Literature circles AKA Book Club

I have just recently finished my first teaching block wherein each class for Stages 4 and 5 had a lesson each week for wider reading.  After observing these lessons in action for a few weeks, I have started to think on how I would incorporate wider reading into my classes (once I finally get my own classes).  Turning to more experienced teachers, I was pointed in the direction of Harvey Daniel’s Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs & Reading Groups.  Daniel’s suggests 11 ‘key ingredients’ for successful literature circles.  I won’t go into all of them now, but a few have awakened memories of my own schooling:

1.    Students choose their own reading materials

6.    Discussion topics come from the students

7.    Group meetings aim to be open, natural conversations about books, so personal connections, digressions, and open-ended questions are welcome.

10.   A spirit of playfulness and fun pervades the room.


These 4 key ingredients put forward by Daniel’s has opened the floodgates of memory for me.  I look back on my year 9 English class.  One of our set texts was To Kill a Mockingbird which we totally pulled apart until there was nothing left in it for us.  But our reading groups.  They were fortnightly, but we could read whatever we wanted, so long as we discussed it and we finished it.  Our books of choice?  Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High novels.  Teenage girl romance novels – one step away from Mills and Boons.  But we loved them, and we devoured them.  By the end of year 9 we had read all of them.  We shared them, we discussed them, we questionned the actions of the characters: would we do the same? would we fall in love with a boy like that? could we look like that?  When looking back on the books, now as an adult I would say they are valueless, trashy novels.  But back then?  Loved them, like all other 14 year old girls.  We even started hanging out in the library to borrow more of these novels.  So, do we criticise the teacher for allowing us to read these books or do we praise her for encouraging a group of 14 year old girls to read some 30 novels in a year, give up their lunchtimes to borrow more books and to spend their days discussing texts?

I am in a book club now as an adult and the same key ingredients permeate our group.  Whoever is hosting picks the book and picks the book club questions for the night (it should be noted that we never quite get through all the questions).  The discussion starts with a personal response; simple question of who liked it, who didn’t and why/why not?  We then start discussing it in detail and usually digress onto other related subjects but that have wider implications.  Everyone has started recommending other books, and now, although we only meet every 6 weeks, we have gone from reading 1 book in that 6 weeks to everyone squeezing in quite a few more in that time.  Social media has allowed for the discussion to continue and some books are discussed for weeks on end.

This is what Daniel’s is getting at – it is the playfulness, the fun and the discussion.  Wider reading needs to be more than the students turning up to class to read for 45 minutes and then leave.  They need to be discussing the book, it doesn’t matter what the book is, so long as they are reading and responding, in an environment that is led by them. 

In the world of e-readers the options are wider, and not limited to what is in the school library or faculty bookroom.  BYOD schools that have connections with their local library are able to lend students e-books and several students are able to read the same text at the same time and students are able to rate their books.  Students can discuss via edmodo and other social media, they can even write their own reviews on Goodreads.

So now I am sitting here, planning just how I will incorporate literature circles into my classroom, perhaps even suggest a lunchtime book club if my future school doesn’t have one.  I’m set and ready to go.  Now I just need a class …




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