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Online Book Clubs for Middle and High School Students

Online book clubs are a fantastic way for students to connect with each other. Read more about this reading strategy, and detailed information on how to get online book clubs running in your classroom 2 Peas and a Dog. #bookclubs #literaturecircles #litcircles #reading #middleschool #onlinebookclubs

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 Personal Experience With Online Book Clubs:

Here are the steps I took to organize my 8th-grade online book clubs.

  1. Select books that will encourage conversations amongst your students.
  2. Assign students to a novel group or allow students to select the novel group of their choice. I assign the novel to 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.
  3. Establish class time for students to read their novels.
  4. Assign weekly thinking questions for students to discuss online about their novels.
  5. Provide technology and class time for students to respond to their online book club weekly discussion questions.
  6. 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 four weeks. 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 preferred in-class real-time book clubs where they got to discuss their thoughts with 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.

Q1: Share books you’ve found that work well for discussion in Book Clubs. (Answer by Penny Kittle)

These are posted on my website in the handouts:

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? (Answer by Penny Kittle)

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? (Answer by Penny Kittle)

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. (Answer by Penny Kittle)

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. (Answer by Penny Kittle)

The school year is divided into:

  • 25% core texts
  • 25% book clubs
  • 50% independent reading

Q1: Share books you’ve found that work well for discussion in Book Clubs. (Twitter Chat)

  • Freak the Mighty 
  • Books that are high interest to the age group of the students
  • We just did Lost in the Sun which I would use again & Drums, Girls, & Dangerous Pie is always a hit 
  • I have had great discussions using The Giver with 8th graders – more like Socratic seminar than book club
  • I ran online book clubs after seeing Penny Kittle speak last year. My kids enjoyed the different format
  • My students also love The Summer of Letting Go & The Pull of Gravity
  • I think that All American Boys would be engaging and relevant for many students 
  • Dystopian novels
  • I sorted groups by reading level in my 2 classes, then I assigned each group a novel. Discussions took place in Google Drive I choose the books because I had to buy them with my own money – I also gave each group questions to respond to
  • On a #GoogleDoc or other? G+ community?  Answer = Google Doc
  • Circus Mirandus was a great discussion book for 6th grade 
  • The House on Mango Street would be a shorter read – good for reluctant readers – and students could relate and focus on imagery 

Q2: What are the benefits of having students connect with readers outside of your classroom? (Twitter Chat)

  • Having a real audience to write for always motivates students. I imagine it would be the same with reading 
  • When students connect with other readers they see that reading is universal and can be shared by people anywhere anytime.
  • Students who are more shy and reserved can feel empowered to speak in online formats vs face to face interactions 
  • I loved doing an online book club with my students. We called it “Book with Friends.” We did it with another class
  • Everyone brings different perspectives to the text 
  • What books did you read? What did the students do to interact?  Reply: The students from both classes were put in group for book choices and did response online each week.
  • Shows the value of reading – it’s not just a teacher thing
  • Students can get new/different perspectives depending on the backgrounds of outside readers. Making connections, larger worldview 

Q3: How can Book Clubs help you encourage readers to diversify their reading diet? (Twitter Chat)

  • We offered 8 different books for them to choose from, so that they would have different genres & levels
  • When teachers carefully chose novels it can help students experience genres and themes they would not normally select 
  • Thanks! Did they respond to each other as well? Did you ever have them “meet” via #GoogleHangout or #Skype?
  • A club might positively peer pressure students to try something new!  Reply: True! They could see others enjoying something & want to see what it’s all about!  The other group of students were in the same building. We met on the last day to eat and talk about the book. 
  • One time I had students preference books and then grouped. Other time students preferences other students and then picked books as a group
  • Did they respond to each other as well? Answer = Yes students replied to my questions, and then asked each other questions and replied
  • They are a little more brave to try a new or difficult genre when they are reading with others
  • You could have a time period (WWII & Holocaust) & select books @ varying reading levels to help group students along with interest 
  • Taking part is a risk. Students may hate the book, or it may start them on a reading path they might not have found otherwise 

Q4: Share mini-lessons you have used to teach students how to have online conversations. (Twitter Chat)

  • I regularly discuss online safety and digital citizenship with my students. We read articles related to those topics in class 
  • Our students engage in current events debates every other week – we make comments to each other’s posts on @stormboard  and practice making respectful comments in which we agree/disagree with the discussion question posed from the article
  • Love these options! Not heard of @stormboard, though! Must explore! 
  • Oh yes, digital safety taught – with internet hoaxes – but no discussion exp – may have to try Padlet-use Edmodo already 
  • @brainpop has some good videos and tools for helping teach digital citizenship 
  • Explaining ISTE standards 2 and 5 to the students. Being respectful, attentive, and keeping a positive online presence is key
  • Several years ago, my students “talked” to each other on class wiki – just got laptops and want to take it to next level. Thinking…
  • I’ve done an email writing lesson too that has really helped students maintain professionalism and use a respectful voice 
  • This is a really good idea. Writing a great email isn’t always easy. 

Q5: Discuss how you balance every student’s reading diet between core texts, book clubs, and independent reading. (Twitter Chat)

  • Students always have an independent choice novel they are reading, and class work varies between core texts and book groups
  • Read short stories, poems, articles in class. Read lit circle books mainly at home to practice strategies learned in class
  • My goal is for my students to read a novel set in WWII of their choice to go along with the students’ curriculum
  • Excellent idea to collaborate/support content areas! 
  • Ensure students aren’t overwhelmed. Create options to choose. This builds motivation and creates variety so students many different texts
  • Now we read independent reading books at start of class (4×4, 90 min block), and whole class text is Raisin in Sun. Book club idea’s percolating

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