I LOVE Book Clubs because they provide endless benefits for your classroom–especially with your struggling readers. I’ve blogged about five reasons you should use Book Clubs as part of your reading program in other posts (see HERE). But running Book Clubs can be challenging. One of the biggest hurdles to creating a successful Book Club meeting is the struggle some students face when just simply reading.
Here are five ways I support struggling readings during and through classroom Book Clubs.
Carefully consider your book/student pairing
When matching a novel to a student, I may do one of two things: I either pick the novel for the student, or I give them a selection within a range. Just because a book looks intriguing or a student has heard about it before doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for them.
In order to discourage an unrealistic reading desire (which often dominates a struggling reader’s “reading history”), I may read aloud the first several pages of a novel to the class. For example, I often have my higher-level group read Jack London’s Call of the Wild. The cover of the book looks engaging, and the storyline is interesting, but this novel is not a good fit for a student reading at a 3rd grade reading level. As I read several pages aloud to the class, I project the pages on the document camera. Once they hear the content and see the words, most students get real.
If they still insist that they can read it, I’ll have them read aloud a page to me. Since I’ve already taught them how to find a “Just Right” book by using the three finger method for noticing challenging or unknown words, my students can’t argue with the concrete information in front of them as both they (the reader) and teacher hold up fingers each time they pause for more than 3 seconds on a word or they just simply don’t know it. This book is too difficult at this point. I always emphasize these last three words because “at this point” tells the student that this option is open to them at some point in the future (but not this year).
Carefully consider your student grouping to ensure struggling reader success
If you want your groups to be successful, avoid pairing up certain students you know won’t create a successful learning environment. It’s true that these kiddos may be at the same reading level, but there are ways around this (which I’ll write about later in this post). I know some teachers let students pick their reading groups. I have never done this. My goal is to create a positive reading experience for each student, but especially for the struggling readers who find the act of reading challenging enough without outside distractions.
Read aloud the first few chapters to struggling readers
How exactly does this help? From my point of view, it’s one of the most important things a teacher can do to create reading success, and here’s why:
As a fluent reader, you are helping those struggling readers over the hurdles to understanding the text. When you read, your students are hearing character names, setting names, character traits, and most likely hints to the main problem in the novel. There’s nothing wrong with stopping and talking about observations during your read aloud portion. This engages their brains, peaks their curiosities, and reduces the likelihood of labeling the book “boring” in the first chapters. Why not set them up for success?
I also do this with my highest reading group because the text they’ve been assigned may provide some of the same hurdles your struggling readers are facing. One example from Call of the Wild is when the native French speaking sled drivers speak English. The dialect can be HUGELY confusing, so I call the entire group to my meeting area and I read it aloud to them. This way, just like with the struggling readers, they are hearing the words, setting names, etc.
Provide audio options for struggling readers
YouTube is your ally here! You can often find novels read aloud and broken down by chapters. I have headphones and headphone splitters available for this purpose. Belkin has a great headphone splitter that can accommodate five or six sets of headphones.
During my last round of Book Clubs this year, I had a 2nd grade level reader in my 5th grade level reading group. My little friend was not a good match to add to my struggling reader group, so I bumped him up to the next level knowing that he’d struggle with the reading. The audio provided just the scaffolding he needed to be able to participate in discussions, complete the packet work, and actually enjoy the novel (which I believe was one of the first he’d ever completed).
There have been times when I used my iPad to read aloud into and store chapters of a book. This way, I have another support system to boost our reading experience during Book Clubs.
Meet with your struggling readers daily
Each day we work on our Book Club preparations, I meet with students. There are two reasons why I spend far more time with my struggling readers.
One: The most likely reason a Book Club meeting will be difficult is the lack of student engagement. This most often results from a student not having completed the reading or the work they must share. I’ve had it happen in my classroom. Now that I know this, I do EVERYTHING I can to make sure the meetings run smoothly. So, I help with with their summary, I encourage them to consider which higher level thinking question they’ll ask the group. In fact, I show them my Reading Comprehension Question Fans which have hundreds of reading response questions sorted by character, setting, plot, resolution, conflict, author, etc. We discuss which question may be appropriate for this meeting’s work, and the student makes the choice.
Additionally, I make sure students understand their job in the group. I may even scribe as they talk so the work gets done, they have something to share, and they can feel successfully engaged.
Two: I want to make sure the struggling readers understand the text. Yes, I’ve read all the books I choose for Book Clubs, and I’d highly recommend you do the same. Kids are amazed that I know what’s going on in the book, and we can have a discussion similar to the one they’ll be participating in during their meeting. Bottom line: I set them up for success.
Don’t forget that the work you are asking them to do needs to be engaging. From my personal experiences with learning what it takes to set up classroom Book Club success, I’ve created a resource for students and teachers. You’ll find everything you’ll need HERE (even book titles and page break-downs!) to help you incorporate Book Clubs into your upper elementary and middle school classrooms.
As a final thought, I always let students know that I am working hard to create a positive, unique experience for them. They notice and respect my efforts.