By Mary Ledford
In the first few weeks of school many classroom teachers start their year off by building a sense of community that will be carried throughout the school year. It’s tough for both students and teachers to start the year when so little is known about one another. Students often find themselves in a classroom with new faces and only a friend or two, while teachers are learning about a classroom full of new learners with academic strengths and challenges.
Using Epic! for a nonfiction book club is a great way to help everyone overcome the anxiety of meeting new faces and learn a bit more about who they’re sharing the classroom with.
Embracing Reader Diversity
Traditionally, book clubs have a small group of students that have similar reading skills or levels, all reading the same book. Together, they have discussions about the assigned pages and encourage one another to discuss vocabulary words, ask questions and focus on specific reading skills.
I have found that grouping students by “likeability” can create a stigma in the classroom for students who struggle. It can lead to readers defining themselves and each other as “above grade level,” “at grade level” and “struggling readers.”
But what if book clubs hosted a group of students with a diverse level of abilities? What if groups were created based on interest instead of reading levels?
Relationship Building Through Common Interests
At the beginning of the year, many students struggle to find things in common and build friendships. Topic-based book clubs allow students to share what they are excited about with others who share the same passion.
There’s something about knowing you are surrounded by a group of “shark lovers” or “dinosaur fanatics” that makes the classroom a bit less daunting.
- Narrow down topics: As a class, brainstorm five to six different topics, depending on class size, that students are excited about. It may start out with a great deal of topics, but try to narrow them down based on availability of text resources on Epic!. For example, “rainbows” has a few books that are all within the same reading level, where “sharks” has a great deal of both text and videos to learn from that are available for all reading levels.
- Students pick their topics: Allow students to sign up for one topic of their choice. Some may have very little knowledge but want to know more, while others may know a great deal but still need to cross check their knowledge with new reading material. Students who seem to already be experts can develop their leadership skills by being facilitators.
- Create a collection: Set up a student roster on Epic!, and use the “Search” feature to pull up all of the books and videos to create a collection on one of the topics. Or use another educator’s collection of books and videos to save time. Be sure there is a variety of levels so that every student will have material they can read. The Read-To-Me books are perfect for students who struggle with fluency. Students who have visual impairments or struggle with comprehension can watch and listen to videos to gain new information.
- Assign to students: When your collection is complete, click on the “Assign and View Progress” button and assign the collection to the students who were interested. Do this for each topic.
- Book club in session!: As students begin to read through the collection, thoughts and questions are written on sticky notes, note-taking sheets or apps such as Padlet. The new information is shared with one another whenever the group meets.
This time together allows students to build on common interests and share their excitement all while building new friendships! After all, some of the best friendships were started by sharing a love of dinosaurs.
About the Author
After loving 20 years as an elementary classroom teacher, it was time to switch it up. You will now find me in the library at Pleasant Ridge Elementary in Saline, Michigan where great things are happening! I am passionate about helping others, technology integration, a good book and a great pair of shoes!
You can connect with me on Twitter: @mledford918 or Instagram: @mledford819.
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