Setting goals for your book club
Before you promote your club to students, decide what you want to accomplish.
- Are you looking to entice reluctant readers or challenge engaged readers?
- Do you want discussions about one book or casual chats about many?
- Is your goal to simply build relationships with students and to get them excited about reading? Or is it to showcase new books or highlight different books to hook in readers?
Ask your students what they want and expect out of a book club before you get started. Talk to colleagues about possible students to target. Some quick conversations now will make your book club more enjoyable and meaningful for everyone.
Measuring the impact
With your goals in mind, consider how you will evaluate the effectiveness of your club.
What will you see, hear, and be able to measure in relation to the main goal? Knowing this will help you make changes as needed.
Think of ways to share any successes in a meaningful way with your school community.
Organising your book club
It may take a few attempts to find the best approach for you and your students. Be creative, keep the lines of communication open and be prepared to make changes as needed. Here are a few approaches that have worked for other schools.
What to read
Choosing what to read can be a great discussion in itself, but ensure those who are less vocal have a say too. Everyone in the club could:
- read the same book and discuss it together
- take turns picking a book or vote using Doodle poll or Google Classroom for online clubs
- read a book from the same genre / based around the same theme / by the same author — and tell each other about it (without spoilers!)
- do a challenge together, such as read a book a week, or read a modern classic, or read something from a new genre
- bring along whatever book they are reading and talk about it.
Tip: Having a ‘special collection’ of diverse titles just for your book club members gives them something special to look forward to. You can buy books especially for them, or arrange to give them first choice of new books in the school library.
- Will your club will be open to everybody? If so, will you limit the number of its members and use a wait list or start another group?
- How will people find out about it?
- Will teachers be included?
- Will parents be included? If so, in what capacity — as members, helpers?
- If you're targeting a group of students, how will you approach them?
- How will you build 'a buzz' around the book club?
- Will it be online or held in the library or classroom? If it’s online, it may be possible to include more members.
Sample book club instructions
Bring to each meeting:
- a book
- 2 to 3 prepared comments about your book — these can be based on answers to the general discussion questions.
Teens may want to use a version of prepared discussion questions available for book clubs. These can be found online or in some versions of the book.
Warning: Beware of spoilers when discussing your book! Don’t reveal too much information if other members haven’t read it yet.
One person acts as group leader each time the club meets. Some clubs have a rotating group leader, giving everyone a turn. The group leader:
- starts the discussion by introducing and discussing their book
- encourages each member to participate
- keeps the atmosphere friendly and makes sure everyone’s opinions are treated with respect.
If everyone reads their own books
If you run a meeting where everyone reads their own books, you could follow these steps.
- Get everyone settled and start by introducing your book and discussing one of your prepared comments. Ask for feedback from the group.
- Ask others to introduce their books and contribute their prepared comments.
- If all the prepared comments have been discussed, then ask for other points. Use the general discussion questions if you need ideas.
- Discuss connections between your books. For example, are:
- the genres the same — why or why not
- the characters, settings, or themes similar or not?
Ending a meeting
At the end of the meeting, you or the group leader:
- asks for a volunteer to be the next group leader
- gives everyone a chance to pick a new book
- sets the next meeting time and place.
Making the book club sustainable
One way to make your club sustainable is to collaborate with others. Getting a colleague on board means the club will go on when you are not available. Having someone to brainstorm with will also help to keep you both engaged and inspired.
Give students as much responsibility as you can. Maybe they can help run meetings or take notes. Giving students control also frees up your time and makes it more likely that the club will continue if you are not there.
Setting up a virtual book club
The increase in online and ebook reading options, online reading communities, and meeting apps and tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, make virtual book clubs another option. This also helps keep them relevant and appealing for students.
A closed book club is ideal if you want a small club, for example, for your class or for a particular group of students. An open book club allows anyone to join.
Linda Garner, a teacher librarian and a School Library Journal (SLJ) School Librarian of the Year finalist, shares some great tips on running a virtual book club for middle schoolers. She set up her online book club to stay connected with her students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her primary goals for setting up the club were to give students a routine and sense of normality. She starts sessions with a chat about how everyone is doing. Easing into a session gently in this way is a good idea at any time, as it helps nurture relationships and a sense of wellbeing.
Her other tips are:
- Invite everyone. Use email to all students and parent contacts.
- Allow time for parent/student orientation — to deal with access/codes, set up, and troubleshooting.
