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Book Clubs empower students to think critically while reading

Students sitting in a group discussing a book.
Students at Mechanics Grove Elementary meet to discuss a book they've been reading.

Books face heavy competition for time in a kid’s world. Between social media videos, music apps, television, sports, and video games, it’s a wonder they ever have time to pick up a book.


But District 75 administrators may have found one way to make books more enticing to their students. They’ve added book clubs as a small group literacy instruction option at Washington, Mechanics Grove and Carl Sandburg schools. The program is designed to develop students into active, thinking readers by choosing books they like, taking notes while reading and discussing them with classmates.


“This gets kids excited about learning,” explained District 75 Teaching and Learning Coordinator Jill Unger. “A lot of the planning is done among the students so they’re taking ownership. They’re also discussing the books with each other so they’re learning how to collaborate.”


With slight differences for various age groups, the program is fairly similar across the district. A teacher will select a variety of books and each student will select one of those, based on genre, author and storyline. They take notes while reading, then discuss the books in small groups.


In Lilian Quint’s seventh-grade dual language classroom at Carl Sandburg Middle School, students read books that dealt with real-life issues such as immigration and growing up in a single-parent household. At Mechanics Grove School, fourth-grade teacher Laura Orlyk focused on historical fiction because it’s what the students were most interested in.


“They’re beginning to figure out that if they like a certain type of book, they might also like something similar,” Orlyk said. “It used to be, when they went to the library, they would all cluster around the same books. Now they’re realizing what they like and finding other books that fit their category.”


Orlyk also made things fun by setting up a book-based March Madness Bracket with students voting on which book they liked the best. Once the kids are focused on reading, she said, they are open to learning about writing concepts such as theme, main idea and point-of-view.


Students prepared for club group meetings by writing their own discussion questions. In this way, they were not only held accountable for thoughtful reading by their teacher, but by their peers.


“After five weeks, they’re great at it,” Quint said. “They feel empowered. This is their thing. They eventually become independent thinkers about what they’re reading.”


Besides becoming better readers, the practice helps students develop good listening habits, better speaking skills, and gives them experience in voicing their opinions about a topic in a rational, intelligent way. 


“The biggest piece of this is that they’re coming to the book club with their own ideas and leading the discussion,” Orlyk said. “The whole idea is that reading is thinking.”


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