For book club groups, the teacher selects three or four books, tied together by author, genre, topic or theme. After reading aloud the first chapter or several pages of each book to the children or previewing the pictures with them, the teacher has children indicate their first and second (and third if there are four books) choices for which book they would like to read. Whenever possible, in choosing the three or four books, we try to include one that is easier and one that is harder. If children who are struggling choose the easier book as any of their choices, they are put in the group that will read this book. If the more advanced readers choose the harder book for any of their choices, they are put in that group. (We don't tell the children that some books are harder and easier!) Each time we do book club groups, the groups change and while we do consider the reading levels and choices of children when assigning, the groups all have a range of readers and are not ability groups.
Once book club groups are formed, they meet regularly to read and discuss the book. The teacher rotates through the groups giving guidance, support and encouragement. Each day the groups report to the whole class what has happened or what they have learned in their book so far.
Here is an example using four informational books, Cats, Wolves, Sharks and Sea Turtles by Gail Gibbons (Holiday House). Because cats is a familiar topic for most children and because there is less text on the pages, Cats is an easier book than the other three. Sea Turtles is a little harder than Wolves and Sharks.
The teacher begins the Guided Reading Block today by telling the children that she has found four wonderful informational animal books. One at a time, she shows the cover of each book and lets children tell what they know about each animal and some of their personal experiences with them. Using only the cover, she gets children thinking about what they know and about what they might learn. She then tells the children that they only have this week to spend on these books and they only have seven of each. They will not all be able to read all four books but they will read one book and hear about the animals in the books the other groups are reading.
Next, she hands them an index card and asks them to write their name and the numbers 1, 2 and 3 on the card. She then explains that she is going to give them 20 minutes to preview the books--five minutes for each book. At the end of the 20 minutes, they will return to their seats and write down their first, second and third choices. She places all the copies of each book in the four corners of the room. She then divides the class into four random groups and sends a group to each corner. She sets her timer for five minutes and tells the children that when the timer sounds, they must move to the next corner and the next group of books.
For the next 20 minutes, the children are busily trying to read as much as they can and look at as many pages as they can. Every time the timer sounds and they have to move, they groan and complain they haven't had enough time. The teacher sympathizes but tells them this is not the time to study these books but only to decide which ones they most want to read.
When the 20 minutes is up, the children return to their seats to make their choices. It isn't easy! Most protest that they want to read them all! They have trouble deciding which is their first choice and which is their second choice. The teacher tells them not to worry too much about the order of choices because she can't guarantee they will get their first choice--or even their second choice. There are only seven copies of each and the groups need to be about the same size. "I promise I will give you one of your choices and I will try to give you your first choice but I can't promise that!"
After school, she looks at all the cards. First, she looks at the cards of the struggling readers. Four of her five struggling readers have chosen Cats as one of their choices so she puts them in the Cats group along with two more able readers who have also chosen Cats. One struggling reader did not choose Cats but he chose Sharks as his first choice and she puts him in the Sharks group. Next, she looks at the choices of her most able readers. Five of these have chosen Sea Turtles and she puts them along with one fairly able reader in the Sea Turtles group. She puts the other children in groups according to their choices and evens out the numbers.
She takes four sheets of chart paper and heads each with the name of one of the books and the names of the children in that group. She then divides the chart into three columns and heads them K-W-L. She stars the name of the child in each group who she has chosen to do the writing on the KWL chart and be the leader of the group. She places the charts along with the books in the four corners. She uses large paper clips to clip together the pages in the last two-thirds of each book so that students will not read beyond the first ten pages on the first day.
When the children come in the next morning, they immediately find their names on the charts and know which book they will read. Some are disappointed that they didn't get their first choice. The teacher sympathizes but points out that she was able to give them one of their choices. She also tells them that she will be able to keep the books in the room for one more week after this week and they can read the others during self selected reading if they choose.
At Guided Reading time, the groups go to their corners and the teacher orients them to how they are going to work for the next three days. She has done many KWL charts with them so they know that you brainstorm things you know for the first column and things you want to learn for the second column. She gives markers to the member of each group who she has chosen to do the writing and tells the children that the writer will also be the "teacher" and lead the group just as she does when they do KWL's together. She asks them to spend ten minutes putting things they know and want to learn in the first two columns. She explains that they will then have 20 minutes to read the pages in the first third of the book and add things to the L column on the chart. She sets her timer for ten minutes and circulates encouraging each group to list as much as they can in the first two columns. When the timer sounds, she tells them to finish writing what they are writing and then begin reading the book. They will read each two-page spread to themselves and then list things in the L column before going to the next two-page spread.
As the groups work, the teacher goes around and helps them decide what to write so that they don't write everything in the book and reminds them how she writes the note they tell her when they do KWL's together. She begins with the Cats group and spend more time here. Even though there are three pretty good readers in this group, the four struggling readers need support and encouragement. She did, of course, make sure to appoint the writer and "teacher" in this group to be one of the more able readers and writers.
At the end of 19 minutes, she signals them that they only have another minute and that they should finish writing what they are writing on the chart. One group has not gotten to the last two-page spread and she tells them they can begin there tomorrow and they will have to "move a little faster." The last ten minutes are spent with each group sharing with the other three groups what they have learned so far.
On the next two days, the groups review what they have learned so far, add a few more questions to the "What they want to learn" column, read the final two thirds of the book and add to the "Learn" column. Each day ends with the groups sharing what they have learned.
On the fifth day, the groups reassemble
for the last time. Their task today is to read everything they have
listed in the "Learn" column and then to each write the three most
interesting things they learned and draw a picture to illustrate their new
knowledge. The teacher gives them a paragraph frame to organize their
I learned a lot about ______________. I learned that _______________. I also learned that_______________. The most interesting thing I learned was __________________________.
The children work busily to write and
illustrate their paragraphs using both the books and the KWL charts.
Because they know so much about their topic and have the chart and book support
and the frame to help structure their writing, everyone writes good paragraphs.
Samples of children’s writing
Book Club groups are one of the favorite ways to organize Guided Reading once the children read well enough that you can find multiple books tied together in some way. It is also crucial that the teacher has modeled the formats the groups will use, in this example-- KWL charts and paragraph frames. Most teachers find that the children participate eagerly in their Book Club groups and that the books they didn't get to read are the most popular selections during self selected reading the following week. It is not unusual for children to read all three books their group didn't read. Because their knowledge of each book is greatly increased by the sharing, they are often able to read books at a higher level than they generally can.