Posts Tagged book clubs

Starting a Parent/Child Book Club


Statue of mother and child reading

This fall, my third grader and I and some friends from the neighborhood started a mother/daughter book club. There are so many benefits for the kids, who are reading, analyzing books, socializing, interacting with adults outside the family, and learning to voice their opinions. It’s also been a fun social opportunity for the moms, and a chance to get to know the other girls in the group better. And we’ve read some great books! Here are a few tips for those interested in starting a kid book club.

  1. Forming the group

First, think about the number of group members. Too many can get quickly out of hand and can silence the quieter kids, while too few can make it difficult to get a conversation going, particularly when it’s likely there will always be someone who can’t make the meeting because of a conflict. Our group has nine parent/kid sets, and I don’t think I’d go much larger than that. Somewhere between five and ten is probably a good number.

To find group members, think about your child’s friends from school, your own friends and their kids, your neighbors, your place of worship, your kid’s summer camp or sports team, and even your family, if it’s big enough.

  1. Logistics

Next, decide where and how often to meet. You may want to have a first, organizing meeting with your group to talk this through. The families in our group take turns hosting. The host parent and child provide snacks and lead the discussion. We meet every four to six weeks during the school year, on a weekend late afternoon. Each meeting lasts an hour, with the first thirty minutes for eating, chatting, allowing for late arrivals, and maybe a craft or activity. Then we begin the discussion.

  1. Choosing the books

This part is hard, but also really fun. First, consider whether to focus on a particular type of book, such as nonfiction or Newbery winners or science fiction. Then, think about the age and interests of the kids in your group. Teachers and librarians can be great sources of book ideas, as can websites and blogs like this one.

The trick with choosing is to encourage the kids to select books that interest them, but not to let them get over their heads in terms of what they’ll enjoy and be able to finish. My advice would be for the parents to narrow the selections to a group that are all acceptable, then let the kids vote. It’s probably best to err on the side of easier rather than harder, particularly at the beginning when everyone is getting the hang of group discussion.

It can be good to pick a few books at once to avoid spending too much club time on the picking, so more kids can get their favorites chosen, and so people can read ahead. Don’t pick too many at a time, though. You need to allow for the kids’ changing interests and maturity, which happens so fast at this age!


  1. Encouraging participation

As a formerly shy girl, I know that it’s important to make it easy for the quieter kids to speak. One idea is to give the kids a notebook to use to write down their thoughts as they read. You can send questions ahead of time and let them write answers in the notebook, so that they feel prepared when the discussion starts. It’s also nice to have a question at the beginning of the meeting that each child answers. For instance, they can give the book a thumbs up or down, or rate it on a scale of 1-5. Once you start talking, it’s easier to continue. It’s also good to encourage raising hands to speak.

Recognize that it may take a while for the kids to feel comfortable talking. If most of the meeting seems to be the parents talking, remember that you’re modeling for the kids, and they’ll be able to do it themselves soon.

book club snacks

  1. Have fun!

Keep discussion on the book, but don’t forget that it should be fun, too. Try to keep the mood light. We usually have snacks that match the food or theme of the book (above are the mermaid snacks we had to go along with The Tail of Emily Windsnap). We’ve decorated bookmarks and eaten cookies shaped like books. Consider costumes. Kids can write letters to authors, and many authors have book extras on their websites, which can make for fun activities. Be creative and enjoy your new club!

If you have other ideas for kid book clubs or can recommend books that your club has particularly liked, please share them in the comments!

Katharine Manning is a writer and mom of three. She reviews middle grade books at You can follow her on twitter @SuperKate.

Literature Circles: Savoring Books in a Community of Readers

“What did you think about this …?” “Wait … I missed something here.” “She did what?”

Ever find yourself in the depths of a good book and suddenly wish you had someone to talk to?  Someone who would explain what you’re missing or give you a reason to read on through the weird parts?  I sure do.  And I know that’s why a lot of us join book groups.  Literature circles offer middle grade readers that same great opportunity to savor good books within a community of readers.Parkerboys

What I call literature circles, others know as book clubs, book groups, literature discussion circles (and on and on).  What they have in common is this:  Small groups of readers gather together to discuss a book they’re reading in common.  The goals are multi-tiered, among them growing avid and capable readers, developing understanding through talking with others, building community, enhancing appreciation for good books.

