Book Club

How do you get a bunch of teenagers to read?  Particularly a bunch of resistant, rebellious, and incredibly noisy teenagers?  My Year Ten class (ages 14-16) are a lovely group, but they will not stop talking, and many of them don’t read for fun at all.  Or at least, that was how this year started.

My own experience of reading in school revolved around having to write book reviews. I loved reading, could not stop reading, but I hated the writing of reviews so much that it affected my reading.  My aim was to encourage the all students to read, without making them go through the torture of review-writing. Thus, I came up with Book Club.

The theory is that, every other Friday, students will bring a book which they have read, or are still reading, in the past fortnight.  They will be put in small groups – four is ideal – and they will talk about the book: what they like about it; what is perplexing; who the hero is, and why are they interesting; who they would recommend this book to.  They don’t have to write about the book themselves, just talk.

However, in order to ensure that everyone has read a book, and is pulling their weight, the person to the left of the speaker takes notes about what is said.  There is a form to fill out, but students are encouraged to talk about more than the basics on the form.  Once the first student has spoken about their book, the next one talks and has notes taken by the student to their left.  This way, at the end of about 20 minutes, there are four sheets of paper with book titles, author’s names, basic genre, and a brief outline of the book. This paper gets filed in a big lever-arch folder, so that if anyone is looking for a book to read, there are a number of them, filed roughly by genre.


This was the idea which I came up with over the summer holidays, and I was quite unsure as to how it would work with real, live students. The idea of Book Club was introduced in the first lesson, and repeatedly brought up through the weeks.  Students were directed to the library. After two weeks of teaching, with a class (well, actually two at the same level) that I could not persuade to sit quiet, could not have them listening all at once, a class which I felt quite overwhelmed by, we finally had our first Book Club.  The first 20 minutes were riotous, and I was not sure that it was working.  There was lots of talking going on, and people were writing things down.  Some people had brought along book reports, and were reading off them.  Most of them had brought books, even if some of those books were Captain Underpants. Then, at the end of those 20 – 30 minutes, I was presented with whole sheaves of paper, with titles, and sometimes authors written on them.  There was information about the books, and who should read them. Students were begging to go to the library, and others wanted to finish reading the books they had brought.  So I went along to the library with those who didn’t have books, helped some of them check out their first book ever, and headed back to the classroom.  And it was SILENT. The students who had remained behind had just gotten on with their reading.  The students coming in with new books slipped into their places and started reading.  The whole class read silently for the last 20 minutes of the period, and it was a wonderful thing.

That was only the first class, though. Surely, it wouldn’t work as well on the second class.* But it did.  It went just the same way.  There was mayhem, as students all talked at once about the books, and then silence, as they settled down to read.

And it kept working.  More than that, students were borrowing books off each other, or buying books that others had recommended, or getting them out of the library. At the first Parent-Teacher interviews of the year, one mother said, “I don’t know what you’ve done.  We’ve tried getting him to read for 13 years, and suddenly, he’s asking me to buy him books!  They’re not books I’ve read, but I’m just happy he’s reading.” The students ask when the next Book Club is, and try to work out if they’ll have finished this book in time.

Sometimes we have themes: Favourite Books; The Book of the Film (done over the first holidays, comparing books to their films); Try a Different Genre.  There was a poster-day, where they had to present a poster advertising the book. But mostly I am trying to instill in the students the joy of reading, of finding new worlds to explore.

*Because the only surety in life is that a lesson that goes perfectly with one class will crash and burn with the second class.


Teaching and teaching

I survived teaching Japanese school girls over the Christmas/summer break, and now University is back up and running. I’m so relieved not to be teaching ESL – you can’t imagine. I love teaching, and I love the range of students you get with English language stuff, but the topics are SOOOOOOO boring!

So, now it’s straight back into the English department, and I’m not sure how much better this semester’s teaching is going to be than ESL. I’m tutoring (TA-ing) the basic paper on critical reading and writing. The articles which the students have to read and discuss range from the banal to the boring, with a few interesting things thrown in. And many of the writing issues we’ll be dealing with will involve teaching native speakers about how their language works, and what is and isn’t allowed in academic contexts (a point which I think I might be more conservative on than the convenor of the paper). When I last taught this course, I swore I’d never do it again, but that time I had a ridiculous load, as I was supporting my husband through the end of his PhD, and I didn’t understand the point of the paper. I think I have a much better idea about the paper’s purpose, and will be starting to introduce things like ‘What is a sentence?’ from the beginning. The lecturer is better, too, though that’s not hard.

Teaching is also only going to occupy Wednesdays and Fridays, so I should be getting a whole ton of writing done on Mondays and Thursdays, with a fair bit on Tuesdays as well (though much of Tuesday will be spent sorting things for the following week). Maybe, by the end of this year, I’ll have something published? I really need to use this semester to get more written, because I’m getting no replies to job applications. I know I’m really fortunate with the teaching load – it’s light, but pays well enough that I don’t have to go looking for other stuff this semester.

Goal for the coming week: Finish editing the articles for the book/journal, so I can discuss them with my fellow editors next week.