Using Book Clubs to Encourage
Growing numbers of women and men across the country are gathering once or twice a month in libraries, restaurants, homes, and online to discuss books. For children as for adults, book clubs, or literature circles, are an excellent way to exchange ideas, opinions, and feelings by sharing books. Research shows that literature circles can make a strong contribution to children's literacy achievement by encouraging independent reading and cooperative learning.
What Are Book Clubs?
Book clubs are student-led discussions in which participants develop understanding of a selected text through social interaction. In Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups, 2nd ed., (Stenhouse, 2001) Harvey Daniels describes the theory and practice of literature circles and analyzes the research that supports their effectiveness. Here's how he defines literature circles in the first edition of his book (1994):
Literature circles are small, temporary discussion groups who have chosen to read the same story, poem, article, or book. While reading each group-determined portion of the text, each member prepares to take specific responsibilities in the upcoming discussion, and everyone comes to the group with notes needed to help perform that job. The circles have regular meetings, with discussion roles rotating each session. When they finish a book, the circle members plan a way to share highlights of their reading with the wider community; then they trade members with other finishing groups, select more reading, and move into a new cycle. (p. 13).
A key strength of the literature circle model is the social interaction that occurs when participants share ideas and responses. Wilson and Simpson's 1994 article in The Literature Base (vol. 5, no. 2) acknowledges "the value of talk in assisting students' understanding, thinking and learning" during literature circle discussions (p. 9).
The companion website to Daniels's book, LiteratureCircles.com, provides a quick list of the hallmarks of literature circles. Cosponsored by Stenhouse Publishers and the Walloon Institute, the site's overview of literature circle practices, resources, and research is a good place to start in thinking of how to institute literature circles in your program.
Two additional websites provide more information on the rationale and practice of book clubs:
How Do Book Clubs Work?
Forming successful literature circles requires good planning. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions.
How many members should the book club have?
How do we group participants?
If your program has already grouped participants by gender, age, or maturity or reading level, you could simply use those groups. Alternatively, set up a block of time for the book group, in which the children can mix with members of other group based on the books chosen.
If you feel you must assign children to groups, consider gender, age, and reading level. It's nice to have different opinions from children of both genders. However, the boys may be interested in different kinds of books than the girls are. A fairly narrow range of reading levels is a must, since all will be reading the same books. Most high school book groups can span ninth to twelfth grade, but such a wide range may not be appropriate for younger children.
How frequently should we meet?
How do we select a book?
If possible, gather multiple copies of two or three titles by requesting them in advance from your local public library, which can gather them from various branches if it's a large system or acquire them via interlibrary loan if it's not. Having multiple copies of several books on hand gives members easy access to the first month's choice. If you feel you must select a book for the first meeting, consider a title with some name recognition, excellent writing, and enough action to keep readers interested in returningsuch as A Wrinkle in Time, the subject of this issue's book club guide.
Who leads the literature circle?
The facilitator may need to model some roles to get things started. For the first meeting, you may want to have just two roles: Take the role of discussion leader yourself, and have one or two children set up snacks. Add new roles as participants gain experience in sharing leadership.
How do you start the discussion and keep it going?
How can we keep the discussion going?
Anything else I should know?