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How-To: Energize Your Classroom

Setting Up Literary Circles (Book Clubs)  Janice Gordon

Grade levels: adaptable for grades 3 and up. Content area: cross-curricular

In dealing with the complexities of an increasingly linguistically diverse population, educators are faced with the unique challenge of developing curriculum that addresses the needs of students of all language levels. However, the matter is further complicated by standards such as the New York State Language Arts Standards (1997). New York's standards state that each student should be able to produce a response to literature that, "engages the reader by establishing a context, creating a persona, and otherwise developing reader interest; advances a judgment that is interpretive, analytic, evaluative, or reflective; demonstrates an understanding of the literary work; anticipates and answers a reader's questions."

Students need a context-rich language experience in order to be able to produce the type of work required by the new state and national standards. Classroom book clubs, with the appropriate levels of assessment and structure, offer a step in the right direction. As the book clubs address all four of the language processes simultaneously (listening, writing, reading and speaking), they offer a viable option for developing not only these skills, but higher-order thinking skills as well.

Book clubs can be set up in any number of ways and should be adapted to suit the needs of the teacher and students. The following is one way in which students can be organized:

  • Students choose their partners (maximum of 4 students in each club). Students should be in heterogeneous pairs or groups wherever possible.
  • Each club selects a novel (or story book) to read (approved by the teacher).
  • Students should be given approximately 3 weeks to read the novel. (Students can negotiate for more or less time, if necessary.)
  • The students are responsible for completing nightly homework assignments, which include a few chapters of reading, finding challenging or interesting vocabulary words, and formulating at least 3 discussion questions. Each club should create its' own homework assignments, which must be agreed upon by the members. Additional assignments should be done at least four times during the 3-week book-reading period and should be limited only by the imagination of the group. Some examples to get them started are:
    1. draw a picture of your favorite scene
    2. write a diary entry from the perspective of one of the characters
    3. create a collage which might be found hanging in the bedroom of one of the characters and write a brief explanation
    4. design a gift for the main character
    5. write a poem or song that expresses a character's feelings
  • Students keep a specific folder or notebook for the book club.
  • During the class period, students share their discussion questions and record interesting responses. They also share assignments and give each other both written and verbal feedback. Sometimes students can choose to read their favorite parts of the book aloud.
  • The teacher should choose a particular group to sit with for each class period and listen in on the discussion. If interested, the teacher can join an adult book club and share this experience with the students, to help model lifelong learning.

Literary Circles/Book Clubs Assessment

Since book clubs are not traditional content-based activities, traditional testing would be inappropriate for book clubs. The portfolio assessment allows for ongoing data collection over time. Students and teachers can determine what should be included in the portfolio. It can include "outstanding" homework assignments (all members of the group must be represented), salient discussion questions and responses, and a minimum of 30 vocabulary words defined in context from the book.

For a final evaluation students can submit an oral, written and visual presentation on their book. The project should reflect a cooperative effort and teamwork should be one of the evaluation criteria. The students should fill out and submit a cooperative group evaluation sheet with their project. Of course, if students are not working well cooperatively, it may be wise to ask students to submit work individually. Examples of successful projects include newspapers based on the book, giant book covers and "in-depth" interviews conducted with the main character.


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