Book Club Magic in Fifth Grade
Mandy Underhill
By Mandy Underhill
5th Grade Level Leader, 5th Grade English and Social Studies Teacher  
November 20, 2018  
Walk into a Forest Ridge 5th grade book club meeting and you’ll see students huddled around a table, listening intently, and excitedly pointing out their post-it notes that decorate the pages of their novels. You’ll see the students nodding, making eye contact, re-reading powerful scenes, adding to one another’s ideas, asking deep discussion questions, and interpreting themes. It is impressive to see a group of ten-year-olds communicating so intentionally. The sounds of serious discussion, surprise, and giggles all emanate from the different groups as they discuss and plan together. They confidently share their ideas, build theories, and analyze characters. Perhaps most impressively, they do this complex work as a book club team.  
During these lessons, my work as the teacher in the room is simple: following a brief lesson about a reading skill, circulate among the book club tables, and pull up a stool only occasionally to scaffold a club’s conversation. I listen, watch, and make quiet suggestions to individual students or sometimes to the whole book club. However, much of the time, I am simply a quiet observer of independently run groups. It’s such a pleasure to see these readers at work.  
After years of experimenting, the English faculty have landed on a magic combination of elements which have led Forest Ridge’s students to find great success in their clubs. These elements work in concert to support our students’ skill development as well as the school’s mission.  
Autonomy and Choice
Students are given a great deal of autonomy in their novel choice. These girls know themselves, and they want to choose their literature! Myself and other teachers introduce 13 novel choices and the students rank their top choices – which help us create effective small book club groups. Giving students independence in selecting their novel fuels their enthusiasm and joy for digging deep into their story.  
Group Accountability
Each small group is organized into three or four students, they meet and discuss their expectations, norms, and guidelines. Once the girls receive their first book club novel they agree upon how many pages to read by the next book club meeting (reading 15 and 30 pages nightly). Then, they hold each other to it! If a student is absent, they email that student to keep them updated on the group’s reading assignment. Sometimes they disagree on how many pages to read, or what they should write about. Sometimes they can’t agree on the group’s next novel choice. These challenges are a perfect opportunity to practice the real-life skills of thoughtful communication and open-minded problem-solving.  
Discussion Skills
In 5th Grade English, we teach students about conversational body language, dialogue vs. debate, and we provide handy sentence frames to help the students build on each other’s ideas: “Yes, and I’d like to add…” “I agree with that idea, because…” “I see what you’re saying about that, and I’d like to add…” “I see what you’re saying, but I look at it differently because…”  
Engaging and Relevant Literature
Our book club unit features both realistic modern fiction and historical fiction novels. Each novel features a strong female character, and the stories emphasize self-discovery of personal strengths, struggles, deficits and gifts. With the rich characters and emotional depth of novels like Rules by Cynthia Lord, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Woodson, Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, and Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson, the book clubs are always clamoring for their next book! Their enthusiasm is infectious.  
Walk into the 5th grade classrooms this month and you will see the students fully engaged in book clubs. You’ll also see their English teachers quietly cheering for them as they push themselves into a whole new realm of communication skills, ideas, community building, and teamwork.
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