two weeks. My 8th graders just finished a round of dystopian book clubs, and your thoughts in the column below have me revising what we’ve done, so they’ll be even more effective next year.

    Thank you for sharing so freely! You may never know what a boost you are to those of us who are out here in the middle of nowhere (small town Nebraska), teaching without grade level colleagues!

    Strength, joy, and peace to you! Jen

    Jen Van Meter 7th/8th English Language Arts Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School District Coleridge, NE 68727


  3. Hi Pernille,
    I so appreciate the work you do, the way you reflect on it, and how you share so graciously! I have learned so much from you. I would really like to see the other self-paced learning opportunities you create, if you are willing to share them. You are very inspiring.

  4. Pernille,

    Thank you so much for sharing all of this. We are doing something similar with our 7th graders, though we are focusing on historical fiction rather than dystopian novels.

    Can you share the link to Week 4? When I click on what you included in your post, it opens to Zoom rather than Peardeck.

    Also, I would love a list of the specific mini-lessons you taught during the synchronous classes. I’m trying to figure out what to do live versus asynchronous/independently, so I’m curious to know more about your in-class instruction.

  5. Ms. Ripp,

    I am so grateful to you for sharing your materials for the dystopian book club.

    In the Shared Copy of Block 1 – Dystopian Book Club Hyperdoc under “Learning Targets,” what is this sentence supposed to say?

    Notice and discuss the representation of clives in our text in relation to who holds the power.

    I have a question. Peace, Katrina Morrison (She/her/hers) Room 131 Skiatook High School 1000 W Fourth Skiatook, OK 74070 School Phone: 918-396-1790 (11:00 – 12:00/before and after school) Text me at 918-553-0783 (any time)

    [image: SPS Vision Statement Logo png.png]

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