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Book Clubs in the Upper Grades

By Julie Ballew on January 28, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Last month, I wrote a post about my work with 2nd grade book clubs. That work has been ongoing, and I’m learning a lot of new strategies that I’m eager to share. This week, I wanted to get a glimpse of the book clubs that are happening in upper grade classrooms at my school. I sat in on several club meetings in Tami Heese’s 5th grade class, and I saw some excellent thinking and learning happening.





Book Club Management

Ms. Heese gave her students a very short amount of time to get into their clubs. They were reminded to bring their books, reader’s notebooks, and Post-it notes with them. Some of them also had job cards, sketches, and notes they had taken at home since their last meeting. She then set a timer for group meeting time. They began with 15 minutes in which to discuss what they had read.

Discussion Topics

I listened in to each book club, and the discussion topics were varied, which told me that they had choice in the topic. Some groups retold what had transpired in the last chapter, and others shared their predictions and wonderings. One group was talking about the main character and the kind of person they believed him to be. Another group was sharing sketches they had made of their mental images and justifying why they had included certain things and left others out. This was an excellent display of higher level thinking!

Students working in book club   Students working in book club with teacher   Students working in book club

The power of choice is evident in Ms. Heese’s classroom. Students clearly felt ownership of their clubs, and their talk was more meaningful because they weren’t answering a prescribed list of questions. This isn’t to say that a list of questions is never appropriate, but these 5th graders no longer needed that scaffold. There was a display of talking prompts on one side of the classroom for those students who still needed support. All around the room, engagement was high and thinking was deep!

Display of conversation prompts for reading

Teacher Coaching

As I was moving around the room to spy on each club, Ms. Heese was also moving from club to club, but her intent was different. As Ms. Heese listened to each group talk, she was gathering data and prompting them with questions or suggesting possible ways to continue their conversation. She listened to one student’s written response and suggested that he help his partner respond in writing as well. Since all groups were on task, she didn’t need to waste time redirecting students. She was able to empower each group by encouraging the work they were already doing and leaving them with questions as she walked away.

The pictures below show one group meeting before and after Ms. Heese’s visit. (The photo at the top shows the same group during her visit.)

Students working in book club before teacher coaching   Students working in book club after teacher coaching

When the timer went off, Ms. Heese let students know that 15 minutes had passed. She asked if any groups felt as though they needed more time, and every single group indicated that they did. She granted them a few extra minutes (for which she had planned), and she reminded them to set a goal for next time. Students quickly wrapped up their conversations and decided what they would read and/or write before their next club meeting. What a great glimpse down the road! I can’t wait to share this with the younger book club members I’m still working with.

Next week, I’ll share a strategy that some 3rd grade teachers are using to help their students build strong conversational skills in preparation for book clubs.

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