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  • Writer's pictureMegan Mariano

Book Clubs and Using the Public Library to Promote Student Choice

Book clubs are an important component of reading workshop. It gives students an opportunity to be social in a world where face-to-face interaction is less common than it used to be. Plus, it allows them to use higher-order thinking to analyze texts...together!

In middle school, these are just as important as they were in elementary school. Also, during this time, we should start tossing the book club "roles" and allow them more independence in their conversations.

I am a big proponent of student choice, as are most proponents of Reading Workshop. This becomes an issues, however, when it comes to book clubs. Clearly, we need to provide books for them to read together. So, how do we manage to do this without hassling administration to buy us stuff? Keep reading!

Don't Buy Any Books (and don't ask for your school to buy them)...

I've been doing book clubs for years. For the first few years, I had a stockpile of books that had duplicates for students to use. This worked for awhile, but then NEW books came out that I liked better or students hated those books and were limited to those choices. I got tired of the same old books over and over and the students had no say in what they got. I'd simply hand them a set of books to read with their groups. I asked myself, how is this any different than giving them a whole class novel (which I dread)? I am forcing them to read what I am handing them, which is essentially the same as forcing them to read a whole class novel.

So, I decided to find NEW books. I'd have my district order me a bunch of books and it went great for awhile, but guess what? I got sick of those, kids hated them, and again, no choices! I had to find a solution...

The Public Library and How to Allow Students to Choose

I began to think about the public library. Surely, they'd be sympathetic to a teacher trying to get her students into books! They were!

I spoke with my local librarian and she informed me that anyone with a library card in the county can request books from over 70 libraries in the county. This was a game-changer for me. I asked her if I could request enough books for my students. Could I request 5 of the same book? Yes! Yes I could!

The journey to book club choices began! I scoured the internet for book choices in the genre of study. I created a Google Form with a choice of about 25 books for students to choose from. I'd actually check out all of the books from the library and haul them into the classroom for them to browse through. They'd fill out the form, picking their top 3 choices. From there, I'd look at their responses and build groups based on their CHOICES, not levels. So, no matter what, they are getting a book they WANT to read.

Getting the books can be some work on your part, but it's so worth it. The first year I did this, I requested all the books for the students from the library on my card. My librarian did this all for me...she'd request multiple copies of one book. I would then have the students fill out a Google Form with the title of the book and the ISBN so I knew who had what exact book. This meant they were bringing books that were checked out on my card back and forth to and from school. I never had an issue with this, however, I didn't want to do it anymore because I dreaded the day that a kid would lose a book!

This year, I took a different approach. I gave the students a couple weeks to get their library cards and get them all hooked up to the online request system. This meant they had to go to the library on their own time to get their library cards set up. It took a lot of reminders and lots of mass emails to parents, but most of them got the job done! Then, they'd request the books from my classroom. I'd help them do this. Usually, it takes about a week for the library to get the books. What's wonderful about this is that they are guaranteed to get the book because there are so many libraries in the network!

Once they requested, we wait about a week. I then take my classes to the public library to pick up the books. Luckily, it is walking distance. We walk in and the books are ready to be picked up! Of course, I had several students unprepared and didn't request, so they would request them that day and pick them up later. I planned out my time so that, no matter what, they'd have the books in time to start the unit.

This was done for my first unit (Social Issues Book Clubs). My next unit is Research. My students become so familiar with the library request system that they request books for their research project. I don't bring them to pick the books up...they go on their own. Again, I give them plenty of notice and lots of emails/notes home. This allows them more choice and freedom in their topic choices and doesn't require ME to hassle my admin to get books.

My next book club unit is Dystopian Book Clubs and I follow the same procedure. Since it's in the winter, I don't walk my kids to get them, but by that point, they know the routine about getting books. I also do the same with my Graphic Novel Unit (not book clubs).

Worth the Hassle

For many, you may be telling yourself that this is a LOT for you to prepare and a lot to expect of students. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you utilize the library to your advantage.

Kids Getting the Books

  1. Call the school district's local children's librarian. Ask her/him if the library will help you get kids into books. Talk to him/her about your plan and see if she/he can be flexible with hold times and fines. Also ask how requesting online works and how many libraries are in their system.

  2. Decide on what genre you want to focus on for your book clubs. Make a list of popular books in that genre.

  3. Create a survey for students to fill out to pick their top 3 choices. Google Forms is the best way to do this. This should be given to students 2-3 weeks before the start of the unit!

  4. Look at their choices and build groups based on those choices.

  5. Let parents know what's up. Send home a letter to let them know that their child needs to have a card and needs to be able to log in to request. See my sample here. Give them a good 2-3 weeks to do this!

  6. Check in with students during those 2-3 weeks...did they get a card? Are they able to log in?

  7. Have them log in a week before you want them to have the books. Do this in the classroom. Then, they need to request the book.

  8. If possible, bring the students to the public library to pick the books up. If not, just keep reminding them and the parents to pick them up.

  9. Once they've picked up their books, they're ready to read!

  10. They will have to return the books themselves, but hey, don't they need to learn responsibility?

You Getting the Books

So, all of the above may not work for you depending on your circumstances and student population. If that's the case, you'll want to get the books yourself.

  1. Call the school district's local children's librarian or even your local librarian. When I did this, I did it all through my town library because they knew me and my family. Ask her/him if the library will help you get kids into books. Talk to him/her about your plan. See if the library would be willing to request multiple copies of titles.

  2. If yes, then send a list of the titles you want with the amount to your local librarian. She/he can request the books for you.

  3. Wait.

  4. Grab yourself a suitcase and roll over to the library.

  5. Pick up the books and roll them into school.

  6. Have the students fill out a Form listing the ISBN number of the book. This way, if they lose it, you know who lost it once collected. (This has never happened to me).

  7. That's it! Return when done.

This may mean you will have over 60 books out on your card. I know, I know, it sounds crazy! It's so worth it! Keep reminding yourself the kids are reading books they want to read. You will definitely see a high level of engagement.

Book Clubs in Action

Students have their books, they are reading. How does it work in my classroom? I use Lucy Calkins' units as my guide. I start each lesson with book club discussions. They do not have assigned roles, however, sometimes I give them discussion prompts, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I just say, "talk about your books!". I also don't tell them how many pages to read. I let them completely decide on their own. I am telling you...the LESS you tell them, the more it motivates them to make their own decisions. I love seeing their negotiations with one another.

Once they are done with discussions, I teach my mini-lesson, then they work independently on a reading skill.

What about the kids who don't read? Well, they always have time in my class to read in the beginning of class, but, of course, that is often not enough. I've only had a handful of kids not keep up with their groups. Most times, the peer pressure motivates them enough to read.

Bottom Line

Book clubs have been so successful this school year, I am really thinking of starting of the school year next year with them. So many of my kids who were not reading at all in September and October changed dramatically once in a book club.

Also, try to encourage more choice. I know it's hard and you are limited with resources, but the library is FREE. You can't go wrong with free!


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