I’ve worked with many teachers over the years who are experts at bringing middle grade readers and good books together in literature circles.  I’d like to share some of their strategies for supporting students in building comprehension and love for reading in collaboration with their peers. This post offers a bare bones structure to help you get started on literature circles for the very first time or to help you refine the way you’re currently using them.  You’ll find quick suggestions for choosing books, guiding students to read and prepare for discussions, making discussions meaningful and productive, organizing written response, and finally, pulling in the arts to extend students’ experience with books.

From this starting point, you can add components and make changes that meet the specific needs of your students and your style of teaching. Of course, one short post can’t answer every question you might have.  For more information, I invite you to visit the Literature Circles Resource Center.

Choosing Books

You can do literature circles with small groups of students reading a variety of books – or with all students reading the same book.  Many teachers begin with the books they have on hand.  Later, they look for books that will invite response – funny, action-packed, meaningful.

Literature circles depend upon student choice – choice in books, choices in what to talk about, choices in how to respond in writing or through the arts.  With some assistance, even struggling readers can construct meaning with others as they talk about books in literature circles.  Therefore, one of the most important principles is to guide students to select the book that they want to read and discuss with others.

Book talk:  Hold up each book as you describe it to students.  You might share a short summary, read aloud an engaging excerpt, or simply tell students what it’s about.  After the book talk, many teachers will display the books in order of difficulty to help students decide whether the book will be one they can read and discuss successfully.  Before students select, ask them to “get their hands on” the book – get it into their hands to read a page or two or look over to see if it seems interesting.

Choose by ballot:  Students select their first, second, and third choice books on a ballot or on a plain piece of paper.

Form groups:  The teacher forms groups, trying to give as many students as possible their first choice book.  However, teachers also keep in mind students who may have a difficult time working together or students who may need additional support as they read the book.  Because you may not have enough books for everyone to have a first choice every time, make a commitment to students to keep track of the choices and to give a first choice at the next round of literature circles.

Reading and Preparing for Discussion

Focus for reading: Help your students think about why readers often want to talk about books with others, and what sorts of insights, details, events, and issues in books make for great conversations.  This is easily modeled during your read aloud as you show how readers respond and ask real questions (“Did you hear how the author painted a vivid image with words?  Let’s read that again;” “I wonder why he’s doing that right now… it doesn’t fit what happened earlier.”).  Start a list of “Things Worth Mentioning” vs. “Things Worth Discussing” to help students understand the kinds of topics/ideas that are merely interesting but not discussion provoking, and those that will really get a conversation going.

Determine how much to read:  Students may be able to read an entire picture book before they discuss.  For longer books, a good guideline is to have students discuss at three points in the book – after the first few chapters (as characters and conflicts are introduced and there is a lot to speculate about), somewhere near the middle (as plot points and characters develop), and at the end (where everything is resolved and predictions, inferences, and speculations are clear).  You can divide the books into reading segments – or you can guide students to look over the book, taking into account how many discussion days you have set aside, and divide up their book themselves.  This will involve a couple of focus lessons:  How to identify good “discussion points,” how to come to agreement on how much each group member can read at one time, how to figure out logical stopping places.

Set a reading, discussion, and writing schedule:  You can use a calendar to either assign groups to discussion days or guide groups to determine their own discussion schedule.  One possibility:  Set the first two or three days as reading days, with a discussion to follow; read for two or three more days (plus do some writing about what they’ve read), then discuss again.  When students are in the middle of their book, you might have more time devoted to writing than to reading.  As groups near the end of the book, you can provide time for them to think about and work on extension projects.

Tools to gather information:  Provide simple tools to help your students collect ideas for discussion: Open-ended questions, prompts (“I wonder…” “I thought … because …”, “I noticed…”), quotes, or sticky notes to mark something they want to talk about.  Use these tools only as long as you think students need them – when students seem to be able to come up with their own topics for discussion, discontinue this support.

Making Discussions Work

Having a real conversation about a book doesn’t come naturally to most students.  They will need some guidance, modeling, and practice before they begin to internalize the skills of discussion.  Two key elements of this process:  Model a discussion so that students can see what a true conversation looks like and sounds like; and debrief after each discussion to refine students’ understanding and conversational skill.

Fishbowl:  A very simple form of modeling in which students carry on a discussion in front of the class.  The teacher stops the group at various points to guide the class to articulate what’s working and why.  From this experience, students generate guidelines for discussion, which they then practice and refine.

