Book clubs and literature circles can be incredibly engaging and empowering for students. In fact, once they’re up and running, you might even wonder if your students need you anymore! While this kind of student-centered learning looks magical when it’s happening, the reality is that this “magic” is a culmination of hundreds of mini pedagogical decisions that go into facilitating lit circles.
If you’re ready for the stars to align during your next round of book clubs or lit circles, I’m here to help you think through all of those little decisions! If you’re still trying to wrap your mind around the magic of these student-led reading groups, then backtrack to the first post in this series, which is all about organizing book clubs/lit circles.
Ready?! Grab a cup of coffee, find your stack of books, open up a Google doc, and get ready to plan out your next literature circle unit!
Here are my top 10 tips to help you consider what matters most for facilitating successful student-led book clubs:
1. Let students create their own reading schedule.
Book clubs are all about giving students more ownership in learning. One of the best and easiest ways to do that from the beginning is by asking students to create their own reading schedule. That’s right–give students the power to assign their own reading homework! This is as simple as giving them a blank calendar with any important dates/deadlines outlined.
Students are completely capable of doing this, but I’ve found that it helps to give students a few tips or guiding questions to get them started. Here are a few questions I use to help students design a reading schedule that works for them.
- How many pages are in your book? How many days do you have to read? On average, how many pages should you read a night?
- Do you want to have reading homework on the weekends, or only weekdays?
- Do you want to have reading due every day (ex: 20 pages/night) or every other day (ex: 40 pages/2 nights)?
- How can you make your reading schedule work for YOU and your life outside school (sports, extracurriculars, etc)?
The best part about this? You will hear significantly less complaining (if any) about reading homework when students plan it out! 🙂 Mission accomplished!
2. Structure your book clubs with group roles.
When you get them right, book clubs are a perfect example of collaboration and community. After all, students can learn more from each other than they can from you. But this kind of student-centered, student-led learning doesn’t just magically happen — students need structure and scaffolding to get there! Like I mentioned in this first post about organizing up book clubs, it’s essential to set students up for success. One way to do this is by implementing group roles. With roles, each group member will have a purpose, which will keep students engaged and accountable throughout the unit.
Group roles will look different for every unit, class, and teacher. Here are the main group roles I use: Discussion Leader (facilitates discussion), Speaker (reports to whole class/teacher), Googler (looks up unfamiliar words, ideas, or questions), Connector (searches for text connections) and Task Manager (keeps group on task). Depending on your needs and goals for the unit, these roles may shift slightly. For example, if you’re leading a thematic unit and you want one student in charge of tracking essential questions, you might have an Essential Question Coordinator. If you’re utilizing lots of shared Google docs and need a point person for those digital files, you might create the role of Technology Manager. As long as each position is serving a purpose, there’s no right or wrong way to create your roles.
3. Create a flexible routine for book club meetings.
One of the most common questions I get about lit circles is “What does a typical day look like?” Well, every day differs, but that’s the beauty of book clubs. They’re flexible, and they will look different for every teacher and group of students. Like I mentioned in my first post, the key ingredients to lit circles are good books + small groups + student choice. The rest is up to you! Book clubs should be flexible and fluid, but it helps to have some sort of structure for each book club meeting. With a routine in place, students will know what to expect, which is crucial when you’re giving them so much choice within a unit.
Every day differs, but here’s what book clubs look like in my classroom:
- Opening Discussion: Book club groups have 5-7 minutes to discuss their assigned reading and ask/answer their own questions (submitted via Google Classroom as homework or a bell-ringer).
- Activity, Assignment, or Guided Discussion: This is the flexible part that varies day to day. Whether it’s a group activity, individual assignment, or a more structured discussion, this is the meat of the “lesson.”
- Exit Ticket OR Sharing Out: When I can, I try to incorporate some kind of exit ticket or whole-class discussion to wrap up the day’s meeting. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a great way to check the pulse of each book club.
- If time: If there is any time to spare during a meeting, students are expected to read their book or discuss.
