How to Set Up a Virtual Book Club for Students
Having been a reader for a long time, I’ve been convinced that reading, both solitary and communal, has a profound impact on who we are and how we connect with the outside world. Whatever the students’ ages, or whether they are in a small group setting or participating in a large class discussion, debates about books often lead into discussions about what it means to be a person.
When schools transitioned to a remote learning model in March 2020, I immediately began hosting virtual book clubs for kids of all ages, and students from my classes jumped at the chance to participate. I quickly established reading groups for children of all ages and from all parts of the country as a result of word-of-mouth and social media. My view that a sense of belonging is beneficial to a student’s social and emotional health, and that book clubs enable connection in a variety of ways, served as the impetus for the reading groups.
I bring a lesson plan to the online book talk, just like I do for my usual sessions. And, just as I would during my in-person classes, I always expect that my plans will be altered in some way. Most of the time, my involvement in a virtual book club is dictated by the group of students who are participating, and I meet them where they are. If the group requires additional assistance, I pose questions and urge them to engage in discussion. If the debate takes unexpected twists that I hadn’t anticipated, I will embrace the detour while simultaneously steering the group toward a meaningful experience in the process.
I intend for each book club to last approximately two weeks, and each group should consist of six to eight students in the best-case scenario. I provide a reading guide in advance of the meeting. Every student begins to read on the same day, and they normally read the same amount each day; nevertheless, it is acceptable for pupils to fall behind or to read ahead. My goal is to create an experience that is both uplifting and affirming. I communicate with the students via video messaging before and during the two weeks, and we meet online every two to three days for an amount of time that is appropriate for their age (more on that below).
5 TIPS FOR GUIDING A VIRTUAL BOOK CLUB
1. Introduce yourself with an icebreaker: One advantage of online reading groups is that, in many cases, the students are unfamiliar with the other members of the group. Many pupils develop confidence and participate more freely when they are not subjected to peer pressure. Keep in mind that everyone must be familiar with one another’s names. Sharing non-personal information, such as a favorite book or board game, can go a long way toward building a sense of community on the internet.
Student-to-student communication is preferable to a student-to-teacher conversation, and the less the teacher chimes in, the better. 3. Encourage students to speak up: To put it another way, meet kids where they’re at. To participate in each lesson, I ask that each student bring a pencil, a piece of paper, and a book. Having students respond to a reading question in writing before presenting their comments allows them to process their thoughts and develop into more confident contributors in a more shy environment.
3. Plan ahead of time: I send a video message to our book club members a few days before we meet for our first meeting. The Google extension BombBomb (which is now free for instructors) is what I use, although there are other apps available that can do the same thing. Students watch the video ahead of time so that they may arrive at the first meeting with a shared awareness of important aspects such as what to bring with them.
BombBomb enables me to keep track of who has already viewed the video before it is broadcast. With this information, it’s simple to devise a strategy for how to begin the reading group’s initial few minutes together. I truly enjoy sending video messages to highlight connections, and these films also assist us in making better use of our time and keeping our chats on track and focused.
When I am working with elementary and middle school students, I strive to keep meetings to 30 minutes or less. Older children can manage longer meetings, but I recommend keeping them to less than an hour.
Fourth, students’ knowledge of the story—as well as their personal experiences—is enhanced when they are reading alongside a teacher and other students. During asking questions about the tale, we also ask questions about ourselves, and in the best-case scenario, this self-reflection results in self-discovery.
In light of this, I encourage people to make intentional text-to-self interactions. Here are some examples of questions that a teacher can use to ask about any story, including the following:
To participate, it is necessary to do some preparation. While running online book groups, I make every effort to ensure that everyone participates while also acknowledging that participation can take many various shapes and forms. The importance of intentionally establishing space for each learner cannot be overstated. Allowing students to demonstrate a drawing or character chart, read a line from the text, or display their remarks on specific sections of the story might help quieter kids feel included in the classroom. Because the groups are small and the learning experiences are low-stakes (but high-reward), the close-knit environment also encourages students to take healthy risks, exercise self-reflection, and develop their sense of self-efficacy as learners.
In a friendly and supportive environment, the overarching purpose of an online reading club is to foster a love of books. Of course, the online learning environment differs from the traditional classroom setting, but with the correct approach, teachers may utilize tales to foster relationships and empathy among their students.