Debrief:  After each discussion, ask students two simple questions:  What went well?  What are you still working on?  These questions can be asked during a whole-class debriefing, short session with an individual group following their discussion, as a journal response, or on a form for group response.  Use responses to plan focus lessons.

Writing to Think and to Respond

Writing can be a good way to clarify what students want to talk about before the discussion, or to capture their thinking after the discussion.  Before discussion, writing can be used to generate topics for the conversation; after discussion, writing can be used for debriefing and goal setting.  Here are some simple forms of written response that can be used either before or after discussion:

Golden lines:  Capture provocative quotes or interesting words. In the discussion, talk about what stood out for you in this quote and what it tells you about the character or the story.

Focus on theme:  Answer open-ended questions related to the theme:  In what ways is the character showing courage right now?  How is your character dealing with adversity?

Letter to a character:  Write in the voice of one character to another.  Or write to a character from your own perspective.

Extending Response through the ArtsIMG_5978 (Medium)

Many students can articulate their thinking and feelings artistically more easily than by talking or writing.  Although not a requirement of literature circles, artistic response opportunities give some students a welcome”voice.”

Some examples: Here are a few examples of powerful and relatively simple forms of artistic response: literary weaving (see photo), story quilt, and commemorative stamp.  You’ll find more examples, photos and detailed information on planning and evaluating projects at the Literature Circles Resource Center.

Final Words

Suzanne is a middle grader who gave me the best testimonial for literature circles that I’ve ever read.  I’ll let her make the case:


Katherine Schlick Noe has learned everything she knows about literature circles from hundreds of amazing teachers and students who vividly demonstrate the power of reading, writing, thinking, and responding in a community of readers. Visit her at the Literature Circles Resource Center or at her author website

Teaching with Themed Literature Units: Older Middle Grade

Recently, I wrote about the value of Themed Literature Units, structured units of study designed to develop crucial literacy skills as students read, write about, discuss, and sometimes respond artistically to high-quality children’s literature.  My previous post, “Finding My Way: Teaching with Themed Literature Units,” introduces a strategy for organizing meaningful literacy instruction around memorable middle grade literature.  The post also offers a glimpse into three classrooms where teachers and middle grade students are reading great books on themes such as “Adapting to new situations,” “Taking risks to help others,” and “Courage is inside all of us.”

Today, I’d like to expand our list with an additional themed literature unit for older middle grade readers in an unusual context — a middle school Spanish class.

Overcoming Obstacles in the Search for Identity ~ 8th grade
Ceinwen Bushey is teaching 8th grade Spanish in a Seattle middle school.  She developed her unit, “Overcoming Obstacles in the Search for Identity” to help her students understand their own quests for identity and to recognize similar struggles in other adolescents in Latin America.  She introduced her students to the unit this way:  “For most teenagers like yourselves, middle school is a time of fast growth – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. It’s also a time for developing your sense of identity, self-esteem, and relationships with your peers. This is true for kids all around the world, but some have it tougher than others. Imagine having to deal with all the things everyday teens have to deal with, then adding to them some really big obstacles. Think about what it would be like to have to move to a new country, learn to speak a new language, make new friends, eat food you’ve never seen before, not have MTV to watch, not have iPhones or iPads or Facebook, and have people thinking you look weird because you’re different from them. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to read, write, and discuss the lives of kids your age that are trying to figure things out, just like you, but who are from Latin America and have to overcome really big obstacles like the ones I just mentioned. They are teenagers who have to move to the United States from other countries, and try to figure out who they are; they’re searching for their identity. The end goal of our work together is to promote cross-cultural understanding and develop awareness that the journey toward understanding oneself is universal; that is, it connects us all to one another.”

Big Ideas
The unit guides students to understand two big ideas:
The path to self-discovery is a universal human experience and connects us all; and
Tough experiences are often the ones that teach us the most about ourselves.

Book List

As older middle grade readers grow, they yearn to figure out who they are and how they can make a difference in this world.  Ceinwen Bushey’s unit guides her middle schoolers to take a cross-cultural look at ways that young people, like them, find ways to overcome the obstacles in their lives as they search for identity.

Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold (Clarion, 2011) won the 2012 Washington State Book Award for the middle grade/young adult and has been named a 2012 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.  Visit her at