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Rachel Malchow: Setting up literature circle discussions

Page history last edited by Richard Beach 13 years, 11 months ago



Provide students with specific instructions for creating a book-club discussion (for an illustrative example, see below), including their roles and tasks.  Observe students’ participation in their discussions, noting successful versus less successful instances of involvement in their discussions.  Note changes in students’ participation in their book clubs overtime and reasons for these changes.  Note differences in their participation in terms of their interest in or understanding of different texts.  Develop some criteria for evaluating students’ participation in the book clubs.


Setting Up a Book Club Discussion for 12th Grade

Rachel Malchow, Champlin Park High School, Champlin, Minnesota


STEP ONE:  Choose a book from the book list. 


Term 1:

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

When Heaven and Earth Changed Places by Le Ly Hayslip

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

A Place Where the Sea Remembers by Sandra Benitez

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

In Country by Bobbie Ann Mason

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien


Term 2:

Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Pigs in Heaven by Barbara Kingsolver

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo


*Please note that because literature is a mirror of human experience, some of the texts on the list may portray particular situations or contain language that some parents and students might find objectionable.  Please know that your comfort and feelings of safety are of utmost concern to us and that we would be happy to provide you with more information about your choices if you would like.


STEP TWO:  Meet with your group to set up reading schedule. 


Meeting #1       Date:______    Chapters due:____________

Meeting #2       Date:______    Chapters due:____________

Meeting #3       Date:______    Chapters due:____________

Meeting #4       Date:______    Chapters due:____________


STEP THREE:  Each week, read your assigned chapters, write a response journal for those chapters and prepare for the discussion.

A) Read:  On your own.  Be sure to meet the deadlines your group has set!


B) Response journal:  Keep a response journal as you read each week’s chapters.  Have a conversation with the text.  Here are some prompts to get you started:


*  What is your reaction to what’s happening?

*  What do you notice if you look through the different “lenses” we talked

about in class (archetypal lens, gender lens, cultural lens, socio-

economic lens, etc.)? 

*  What personal or real world connections can you make with the story?

*  What don’t you understand? 

*  What would you like to discuss or know more about? 


Some people like to write as they read; others like to write a bit after each chapter.  Be specific and thoughtful; this response will show that you have carefully read and thought about your assigned chapters. 


Each response journal should be at LEAST the equivalent of one typed page and will be due at the time of your group meeting.


C) Prepare for discussion:  You’ll also need to prepare for your particular role during discussion.  You will switch roles each meeting.  See your “Role Card” for specific instructions.


**  Discussion Director *Investigator

**  Multiple Perspective Taker *Travel Tracer

**  Literary Luminary/Cool Quote Finder *Vocabulary Enricher

*  Connector *Summarizer

*  Illustrator

** Role must be covered for every group meeting.

*   Role selected based on needs of the book group and talents of the



STEP FOUR:  Participate in four weekly book club meetings.

The goal of your meeting is to have a thoughtful 30 minute conversation about your book in which all members participate equally.  During this discussion, you should take on your assigned role in the group, but remember that this is a conversation, not just report sharing.  Please note, if you are absent on the day of

your meeting, you cannot earn credit for it.


STEP FIVE:  Final group presentation.

Your group will plan a presentation about your book.  This presentation will utilize the work your group has done through the term.  More specific information to follow. 



4 book discussions x 10 pts. each =                              40 pts.

4 reader response journals x 10 pts. each =                  40 pts. 

Group presentation  =                                                 20 pts.

TOTAL                                                                      100 pts.

*This novel project is worth 15% of your final grade in English 12 this term.


Roles for Book Club Discussions

Your book club will be composed of three to five participants who gather to discuss once a week over the next month.  The goal of the book clubs’ discussions is to participate in free-flowing, uninhibited conversation about the literature.  To help facilitate such conversation, it is useful to take on a particular role and prepare that role for the discussion.  But remember, the goal is a natural conversation not a series of individual presentations. 


The first three roles should be prepared for each discussion.


Discussion Director:


The discussion director prepares a list of questions over the reading.  No nit-picking! Devise questions that help participants talk about the big ideas of the book.  In developing questions, pay attention to your own thoughts, feelings, and puzzlement as you read.  Sample questions might include: “What surprised you in this section?”; “What are one or two of the most important ideas?”; or “What was going through your mind when you read?”  The better the question the fewer you will need to continue the conversation, but 5-10 good discussion questions should be sufficient.  If the discussion is working, the discussion director might not be needed much. 


Cool Quote Finder:

This person locates 4-7 specific quotations from the text to read aloud.  The quote might be a line or an entire passage.  Quotes might be funny, puzzling, compelling, interesting, or simply crucial to understanding meaning.  It is important to read the quotes out loud and identify their page numbers, as this will let the group hear the language and remember exactly parts of the book.


Multiple Perspective Taker: 

This person will take another look at the reading selection through use of at least two additional literary theories.  This may include the archetypal lenses we have been learning about in detail in class, as well as the gender, multicultural,  psychological, or socio-economic lenses.  The re-reading may wish to examine a particular event or quote in the text, or comment on the development of the story so far as a whole.  A short paragraph for each lens would be appropriate. 

These additional roles should be selected based on the needs and talents of the group, and the nature of the book.



The summarizer prepares a brief summary of the day’s reading.  A good summary identifies setting, the characters and their development, as well as the key conflicts and major plot events.  This should be one or two paragraphs in length.  This is a particularly useful way to begin a discussion, as it allows the group to clarify their understanding of what happened before moving into interpretations. 



