I use book clubs (also known as literature circles) in all of my guided reading groups. Students love reading chapter books with their peers and they are very low prep for the teacher. The success of your book clubs is tied very closely to the books you choose to read. When the right sets of books are chosen, a teacher can have students engaged and practicing all the skills needed to master the grade level standards! Here are some tips that I have learned for picking good book club books.
My school uses Lexile levelers. Regardless of what type of book level system you use, it is essential that you are choosing books that meet the group's needs. No one enjoys reading a book that they don't understand, but we still want to challenge our readers. Spend some time determining the reading level of the students in the group and look for books that are on the higher end of their level. I consider this to be their instructional level. They may need my support, but they will be able to comprehend and decode most of the text.
What standards are you teaching during the next month or two? Be certain to choose books that will allow students to practice these standards. For example, during quarters 2 and 3- I teach informational text standards. During those quarters, it would not make much sense to have my book clubs reading fiction books. Instead I choose informational text books such as Who Was books and Fact Tracker books. If the book you choose helps to farther the standards that you are teaching- it will be easier to find time to squeeze it all in!
It is important to choose books that are most likely to grab the interest of your readers. If I have several kiddos interested in animals- I might choose a book about endangered species. I do not choose books from a series that I know students are interested in already. They will read those on their own! I don't need to make it a book club book. However, I can look at the series they are reading and use it as a guide for choosing another book that is similar in style or genre. For example, if students like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, maybe I can introduce them to another graphic novel series such Big Nate or Robots.
I use book clubs as an opportunity to introduce students to series, authors and genres that they have not yet read. I love to choose the first book in a series. After we finish the book club, every student in the group is anxious to read the next book in the series! Now they are highly motivated to read independently. I very rarely choose a book that isn't part of a series or by an author with several other similar books. I also do not choose books in series that my students are already very familiar with such as Magic Treehouse. Reading one book in a book club is great, but inspiring a child to read a series of books is a teacher dream come true.
How long do you have to complete the book? How many pages or chapters can you reasonably read each week? I highly suggest taking a calendar and penciling in a schedule. There is nothing more irritating that starting a book and not having time to complete it. I try to have books finished before long breaks. I also want to have my nonfiction book club finished before we go back to literature standards. Sometimes this means that I have to find a shorter book. Other times, I need a longer book so that my high group isn't finishing the book in a couple weeks.
Where will you get the books for your book clubs to use? How many copies are available? You may think of the most perfect book, but if you can't get your hands on the right number of copies- it will never work! Take some time to look at the library or a local used book store. I also like to check to see which books scholastic is selling in sets and what books they are selling for $1. If you have technology in the classroom, you might check to see what books are available on Kindle.
You cannot rely on book levelers alone! I have chosen books based on their Lexile only to discover that they have lots of difficult vocabulary or use figurative language that make the book far too difficult for my readers. Reading the book will help you to have meaningful conversations with your book club groups and to make certain the book will be adequate for the standards you are teaching. If you don't have time to read a new book, consider choosing a book that you have previously read.
Need materials to use with your book club groups that support your reading standards? Check out my Book Club Bundle by clicking on the picture below.
You can read more about how I organize my book clubs by reading my blog post Literature Circles Made Easy. Click on the photo below.