Setting Up a Book Club in School
Reading groups and book clubs are a hugely popular way of engaging readers and are a way into opening the box of reading delights. If you belong to a book group yourself, you will know that the pleasure of reading is multiplied when we share our ideas, explore differences of opinion and find common interests. You will need little convincing that setting up a book club in school is a good thing. But what is the best way of going about it?
Who is it for?
It is likely that this is the first question you asked yourself when you decided to set up your group. Here are some things to think about:
- Is it going to be an open group with members self-selecting?
- Do you have a target age group in mind?
- Do you have a particular group in mind, e.g. ‘reluctant readers’, high attaining readers, mother and daughter reading group (or fathers and sons), transition reading group for children going to secondary school, teachers’ reading group.
- What limit will you put on numbers? Chatterbooks recommends a maximum of 15 but 8 -10 might feel like a more manageable number for younger children and will allow everyone to contribute without breaking into smaller groups. It also means that if there are some absences, the group won’t feel too small.
Answering this first question will help you with the answers to some of the following questions. For instance, if you want to run a mother and daughter reading group, it may be likely that this happens: a self-selected group might run as a club after school or during the lunch break; a mother and daughter reading group may need to run outside regular school hours; a teachers book club could replace a staff meeting once every half term.
Are you sitting comfortably?
The next question focuses on where you are going to hold your book club. If you have a school library, this may be the most obvious place. For that ‘book club’ feel, you will want to create an atmosphere that doesn’t feel like a lesson.
- Is the area cosy and welcoming?
- What seating arrangement is going to suit you, around a table, informal soft seating? Will you need to have access to materials for drawing, writing etc.?
- Will you provide refreshments? Books and food complement each other perfectly, even if it’s simply juice and biscuits. For the occasional special treat, you might theme a snack to accompany the book that you are reading e.g. jam tarts for Alice in Wonderland.
Choices, choices – what will you read?
How you approach this will be determined to some extent by the type of group you are setting up. For instance, for a group of high attaining readers, you may have the goal of developing greater breadth, or offering choices that they may not select themselves. For a group of ‘reluctant readers’, you may want to develop greater independence and build in an element of member choice. For special groups like mother and daughter reading groups, you might choose a book that allows a discussion about a shared experience.
Most book clubs involve all members reading the same book so that there is a shared context for discussion, but it is also possible that members choose different books which they review and bring to the group, thus widening the reading repertoire through peer recommendation.
The time is right
How often should you meet? You need to allow readers enough time to read the book but you also want to keep the momentum going, so once a fortnight, or once a month may be frequent enough. Keep the meetings regular, e.g. the second and fourth Tuesday every month, so that the meeting pattern is established and schedule dates in your diary. The group may lose interest if there are too many cancellations and postponements through lack of planning.
Ready, steady, go
A book club shouldn’t feel like a lesson, so you need to guard against working towards a set of outcomes and allow the discussion to follow the interest of the group. Nevertheless it can help to have some prepared questions or statements to kick start the discussion. Some generic question starters are given in my full guide ‘How to Set up a Book Club in your School’. You can tailor them for the book you are reading.
Be prepared to offer your own thoughts and responses without railroading the group into agreeing with you. If you use a tentative, think aloud style this will encourage shier children to participate. Let the group know that you can change your mind by listening to what others say by modelling this: ‘I used to think… but when xxx said that made me think again’.
You can get monthly book recommendations and FREE teaching notes as part of our Oxford Education Book Club. Search for #oxfordeducationbookclub.
Nikki Gamble is the founder and director of Just Imagine Story Centre and Education Consultancy. Formerly a teacher and lecturer in teacher education, she is a consultant on the independent reading series TreeTops, and advised on the Oxford BookMatch book recommendation tool. Nikki is an associate at the London Institute of Education and serves on the National Committee of the UKLA.