This year I facilitated an after school Book Club for 3rd-5th graders at my kids’ elementary school. I was a little apprehensive since my patience can run thin with my own two kids. Would I be able to handle 12 kids? And, I have no formal training as a teacher, unless you count the 7 summers I spent as a camp counselor and the 10 years I’ve served so far as a parent.
Wow. Has it been a blessing. My weekly Book Club meetings have been the highlight of my week. Not only is it super fun to spend an hour talking with young people about books, I love the special relationship I formed with each of my “book club kids” and the feeling of camaraderie that we built as a group.
Book Clubs are a great way to make reading social for voracious readers who crave an outlet to share their reading love. And, they are just as inspiring to self-diagnosed “reluctant readers.” (I don’t really believe in “reluctant readers.” I subscribe to the thinking that there are some kids who haven’t met the right book yet.) These social gatherings help all kids go deeper into the books they read to boost comprehension and their connections between the text and themselves, the world, and other books.
If you’re considering starting a Book Club with your own kids or any group of kids — dive in! Here are some of my tips for getting started.
Setting up a Book Club
Establish what the purpose of your book club is first. Is it to engage kids to go deeper in their reading? Is it to build a love of reading that doesn’t seem to exist? Is it to have a bonding experience with your child? These are not mutually exclusive, but giving thought to your purpose will help you with some of the logistical decisions below.
Decide how many kids you want in the Club.
I suggest a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 12. Having kids of a similar age/reading level helps a lot.
Decide if it’s Boys only, Girls only, or Mixed.
I’ve had success with all three, but they each have their own unique flavor. I started a “Guys Read” book club to draw in boys who didn’t consider themselves readers. I needed to adjust the approach to having kids go deeper into the reading — more projects, less informal discussion at first. The Girls Only club had a different dynamic. The girls were much more concerned about Rules and Order (things the Guys Read group wasn’t concerned with.) Again, being thoughtful of your purpose will help you determine this.
Decide if it will be kids only or parent/kid.
Either is fun. Mine was kids only (except me). But, I know of some great Parent/Kid Book Clubs that work really well. Books can be deeply personal, so you want the kid and/or parent dynamic to allow kids to feel safe and comfortable to share their thoughts and feelings.
Pick a time, frequency of meeting, and location.
My book club was part of a formal after school program so each 10 week session was held right after school in a classroom for one hour every week for 10 weeks. It was important that most kids could be there every week. This helped a lot to build trust and support cohesive group dynamics.
Picking the Book(s)
Since families had to pre-register for my Book Club, I advertised a pre-set theme and book selections based on what I knew (well, I hoped) kids would like. The first theme was “Modern Fairy Tales” and we read The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. Another popular theme was “Mysteries & Quests” and we read A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd, Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass, and Greenglass House by Kate Milford.
Here are some other ways to determine what book to read.
- Have everyone bring a book idea to the first meeting. Take a vote.
- Have each group member rotate picking the book for the month.
- Have facilitator bring 3 options to the first meeting. Take a vote.
Reading one book every month (or every 3-4 weeks if you are meeting more frequently) is a good goal for elementary/middle school students.
Running Book Club Meetings
Decide how it will be facilitated.
I generally come prepared with a project and discussion questions. I’ve also experimented with a more socratic method where students are in charge of the discussion and coming up with activities.
Offer a mix of activities to appeal to different types of learners.
Here are some that have worked well for me:
- Acting out scenes. I’ll pose a specific question like, “Friendship is a major theme in this book. How does the author demonstrate this.” Then, the kids find specific scenes or text that show this theme and act it out or do a dramatic reading.
- Building projects. Kids re-told the plot of the book in Legos and then made a Stop Motion movie using a free iPad app.
- Maker Faire style projects. One of our teachers has an amazing Tinker Lab which contains tons of miscellaneous supplies (plastic cups, corks, paperclips. straws, pipe cleaners, etc.) The kids were asked to build something specific with the Tinker Lab supplies and present it to the group (e.g. after we read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, students designed a tool that they would like to have if they were stuck in the woods for 50 days.)
- Make a Book Commercial. Kids put together a “book commercial” that would sell the book to other students. I filmed them and put them on a private YouTube link.
- Art projects. Have kids draw or create something related to the book. The goal is not just to do a crafty project but to have the kids connect more deeply to the book. One book had a major theme of “finding home.” The kids drew what Home meant to them and then shared it with the group.
- Write book reviews on Bookopolis. Shameless plug for Bookopolis, a website I created where kids can write reviews that are seen by other kids around the world. They can also do an online book report and recommend books to friends on the site.
- Good old-fashioned talking. Sometimes we can spend a whole hour just talking about a book. What we liked, what we didn’t like, what the characters are like, what we think will happen next, what made us happy or mad so far. If you search for “discussion questions” for a particular book, you’ll often find pre-made ones from publishers or on sites like ReadWriteThink.org.
Decide how much to read before the next meeting
This is a big issue for some kids. It’s unrealistic to think that everyone will stay on track with the assigned reading every week. Some get busy and fall behind. Or don’t love the book. Others can’t stop themselves from zooming ahead. We have a rule that it’s OK to read ahead, but NO SPOILERS. And, no worries if you didn’t do the reading, but you have to be prepared for us to talk about the pages assigned.
Other Pro Tips
Have food and drink.
Everything’s more fun with food and drink.
Establish ground rules.
This goes a long way to helping set a tone of trust. We adopted a “what happens in Book Club, stays in Book Club” motto. And used Kid President’s advice to “Be Awesome” as our overall ground rule.
Sit in a circle for group discussions.
No backs to anyone else. This is all part of the building trust and camaraderie process.
Change up the location from time to time.
Sitting outside can bring a new dynamic to the group. Or moving to another part of the building.
Don’t be afraid to wiggle.
I want Book Club to be fun. Not another hour they have to sit still and be quiet. Some kids think better when they wiggle. Let them.
Want to know more? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t want to start your own book club? Check your local library and indie book store. They might run book clubs or know of other local opportunities.