Hue-An Wren’s fifth-grade student didn’t appear to be a likely candidate for a book club. He was an English language learner and a struggling reader on an independent education plan (IEP).
Still, the kid LOVED Captain Underpants, even though the popular series was above his reading level. Contrary to the prevailing theory at the time, Wren let him select it for book club anyway. He had pretended to read the book before, trying to hide how difficult reading was for him.
For Wren’s book club, he read sections over and over again until he understood enough to do the assignments. Wren read some of the more difficult sections to him, so he stayed on track. Once he’d read and understood the entire book, he was proud to share it with his classmates.
That was was a few years ago and it was the moment Wren first noticed that book clubs sparked a passion for reading in her classroom. As a teacher on special assignment for Garden Grove Unified School District in California, Wren designs book clubs with both analog and digital features. However, the most important ingredient is that kids have free choice to read any book that interests them, not just those books that are on their “level.”
“A traditional book club is good for people who like to read,” says Wren. “This kind of book club is intended for K-12 students to share, talk and engage with ALL books they are reading. There’s a gap between kids who love to read and those who find it difficult. Book clubs create good experiences for all.”
Below is a rundown of the steps she takes to organize the book club.
1. Let students choose a book.
Students pick ANY book that interests them, although Wren recommends limiting the choices to fiction. The purpose is for students to share what they are reading. She finds that students promote their chosen book, piquing the natural curiosity of the other students.
2. Have them commit to a reading plan.
The club runs on a four-week cycle. Students select a title, then map out the four weeks by setting the page numbers they commit to read each week.
Wren creates a digital book club planner that includes a digital choice board. The choice board contains links to descriptions of activities students can choose from each week. For example, during the first week, students share about the beginning of the book. They may choose to describe the setting, introduce the characters or make a prediction. Wren’s Captain Underpants fan drew a road with signs that described different things that might happen in the book.
3. Offer a choice of analog or tech tools.
During the pandemic, many students preferred pen-and-paper projects that gave them a break from the screen. But she also integrates tech options, such as using Book Creator to create a comic strip featuring a character. She asks students to find a piece of text that proves the character has a trait described in the comic. Without realizing it, students are doing character analysis and practicing comprehension skills.
Other examples include creating a cereal box for a character from the book or writing an “I am” poem from the character's perspective. Book Creator, Google Slide templates and Adobe Spark videos are excellent tools for those projects.
Another project choice is to place the character in a modern day dilemma. For example, if your character is social, imagine what that character would do if they were being bullied on social media. Create a PSA demonstrating how the character reacts.
4. Keep the book club low risk.
None of the projects are graded. Nor are there any reading logs for parents to stay on top of. Both of these strategies keep the focus on the reading.
Parents told Wren that their child has never read as much as they did in her class.
“For those who enjoy reading, they can talk about the book and show their passion,” says Wren. “For those who have a hard time catching up, they can have any book they want. If they choose a book not at their level, it doesn t matter as long as they are reading."
Jennifer Snelling is an education blogger based in Eugene, Oregon, who explores how technology enriches and enhances learning.