Running Online Book Clubs for Students
COVID-19 might have made online book clubs necessary for the past few weeks, but I have always allowed our school students to connect online. During COVID social isolation and schooling from home, our book clubs connected online and via video chats.
Online book clubs for students might look completely different depending on what platforms are available to each school and how each book club operates. I share here what worked for our school library and students and some of the things I learnt.
At my school library, we have weekly book clubs that are divided by age group. For the past few years now I have been running a Year 6-12 book club that meets weekly to talk about what they are reading and writing, take a look a new books, argue about cliff hangers vs edge grippers (a term we made up, we believe), hold unofficial book launches and generally have lots of fun each week. I also run a weekly Year 3-4 book club and we do similar things, but also read aloud from a picture book or novel and colour in or do bookish craft. Our awesome library technician runs the Year 1-2 group and I was also recently approached by a group of students wanting to create a new Year 5-6 group. For more book club ideas check out this post.
When COVID hit and schools were closed, I turned to online measures to keep our readers connected.
An Online Platform
Our school uses SchoolBox as an online learning management system. When that was launched I asked leadership for a Book Club group page for my Year 6-12 book club. Since then, we’ve been chatting, holding quizzes, sharing book-related Pinterest boards, giving book recommendations, sharing our writing and taking polls to determine everything from our favourite genres to preferred reading locations. Having an online area for the members to connect has allowed those not so vocal in meetings to have their say. It’s also added an element of fun to the group with quizzes, videos and polls. Members who can’t always join the lunchtime weekly session can stay apprised of group news.
When COVID hit, we simply stayed connected via our group page and I created pages for the Year 3-4 and Year 5-6 groups. I was also able to create a new group for Year 8-12 students, mostly girls who loved reading realistic and mystery fiction and who were keen to share what they were reading while away from school.
I also created a public book club group page that all students could view to the private book club groups. There were instructions for students on how to ask to join a group and some fun details about each group.
If you don’t have a school learning system or it platform doesn’t allow for groups, try creating a channel in Teams, a chat in Zoom, a group information page in LibGuides, a collaborative Google Doc or something with whatever online learning system your school is using. As these are rolled back after COVID, we will have to explore what can be done with free software or open platforms.
A video meeting
The next step, after ensuring all the students could access the group page was to create a video meet-up. Our groups were used to meeting weekly and wanted to continue with that, even when learning from home. Again, our school provided the platform when they signed all staff up to Zoom. I create a weekly link for each group and share that with the students on our group page. Our video book club meeting works just like face-to-face meetings. We chat about what we are reading, talk about new books, read aloud and argue (quite a lot of arguing, actually). I try to keep things really informal. We never have a group book that we all have to read in our book clubs. Our tastes are just too different. The students have so much pressure in each of their other subjects, book club is an easy, fun catch-up session. Sometimes, with the Junior book clubs, we start a novel that I read aloud to them, but picture books are quicker and easier. I am learning to just back off a little and let the students chat. I used to feel like I had to “run” the meeting and keep it moving along, but as these students are passionate about reading, books and fighting over books (nicely, mostly), they really enjoy just having an informal chat. During online learning, the students with a spare lesson before our lunchtime book club meeting have requested a longer meeting, just so they can have a chat and connect.
As with everything I do in the library, I have been madly promoting our online book clubs. I have posted ‘join us’ information on our library’s homepage and social media sites. I asked any students I saw as they collected piles of books before the Term 1 holidays if they wanted to join and I asked the students to spread the word and invite anyone they think might like to join. I also posted a photo of the group video each week and shared that on our social media and our principal often reshares on our school Facebook page. It’s promoting the library while also sharing the word on what students can access and join.
As students begin to return to school, initially we thought we would go back to face-to-face meetings, but it’s actually harder to host that with restrictions around students across age groups not being allowed to meet together. We will trial an afternoon zoom meeting for the next little while and we’ll go back to face-to-face meetings hopefully sometime in the near future. We will retain all our online group pages so students can chat all things reading and book club every day (and night) of the week.