- Post a daily challenge to keep kids engaged and connected, such as a photo of a student reading to a pet or plant.
- Read aloud — being mindful to follow publisher rules if you decide to record your reading aloud.
- Give the students choice and agency.
How to run a virtual book club for middle schoolers
Reading for wellbeing
Online book sites are useful for keeping track of books members have read. They also provide opportunities for readers to engage with a worldwide community. Readers can make recommendations, post reviews, and meet friends who share their taste in books.
- Goodreads — helps you organise your club and keep track of books you plan to read or have read.
- Inside a Dog — the State Library of Australia site for 'bookish teens' with book reviews and teaching resources.
- LitLovers — has tips for setting up a book club, along with activity ideas and questions.
- LoveReading4Kids — a section of the LoveReading website solely for kids and young adults. It has book lists for different ages, videos, interviews, book reviews by kids, activities, and competitions.
Growing in popularity, fan-fiction sites provide a place for readers to write new derivative work based on favourite books. These works are then read and discussed by a community of readers and some are picked up by traditional publishers to be published as printed books.
A number of publishers have also set up specific online communities for teen readers.
Engaging teens with reading has a list of publisher's online communities for teens.
Ideas for structuring discussion
How well discussions flow in book clubs can depend on members, and length of time a club has been operating. But there are ways you can help get things going:
- Let your students guide the way. Their attention may wander but providing a safe place to relax, chat, and laugh with other people who love books is sometimes the best thing you can give them.
- Ask students to come prepared with questions and discussion points — making sure everyone gets a chance to speak and knows what is expected of them.
- Guide the discussion by showing off any new books you have and giving students a short book talk and hook for each one.
- Focus on interesting book elements, such as the setting (everyone shares a favourite scary town in fiction), or character (share your favourite fictional villain), rather than just plot.
- Try a different type of book club that offers activities for kinaesthetic and visual learners as well as thinking and discussion time.
Some example questions for general discussion
These book club questions are good starters. Remember to be careful of spoilers when answering.
Explore the cover:
- How did the cover art, style, colour hook you in — or not?
- How did the cover images and text work to show the book plot and ideas?
Discuss the characters:
- Did you find the characters believable?
- Which characters did you identify with?
- What makes the characters original or interesting?
- Which character is your favourite and what qualities do they have that you admire?
Explore the setting:
- What did you like about the setting?
- How would the book be different if it were set in another time or place?
- Does the author put a lot of detail into the setting? Which details do you like or dislike?
Think about the plot:
- Is the plot fast or slow?
- Do you think the pace matches up with the story?
- Is the story told in chronological order or does the author use flashbacks?
- Why do you think the author chose to tell the story this way?
Examine the themes and genre:
- What is a main message?
- How do the characters help get the message across?
- Why do you think the author wrote the book?
- What genre would you call this book?
Discuss other aspects of the book:
- What did you like about the book? What really caught your attention?
- Was there anything you thought was strange?
- Is there anything about the book you would like to change?
- Is this a book you would recommend to others?
- How does the title relate to the book?
The Book and Beyond Educator and Student Guides have more ideas and activities for discussing children's and young adult books.
A new kind of book club — a Nerdy Book Club post by Sarah Fitzhenry.
Chatterbooks activity packs — based on specific titles, genres, and events. Also has information on running a book group for students with dyslexia.
Activities for book clubs
Keep things fresh and interesting to help students respond in your club and engage with the books. Use quizzes, challenges, and visual or fun activities. Try these ideas:
- First-line quiz — read out the first lines of books and have students guess the titles.
- 90-Second Newbery Film Festival — enter and tell the story of a Newbery winner or honour book in a minute and a half.
- Speed Booking — quickly introduce students to a wide range of books.
- Kids' Lit Quiz — answer questions from this annual competition.
- Book Bentos — create, hyperlink, and share book titles in an interactive collage.
- Book mood boards — use images or photographed pages from books and magazines to create a mood board based on or inspired by a book.
Tip: Put your book club in charge of library displays. Your meetings will be full of book discussion and creative activity. And at the end, you'll have a fabulous display to share with the rest of your school. Search Pinterest for school library display ideas.
Keeping it fun
Many children’s and young adult authors release digital short stories and novellas starring favourite characters. Check out:
You can also get your book club to do some virtual exploring. Try:
- Hogwarts is Here — an online platform where Harry Potter fans can come together, do online courses and more
- Crash Course — author Hank Green’s courses on YouTube.