November 1, 2014
Teachers Talk - Creating Excited Readers: A Twist on Guided Reading
Angela McQueen, Teacher, Deer Lake SDA School, Burnaby, BC

Do your students groan when you say, “It’s reading time?”  How do you hook students in so they want to read without rolling eyes and pulling teeth?  Combine Guided Reading and Literature Circles to form Book Clubs!  As adults, the idea of a book club is appealing—read a great book, get together with friends to talk about it, and socialize over some munchies—it’s a party!  So why not do the same thing with your students! 
Book clubs can hook kids into reading and have them spending large amounts of time engaged in great stories.  Students love to feel grown up.  With opportunities to talk about their books, students have the chance to express their opinions and orally quiz each other, which is much more enjoyable than writing a test.  Reading becomes popular and students read because they do not want to feel left out by being unprepared for a meeting.  Students also begin to hear about books their classmates are reading and they want to read them too.  The more students read, the faster and more excited they become.  The more they read, the more enthusiastic they are, and so the cycle continues!
So what are the benefits?  By using a format that looks, sounds, and feels like an adult book club, students will spend large amounts of time reading, thinking about reading and getting hooked on reading! They will engage in cooperative learning, talk about responses and create a reading culture in their classroom. Self-direction and enhanced social skills will follow. 
So how exactly does it work? 
  1. Gather 3-5 copies of different novels at a variety of levels and styles (i.e. choose books by theme, topic, or author).  Provide a short book talk for each book.  Give students time to look through each book and try reading a few pages.  Students will list their top three preferences.  This allows students to be placed into balanced groups and assigned books at their reading level. 
  2. After book clubs have been initiated, students meet to divide their book into 3-4 sections, depending on how long the book is and how many weeks they have to complete it.  I usually give my Grade 4 students three weeks, which works out to approximately 60 pages, about one-third of their book, or two hours of weekly reading at home.
  3. Students are not allowed to read ahead of the week’s assigned section!  This keeps the entire group having fun and predicting what is going to happen next. 
  4. Challenge advanced readers by allowing them to join two groups.  For their second book, put your advanced readers in the easiest group.  Not only does this raise the calibre of discussion in the lower reading group, but it also provides great cover as nobody sees the group as less competent when there are reading hotshots involved!
  5. Every week after reading, each student will write down two skinny questions and answers, two fat juicy questions, a connection between their reading and their life, and three unfamiliar words with their dictionary definitions.  Skinny questions are about important points in the book with answers that can also be found in the book (i.e. How many step-sisters did Cinderella have?).  Fat juicy questions are those that have no right answer and can elicit multiple responses and opinions (i.e. Why did Cinderella’s father marry her step-mother if she was so mean?).  Fat juicy questions cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. 
  6. Each book club meets once a week for approximately 15-25 minutes to discuss their book while the rest of the class works on a quiet task.  Groups generally manage their own meetings.  However, you may join a group with a struggling reader to offer extra support, assess oral language skills, or be part of the discussion of some big ideas.  Meetings start with students asking skinny questions to check if they have read and understood the week’s passage.  If you are still unsure about a student’s comprehension, ask a few skinny questions of your own.  Those who can’t answer the questions do not get any marks for reading, but can still get credit for reading if they pass a test at the end of the book.  This way a student who was not ready for the meeting is motivated to finish the book and those who do understand can be spared a test.  
  7. Next, groups discuss fat juicy questions and explain their thinking.  Rules: you cannot answer yes or no, you need to explain your thinking, and you can’t repeat an idea that has already been said. When everyone who wants to speak has been heard, the questioner will answer his or her own question.  Lastly, students share their connection.  
  8. While book clubs are meeting, look at students written work.  Students receive three marks for having read with understanding, one mark for writing their questions and connections, and one mark for defining three unfamiliar words.  This only takes a few minutes and will allow you to observe, offer support to the class, or join in discussions.
  9. In preparation of the first book club, have students practice creating skinny questions, fat juicy questions, and connections to familiar stories and current read-aloud books to give them practice. 
  10. Lastly, at the end of each book club, have a class celebration and awards ceremony where each student who completed their book is awarded a certificate!
Book clubs have really transformed my classroom reading.  Students have begged to continue even when the school year ended and pleaded for me to tell next year’s teacher about book clubs so they can participate again.  Not only have book clubs created avid readers in my classroom, they have also developed cooperative learning where students have developed positive interdependence, individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, social skills, and group processing.  Give it a try; it will be transformational!