Tips for Better Book Club Discussions

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How do you get your students to talk during book club discussions? Sarah Collinge, author of the C. I. A. Book Club Teacher’s Guides, gives some helpful suggestions!

You have started your first book club unit, students have read the first quadrant of their assigned novels, and they have diligently taken notes while reading. Now the day is here when you get to sit with students around the book club table, discussing the characters, the setting, and the problems that have surfaced in these novels. You can hardly sit still as you eagerly anticipate listening to students’ thoughtful discussion. But, when they gather around the table and you ask the first question you hear…crickets. How do you get your students talking during book clubs?

First of all, it is perfectly normal to find yourself in a book club meeting where students are reluctant to talk.  No amount of prep can remove the nervousness students may feel as they gather around the table for the first time. For many students, this is the first time they have encountered this type of teaching approach. They may feel uncomfortable sharing their thinking in front of their peers (and teacher). They may be worried that the teacher is looking for a ‘right answer.’

You can begin your book club time by setting up some expectations.

  1. Expect all students in the book club to bring their materials with them. They should have a copy of the book being discussed, and notes they have prepared.
  2. Let students know that they will be expected to share their thinking about the book, and respond to the ideas of their peers.
  3. Give positive feedback to students when they share, and also when they listen.
  4. Encourage students to respond to the thinking of their peers before sharing their own thoughts with the group.
  5. Model using polite language and mannerisms and expect students to do the same.

The better YOU know the book, the more prepared you will be to prompt your students’ thinking. Come prepared to the meeting having read the assigned reading and knowing what key points you hope students will talk about.  

For example, if my students are reading Because of Winn Dixie, I will want to make sure that in that first book club meeting students at some point are discussing the relationship between Opal and her dad.  Maybe I would plan to bring this up when I ask the question, “Which character do you empathize with and why?”  If there is awkward dead silence when I ask students that question, I might use it as an opportunity to model my own thinking.  I might say, “I felt empathetic to Opal when…” Then I might ask students, “Did anyone else feel empathetic to Opal?” Engaging in modeling and guided practice in this way will scaffold the students and help get the conversation going.

Another tip for increasing discussion during book club meetings is to reinforce the share/respond routine developed in turn and talk.  Let students know that every time a student shares, another student in the group should respond.  If there is dead silence after someone shares, ask the question “Would anyone like to respond to ___’s thinking?”  Point to the response stems posted on the wall behind your book club table to prompt student responses.  If there is still dead silence then step in and model your own thinking. Respond to the student by saying “I agree with you because…”  Then ask, “Would anyone else like to respond to ___’s thinking?”

The key to successful book clubs is MODEL, MODEL, MODEL.  Guide students to do what it is you want them to do.  Nudge them, and provide scaffolding.  Reinforce students who participate with positive words of encouragement.

While book clubs are a time for students to discuss and respond to questions the teacher poses about the book, also give students time to ask their own questions. This is a valuable opportunity to learn what students are struggling with in the text (usually unknown vocabulary) as well as be alerted to any misconceptions students might have. When students have an opportunity to pose their own questions, it communicates to students that the teacher is in the facilitator role.

If you have students who are not participating and you know it to be a behavior issue (this might happen) talk to the student privately and restate that the expectation of the book club is participation. Let them know that being part of a book club is a privilege.  If they are going to be part of the club, they will be expected to participate.  Then reinforce the expectation according to your management style.

These tips are sure to get your students talking and discussing the books that they have been reading! If not, then you probably picked the wrong book!

For resources to support book clubs in the classroom, click here


Written by Sarah Collinge

Founder and President

Read Side by Side Publications LLC.




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