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9 Tips for Starting A Student-led Book Club

Tully Quinn  |  June 29, 2021
Do you love reading? You probably do if you’re reading this. Starting a student-led book club is the perfect way to further support your students who are avid readers (and maybe a few you didn’t expect would be interested).

You might be intimidated by the idea of starting a book club. Before my first club meeting, I was afraid my students would show up and be crickets, so I overprepared with a game, discussion questions, etc. But, to my delight, they were actively involved, and we didn’t end up needing my prepared materials.
What a relief.

A helpful thing to remember is students who sign up for an after-school book club generally want to be there.
So, if you want to start a book club for your students, these tips based on my experience might help:
  1. Advertise it around school and have a meeting.
Make a poster, chat it up during class, talk about it in the hallway – just put it in front of students however you can. Once students are familiar with the idea, have a meeting to talk about what they want out of the book club. Let them take ownership and have a say.
  1. Pick a genre/theme for each month.
This will help you reign it in and categorize books, especially when the recommendations come flooding in, but it will also get your students reading books they otherwise might not have picked up off the shelf. They might even find a new favorite genre. Don’t forget poetry and graphic novels!
  1. Let students recommend books, then pick a few and let them vote.
Students will walk in the door with a list in their head of books they want to read. And, because teachers are busy, we need a way to know what’s in the books without sitting down and reading every single one. I use commonsense.org to look up books to see what topics come up. Here’s an example of the genres and books my students voted on.

For voting, you could hold a super short meeting where students pass around the books and cast a vote on their way out. You could also do it virtually.
  1. Make sure students can get their hands on the books.
Once you’ve picked out a book, your next adventure is getting books in the hands of your club members. Between the school library and teacher libraries, you might be able to scrounge up a handful of copies. I found that some of my students were happy to go to their local libraries, and some opted for buying the book. You can really leave it up to them. Thrift Books is a great place to buy used books, too.
  1. Add something fun.
 
My club has a tradition where each time we play a review game of a book, the winner gets a free copy of the next month’s book. This is a great way to keep kids involved, and I found that the winner of the free book is more likely to keep showing up the next month.
 
  1. Consider virtual elements.
 
I started my book club when we were in-person, but we’ve adapted to continue the club virtually. Now I run it through Google Classroom, and students can vote or post questions, talk about the book, etc.
 
We also use Kahoot virtually. When we met in-person, we participated in get-out-of-your-seat games or just talked more about the book (sometimes they really just want to keep talking about it).
 
  1. Create incentives.
 
You can get creative with this. My school participates in AR point goals for ELA, and students can score better on AR tests if they participate in the book club. But it doesn’t have to be AR-related. Have fun with it!
 
  1. Have a plan.
 
This is another place you can get creative. We use Jamboard to start meetings virtually. I’ll type out a question, and students post sticky notes to answer it as the opening activity. Most of the time, three general questions about the book will be enough. I often use “what did you like most?”, “what did you like least?”, and usually one about the ending, especially if it was a cliff hanger!
 
  1. Be flexible!
Whether you’re an ELA teacher or not, remember this isn’t a class lesson. Students joined the club to read and make connections, so it’s important to let them lead the discussion, especially when they’re really engaged. Students will bring up their own questions and topics, and it can be really fun to see it unfold. Because they’re usually in the club by choice, they want to participate and read the book.