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Improve literacy with the power of school book clubs

December 3, 2020, 8:50 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Laura Lodge discusses the power of school book clubs to help improve literacy...
Improve literacy with the power of school book clubs

Many schools are working hard to improve reading, recognising the impact that it has on children’s lives, and are looking for ways to inspire and engage pupils. Setting up a book club is one great way to do this.

Petrich (2015) found that book clubs not only facilitated reading, but also developed social-emotional learning and self-motivation. Having a book club as a safe space to discuss texts can support children to become more confident, refine their opinions, widen their reading repertoire and so much more.

When setting up a book club, it is important to think carefully about your vision. While an informal, unplanned chat about books can have power, book clubs can transform thinking when time and thought is put into their creation.

Who will benefit?

Many schools begin their book club journey by acknowledging that an aspect of reading provision, such as enjoyment, needs development, or by being aware of specific groups who need support. Think about your school – where would a book club have impact?

Book clubs are often offered to the most accomplished readers in the school, the ‘greater depth’ readers, who may need additional challenge. Our One Education Reading Award school, St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School, Allerton, have set up a book club to support just that, with the main purpose being to engage and challenge readers, alongside supporting the writing process.

Although confident readers are a worthy audience, it is important not to ignore other groups too. Children who find decoding a challenge can still gain a huge amount from being book clubbers, indeed some might argue that they may benefit more from membership than more fluent readers.

The opportunity to share a text together is one which can break barriers and build confidence. Having the chance to discuss their opinions, learning from both staff and peers, can really make a difference to a child’s view of reading.

What will your book club look like?

Once you have identified your book clubbers, your next step is to develop your club’s reading identity. Consider how you are going to make your book club special. How are you going to make being a book clubber a coveted position?

Some children will naturally want to join, but creating a book club buzz is crucial to engaging more reluctant readers. How you decide to do this will be dependent on your book club audience.

Schools we have worked with have used secret signs; combined books with beauty treatments or just actively encouraged children to join. What is certain is that once your book club starts, and children enjoy the sessions, word of mouth will keep your book club buzzing.

Deciding on the focus for your book club sessions also takes careful thought. Book clubs are not lessons, and should not be treated as such – they should, first and foremost, be about fostering a love of reading.

Having said that, most book clubs have a dual purpose, where enjoyment is central but knowledge building and challenge come a close second. Getting the balance right is key. Developing a culture of contribution, opinion and respectful challenge alongside encouraging engagement in reading, will reap the most rewards.

Every book club is different and you need to decide what your expectations will be. Consider the format of your sessions. Will they involve reading, discussion or both? How will you ensure everyone can contribute to discussion?

Think about whether it is feasible to ask members to read between sessions, or whether reading alongside you will have more power. Will you meet face-to-face or virtually? The OURFP website includes examples of practice which may support your decision-making.

Most importantly, think about how to ensure your book club becomes a safe space for participants.

In order for everyone to feel comfortable sharing their opinions and the book club to thrive, members need to know that their contributions will be valued and respected. You may even wish to develop a book club code alongside your book clubbers to support this.

Ultimately, you need to view yourself as a facilitator of the book club rather than as its leader. How can you facilitate the discussion in book club sessions so that it engages and challenges pupils?

Planning some key discussion points or questions in advance will support you to structure the sessions, providing ways of teasing out discussion and making the most of the texts you share together. However, I would encourage you to take your lead from your book clubbers – you may be surprised with where they take you.

What about the books?

Of course, every book club depends on texts. Reading choices will be pivotal to the success of your book club and need thought.

Considering your audience’s particular needs in terms of reading should be your first priority: some groups may need more challenge, others may need something lower threat. Either way, it is important to find texts that have depth, that have aspects worthy of discussion, as that is what will give life to your sessions.

Expanding your knowledge of children’s literature will support you in your decision making. Knowing your preferences and seeking to widen them means that you can provide a well-rounded selection for your book clubbers to experience.

You may even wish to pass along the baton of choosing your texts to the pupils themselves, learning from their choices just as much as your own.

By giving children structured opportunities to discuss texts, we can open their eyes further to reading. Setting up a book club is a fantastic way to do this, encouraging deeper understanding and contributing to that love of reading we know is so crucial to development.

The One Education Reading Award includes a wide range of resources which can support you to review reading provision, make challenging text choices and run your own book clubs. More information can be found at

What about staff?

Building a love of reading depends on staff engagement. One of our One Education Reading Award schools, Chapel Street Primary School, is working hard to develop their reading provision.

Buoyed by the success of their book clubs, and having identified staff development needs as part of the Reading Award audit, leaders wanted to continue to raise the profile of reading amongst the team.

Leaders at the school understand the impact that staff can have as role models of reading, so to support this, they worked with an independent bookshop, Simply Books, to purchase a carefully curated book for every member of staff.

It is the school’s belief that if the staff love books, then so will the children. Staff will be encouraged to share the books, participate in reading conversations and even set up their own book clubs to pass the love of reading on.

Laura Lodge, Senior Education Consultant at One Education and Reading Curriculum Expert for the Department for Education, but first and foremost, a teacher.

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