During one of our weekly #2ndaryELA Twitter chats, we discussed Online Student Book Clubs. I first discovered this topic after seeing teacher-author Penny Kittle speak about them at the Reading For The Love Of It literacy conference in Toronto last February. Her discussion prompted me to go back to my classroom and try out this strategy with my two Grade 8 classes.
My Experience With Online Book Clubs:
Here are the steps I took to organize my 8th grade online book clubs.
- Select books that will encourage conversations amongst your students.
- Assign students to a novel group or allow students to select the novel group of their choice. I personally assign the novel for my students based on their interests and reading level. In my classroom, all independent reading is student selected so it is good to have a balance of teacher and student selected readings.
- Establish class time for students to read their novels.
- Assign weekly thinking questions for students to discuss online about their novel.
- Provide technology and class time for students to respond to their online book club weekly discussion questions.
- Monitor online discussions to ensure that questions are being appropriately answered and that the discussion has a positive tone.
I ran online book clubs for a four week period. During this time, I paired up two of my 8th grade English classes and they used Google Drive to discuss with each other about their readings. My students enjoyed this experience, but they prefered in class real time book clubs where they got to discuss their thoughts with fellow classmates. Reading and monitoring their online discussions was a lot of work for one teacher. If I were to run this again, I would pair up with another teacher and share the monitoring workload.
Interview with Penny Kittle about Online Book Clubs:
Q1: Share books you’ve found that work well for discussion in Book Clubs.
These are posted on my website in the handouts: http://www.pennykittle.net/uploads/images/PDFs/Workshop_Handouts/BookLove_Kittle2016.pdf
We set up joint book clubs for 9th grade last year using the titles in these handouts. For grade 12 this year my students chose Boys in the Boat, Unbroken, The Forever War by Dexter Filkins, Endangered, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.
Q2: What are the benefits of having students connect with readers outside of your classroom?
The biggest change for my students was understanding how students living in a big city (L.A.) as opposed to our very small town in the mountains saw some of the big issues that arose in their books—like racism in All American Boys. Students were also more engaged in writing about their reading on Google docs because students across the country were reading and responding to their thinking.
Q3: How can Book Clubs help you encourage readers to diversify their reading diet?
Book Clubs are first set up by giving students a list of titles to choose from. Since I’m doing the choosing, I have more control over where I want students to move to. I chose all well-crafted non-fiction books for grade 12, for example, because most of my students had never read non-fiction of any length. It also diversifies their thinking about reading because students naturally share other books they are reading as they discuss the book club book and they find lots of new recommendations to consider.
Q4: Share mini-lessons you have used to teach students how to have online conversations.
How to enter and respond to a written conversation. I gave them templates… I appreciate what you’re saying about ____ but I’m wondering ______ as a bridge to help students begin writing in conversation.
How to extend a conversation—we used our thought logs and responses to questions there to drive some of the conversations and then listed follow up questions that could drive the thinking deeper. Students are used to answering those kinds of questions in conferring about independent reading, so it was an easy transfer.
Q5: Discuss how you balance every student’s reading diet between core texts, book clubs, and independent reading.
The school year is divided into:
25% core texts
25% book clubs
50% independent reading
Read the curated Twitter chat below from other teachers about how they structure Online Book Clubs.