Do we occasionally have reading days, activities that span multiple days, and project work days? You betcha! This is a guide that gives us structure, not a rigid routine that locks us in to anything.
4. Scaffold student-led discussions with modeling, question stems & types, and more.
Students absolutely can lead their own discussions, but they need lots of support and scaffolding to master this skill. If you’ve already incorporated student-created questions and student-led discussions (like Socratic Seminars), then you’ll have less frontloading to do. If it’s your first time giving your students this kind of freedom, then be prepared to give your students the scaffolding they need to succeed.
One of the best ways to support students is through frequent modeling. Demonstrate the process of thinking aloud as you read, and show students the process of creating and refining a question for discussion. Give students examples of quality questions, as well as sentence starters and question stems to get them thinking. Another helpful strategy is grouping questions into different types and asking students to create questions from each category. (This is what I do for Socratic Seminars, and it works wonders.)
With thoughtful scaffolding and repeated practice, students will be able to lead their own discussions. Remember that it will get better each day, week, and unit. Eventually, you’ll be the “guide on the side,” just walking around your classroom, watching the magic happen!
5. Plan a mix of both group and individual work throughout the unit.
Because book clubs are collaborative in nature, it’s important to balance group work with individual assignments. As you plan for each week, think about which lessons would work best as collaborative activities and which tasks are better suited for individual work. In addition, consider which assignments to take for actual grades. Again, you’ll want a healthy balance of both!
Even within one assignment, you can structure the work so that part of it is a group effort and part of it is an individual task. For example, you can break up a 30-minute lesson into 15 minutes of group work and 15 minutes of individual work. Maybe you want students to individually generate ideas and then put their thinking together as a whole group. Maybe you want students to practice a skill in a small group setting and then try it on their own. Not only is this helpful for breaking up the class period, but it’s perfect for introverted students who may find constant discussion overstimulating. (For more info on how to support the introverts in your classroom, check out this blog post).
One way I like to do this is through what I call a “guided discussion.” This kind of structured discussion involves mini rounds of discussion (5 minutes) followed by individual reflection on a Google doc (2-3 minutes). It’s the perfect blend of collaboration and individual accountability, noisy learning and quiet reflection, and structure and choice!
If you need more ideas for individual accountability, keep reading because that’s next on the list!
6. Give students choice throughout the unit (not just in the beginning).
Lit circles are anchored in student choice. If you give your students the freedom to choose their books, create their schedules, and determine their roles in the beginning, then make sure that you’re continuing that choice throughout the rest of the unit. If you do all of this but then assign worksheet after worksheet, task after task, with NO element of choice, then you’re defeating the whole purpose of book clubs! I say this not to preach, but because it’s easier said than done. I need the reminder, too!
Here are some ways you can give students choice during the unit:
- Give students choice in how they run their book club meetings. Like I mentioned in my last post, it’s important to give students a say in the expectations, goals, and procedures of their book clubs. Each book club group can and should look a little different. After all, students are at different levels, reading different books, and discussing different things!
- Give students choice in discussion. As I explained earlier, students should have the freedom to create and discuss their own questions. For many of them, this is the best part of book clubs because it means they get to naturally enjoy a good book in a way that makes sense to them. Too much teacher direction can stifle conversations, so provide the scaffolding and then get out of your students’ way!
- Give students choice in daily activities & assignments. Virtual choice boards are great for offering choice and differentiating work! For example, if your goal is to analyze characterization, you could offer these 3 choices: a character trading card, a character Instagram, or a character postcard. (All 3 are available in this editable novel unit HERE.)
- Give students choice in a final project/presentation. Let students decide how they want to demonstrate mastery of the target skills! You can give students a list of options, or let them brainstorm from scratch and present a project proposal for approval.
7. Find ways to bring the whole class together during the unit.
When students are busy working in their book clubs groups, it’s easy to miss the special kind of community that comes with whole-class novels or units. If you feel this starting to happen, find ways to bring the whole class together in learning, even if it’s only for 5-10 minutes at the beginning or end of class.
