Creating a Reading Community Amidst All the Chaos

by Rhonda Richards

One of my goals for this school year was to begin middle school book clubs as a way to create a community of readers at our school.  We began the school year virtually, and I surveyed students about beginning book clubs virtually.  They said that they were not interested in virtual book clubs.  I decided to wait until we could meet in person. Still, I was doubtful that we would be able to meet consistently due to our ever changing schedule, but I am happy to report that we have been able to read two books this year, The Outsiders and Freak the Mighty. As I think about what has worked with our book clubs, I wanted to pass along some tips.

Partner with teachers.

Our seventh grade teachers were great about encouraging students to attend by reading the books and attending meetings.  During our second semester, we chose Freak the Mighty to read and the seventh grade teachers had their students read it during their RTI time.  They emphasized vocabulary and comprehension in their lessons, which helped the students feel more comfortable discussing the book in meetings.  We were able to get students involved who normally would not have attended due to this strategy.  They also were able to earn an extra 100 for attending eight out of the nine meetings. As these students move to eighth grade, I hope to be able to involve their teachers in book club meetings. 

Spread the word.

Each semester, I hung up posters with the book cover and a short summary of the book. I also listed the times for the book club.  Our teachers sent out Remind messages and put the information on our Facebook page. I also created bookmarks that I handed out in the library.

Bookmarks help spread the word.

Keep short structured weekly meetings.

We met every Thursday from 3:00-3:30.  These short meetings were perfect for middle school students’ attention spans. During our first book, The Outsiders, we decided at the end of each meeting how many chapters we wanted to read for the following meeting. With Freak the Mighty, we had a reading plan already laid out in order to keep the classes on the same chapters.  Both methods worked well.  I also reread the chapters ahead of each weekly meeting and marked the text with questions and thoughts.  This provided me a way to get the discussion going when students were not as talkative. 

Marking the text helped me stay organized.

Host a movie night.

Our students loved being able to compare the book and movie versions.  Our last meetings for each book were two hours long so that we could watch the movie version.  I brought snacks and we had movie night in the library.  

I’m excited to begin planning for next year’s book clubs.  What are some of your tips and favorite middle school book club reads? 

Rhonda Richards is a second year librarian at Church Hill Middle School.  She is a former language arts teacher who is National Board Certified in Early Adolescence English Language Arts.

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