The connector uses the reader response lens to find connections between the book and the world outside.  You might connect parts of the book to your own life, to happenings in the school or community, to other times and places, to other people, to other literature, or to writings by the same author.  The key is to connect, the connection can’t be wrong.  One well developed example, or a two shorter ones should be sufficient.



The investigator finds background information on any topic related to the book.  The idea is to find information that helps the group understand the book better, and that is of interest to you.  This might include the following: cultural, historical, or geographical information about the book’s setting; information about the author; pictures, objects, or materials that illustrate elements of the book; the history of words or names used in the book; music that reflects the time of the book. 



This job requires you to draw, paint, sculpt, or otherwise create a visual representation related to the reading.  It can be a sketch, cartoon, flow chart, diagram, stick figure scene, realistic or abstract representation.  You can draw a scene from the book, or something that the book reminded you of.  What you draw can convey any feeling or idea you got from the book.  During your discussion, allow each group member to respond to the piece first, before you offer any explanation about its meaning. 


Vocabulary Enricher: 

This person finds a few important words in the reading.  The words might be important because they are key to meaning, unfamiliar, repeated, or used in an unfamiliar ways.  While you are reading, mark the words as you come to them, then look them up in a dictionary or other resource.  Show group members where the words are and discuss them. 


Travel Tracer:

This role might be useful when the scenes are changing and characters are moving around a lot.  The travel tracer tracks where the action takes place, describes the setting in detail, either in words or in a map or diagram.  Give pages numbers for the scenes you describe. 


Book Club Discussion: Self and Group Assessment

Name: _______________                   Date: ______________


Title: _______________                      Author: ____________


1.  How much did you participate in the discussion about this section? Circle one.

about the right amount

too much         

not at all          

too little


2.  How much of the reading section did you complete before the discussion?

all         most     some    none

3.  How much of your discussion role preparation did you complete?

all         most     some    none

4.  What was an important contribution you made to this discussion?



5.  What was an important idea or explanation expressed by someone else in the group.  Identify the person and what he or she said. 



6. How much of their reading and discussion roles did your group members complete?  

Name: ________________     all         most     some    none

Name: ________________     all         most     some    none


Name: ________________     all         most     some    none


Name: ________________     all         most     some    none



7.  What discussion strategies did you group use well? Circle all that you feel apply.



staying on topic

listening carefully

encouraging others

positive body language

eye contact

considerate of different opinions

asking follow-up questions


8.  Which of the above strategies did the group struggle with?  How could this be improved for the next discussion? Explain. 




Book Club Final Group Essay: An Introduction to and Evaluation of Your Book



Create a 1-2 page essay for future 12th grade students to help introduce them to your book, and to help them decide which book to choose for their own reading.



The group is responsible for addressing all of the following topics. 

You should utilize the prior work you have completed, as well as the talents of your group members.

All group members are expected to contribute equally, but it is up to your group to decide how to structure your work time to achieve this.  You may choose to write all sections  together.  You may wish to brainstorm together, but assign sections and write separately. 

Then come back together to revise and edit.  In either case, there is one final group grade given. 

The final document should be must also be typed, double spaced, in a 12 point font.  Correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be used.  


1)  Introduction Write an introduction paragraph to your book. 

            A)  Select an appropriate, relevant attention-getter. 

A compelling quotation or thematic question would be a good opener. 

            B)  Identify key background information about the book.

This should include the title, the author, any biographic information about

the author that might be relevant, additional works by the same author, information about the genre/ archetype/ structure of the book. 

            C)  Thesis:  Overall statement of recommendation.

 Overall, do you recommend that this book be read by future students? 


2)  Summary     Presents the key details about your book. Approximately 8 sentences.

A)   Setting: Where and when does the story take place? Realistic or fantasy?

B)  Characters:  Who are the main characters, and what are they like?

C)  Conflicts:  Without giving away too many plot surprises, what are the major

conflicts in this book?


3)  Multiple Perspectives/ Thematic Issues:

Use the critical theories that have been most beneficial to your group’s discussions.   In a paragraph, describe some of the important themes and issues that the book introduces.  Use the best discussion questions and responses from your multiple perspective takers. It may be useful to include 2-3 quotations to help illustrate these ideas. 


4)  Best aspects of book/ Best audience

A)  What were your favorite elements of this book? 

Explain, using specific examples from the text. 

B)  Who is the ideal reader for this book?  Explain why, using specific examples.


5)  Difficulties/ Controversial Issues/ Wrong audience

A) What are the most challenging aspects of reading this book? Explain using

specific examples.   (examples: vocab, structure, writing style)

B)  Are there any sensitive topics that a student should be aware of prior to

 reading this book? 

C)  What type of reader would not enjoy this book?  Explain using specific


Evaluation of Final Essay


This project equals 20 out of 100 points of your book club grade.

4=Excellent      3=Good           2= Basic           1= Incomplete

___/ 4             Introduction

___/ 4              Summary

___/ 4              Multiple Perspectives/ Themes

___/ 4              Evaluation of Best Elements/ Audience

___/ 4              Evaluation of Difficulties/ Controversies/ Wrong audience


___/ 20 TOTAL


Post-Book Club Self and Group Assessment


1.   What was your experience with your book club like?  What worked for you? 

What didn’t work for you? 



2.  How does this compare to other structures for reading books for school that you have

experienced?  Which methods do you prefer? 



3.  What could have made this experience more successful for you?  For your group?



4.  Please rate your performance and the performance of your other group members, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest.  Provide a brief explanation for your rating as well.


My performance                      1          2          3          4          5



________ ‘s  performance       1          2          3          4          5


________ ‘s  performance       1          2          3          4          5


________ ‘s  performance       1          2          3          4          5


________ ‘s  performance       1          2          3          4          5


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