According to “Book Clubs,” a July 2011 article posted to Slate, more than 5 million adult Americans participate in book clubs. The author Nathan Heller wryly credits Oprah, the possibility of dessert and/or wine, and intellectual aspiration for the proliferation of book clubs in American culture. He doesn’t mention the mission of the Women’s National Book Association and its October celebration of National Reading Group Month and the joy of shared reading. To that sentiment I would like to add the comfort of shared challenges, the value of diverse points of view, and the potential for deep understanding. These are points of entry that can be as inviting to young readers as they are to adults.
BJ Namba, a third grade teacher at the Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii, uses book clubs to engage her students in close reading and lively discussion of titles such as The Great Gilly Hopkins, Maniac Magee, Just Juice, The Pinballs and War With Grandpa. In “Sharing the Textvideo 5 of the series Engaging With Literature: A Video Library, Grades 3-5, you will see how Namba organizes her class into five book clubs. Namba deliberately chose titles that the students can connect to that are also eye-openers that provide perspectives on situations that may be outside their own experience (2:09). Find her full lesson plan here.
Namba provides tools that are probably familiar to many adult book club members—sticky notes. She introduces students to the idea of “golden lines,” powerful quotations that students collect to share with their groups and start discussions.
While Namba’s goal is to have students independently run their own groups by the end of the school year, she is on hand early on to ask clarifying questions or help students draw on previous learning as they explore new ideas. At 9:28 watch how gracefully Namba enters a Great Gilly Hopkins discussion when she senses the students are headed down a superficial path. At 13:42 she helps a Maniac Magee group grapple with a definition of prejudice.
To prepare for deep discussion, each group uses a Consensus Board to share individual feelings about the books and then come to consensus about a discussion topic for the next book club session. Go to 11:42 to see how this works. The students are well on their way to meeting Common Core English Language Arts Standards for Reading: Literature (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.). Stay through 12:58 to see just how profound a 3rd grader’s understanding of The Pinballs can be.
Namba’s approach need not be limited to 3rd grade students or standards. Her methods would be equally appropriate in middle and high school classrooms or in adult book club gathering spaces. We’d love to hear how you adapt Namba’s ideas—or any of the strategies featured in the Engaging with Literature series to meet the needs of your students.