Here are a few ways I brought our whole class together during our recent novel in verse lit circles:
- After students completed a “What do you notice?” activity about their book’s poetic structure, I invited groups to share their findings. Even though groups were reading different books, they were able to apply other groups’ insights to their own texts.
- Whenever we had 5 minutes to spare at the end of class, I asked book club groups to share out at the end of class. What they shared out depended on the day/the assignment. Sometimes it was as simple as “Share the most intriguing part of your group’s discussion today.”
- At the end of our book club unit, book club groups designed and presented unique projects to the whole class. Projects included student-created anticipation guides, setting brochures, interactive slideshow presentations, and more! (The students came up with their own ideas…I just approved everything & assisted as needed).
8. Incorporate individual accountability through bell ringers, exit tickets, questions, reflections and/or a point system.
One way to incorporate individual accountability during so much group work is to institute small checkpoints and/or point systems. I do both! Here are a few ideas to get you thinking about what will work best in your classroom:
- Daily points system: Every day, each student sets out with a set number of points. Usually, it’s 2-3. If students are on task the entire time, they receive these participation points. If I notice a student off-task, I subtract a point. One or two missing points throughout the unit won’t hurt their grade, but a pattern of missing points will. Students quickly catch on to this, so it’s an easy way to keep them accountable in daily discussions and work.
- Bell ringers & exit tickets: Before or after group work, I like to assign quick bell ringers or exit tickets to gauge students’ understanding. I usually do this through Google Classroom questions so I can see all students’ answers at a glance.
- Student-submitted questions: Another way I keep students individually accountable is by asking them to submit questions for discussion. This is either done as homework or at the beginning of class as a bell-ringer.
- Learning reflections: With students reading different books, learning reflections can be a great tool to check in each student. For more info on reflections, scroll to #10!
9. Keep everything organized in a binder or spreadsheet.
With multiple groups of students reading different texts, discussing different ideas, and doing different things, book clubs can feel overwhelming at first. This feeling is normal, and it gets better, but there’s one way to make your life easier in the meantime: a master binder or spreadsheet! I love my Google docs, but I find that it’s easier to have everything printed and easily accessible in a physical binder.
Here’s what’s in my lit circle binder:
- Student tracking sheets (where I keep track of daily points, absences, missing work, etc.)
- Student-created reading calendars (scroll back up to #1 on this post)
- Student-created expectations (head to this post on organizing book clubs for more info)
- Extra copies of class assignments (for absent students & my own reference)
If you’re looking for these kinds of organizational materials, you can find them in my lit circle bundle HERE. For student activities and assignments, check out this Novel Study for Any Novel bundle full of editable resources.
10. Facilitate reflection before, during, and after the unit.
One of my favorite strategies for book clubs (and any unit, really) is a good, old-fashioned learning reflection! Not only are learning reflections great for facilitating metacognition and critical thinking, but they’re helpful feedback for planning future lessons.
Here are my go-to reflection questions that work for just about anything:
- What was the most interesting or intriguing thing you learned?
- What do you want to learn more about, and what questions do you have?
In addition to asking students to reflect on the content, I also like to ask them to reflect on the process. After all, book clubs are all about choice, so their feedback is valuable to me!
I hope these tips help you facilitate engaging, student-centered lit circles in your classroom! Remember, the beauty of book clubs is that they’re flexible. As you give your students choice, don’t forget to give yourself permission to change things up and find your own way of facilitating lit circles!
If you liked this post, check out the following for more engaging ideas on teaching reading:
- 5 Tips for Setting Up Book Clubs & Lit Circles
- 10 Ideas for Planning Engaging Novel Units
- How to Facilitate Socratic Seminars
- What To Do When Students Won’t Do Reading Homework
- Book Trailer Tuesday: How to hook students on books in 3 minutes!
- 10 Reasons to Try First Chapter Friday
If you need resources for your next lit circle, whole-class novel, or independent reading unit, you might be interested in the following: