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How to Manage an Online Book Club

A fan of book clubs shares tips for running them online with students or colleagues—both now and after the pandemic.

March 17, 2021
Middle school aged girl with headphones and laptop remote learning
fizkes / iStock

I love book clubs, both as an educator and in my social life. The opportunity to share thoughts, ideas, perspectives, and “Next” lists with a group of other readers is an important part of becoming a lifelong reader and maintaining good reading habits.

Throughout my career as a student, educator, and reader, I’ve been part of many book clubs, but prior to the pandemic, the concept seemed to be out of fashion. The return of the book club as an online platform has given new life to an old practice for educators and social readers alike.

4 Tips for Managing an Online Book Club

1. Weigh important considerations before starting: Setting up an online book club is pretty straightforward. However, there are some key factors to consider:

  • the reading levels and interests of participants,
  • participants’ access to reading materials and technology, and technology skills,
  • the number of participants,
  • the frequency and types of interactions (synchronous or asynchronous),
  • the purpose of the book club—assessment, entertainment, socialization—and
  • participation requirements such as reading, focus questions, and sharing.

As a teacher or book club leader, once you’ve made decisions about these basics, you’re ready to invite group members and think about technological tools.

2. Diversify tech tools: There are many tech tools that can be used to facilitate online book clubs, including Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Padlet, Facebook, Google Meet, and Houseparty. These tools can be organized into two general categories: asynchronous and synchronous.

For asynchronous groups, in which not everyone contributes in real time, applications such as Google Classroom, Flipgrid, Padlet and Facebook allow book club leaders to create online environments where group members can contribute verbally, visually, or in type in closed online environments. Asynchronous applications also allow teachers or book club leaders to control all types of posts, as well as to personalize the online environments to suit the group.

If you are interested in a synchronous, or live, group, options include Google Meet (for teachers) or Houseparty (for adults). These tools allow you to create exclusive online groups via invites and codes so others cannot join or interrupt. Google Meet also has a recording and screen sharing option for anyone who feels they’d like or require these features.

3. Organize and facilitate: Once the group and the tech tools have been organized, the group is ready to read and interact. As a teacher or group leader, it’s up to you to decide on the book selections, regularity, and the purpose of participation, as well direction, facilitation, and moderation of online conversations.

Tools such as Google Calendar can help with scheduling meetings, and have notification options to help your participants remember meeting days and times.

As a general rule, to encourage purposeful and respectful discussions, it’s a great idea to have a group decision in regards to appropriate book club “rules and regulations.” Once these are decided, post them in a prominent area in your online environment.

4. Drive the conversation: To ensure the online conversation is plentiful—whether it’s live or not—share thinking prompts or “homework tasks” in before, during, and after the reading period. Focus is also essential for keeping interactions purposeful and active.

For each book study, try to organize at least a couple of conversation starters in each phase of the reading process. Before participants do the reading, for example, ask them to make predictions or reflect on the cover art and back-of-book synopsis, or to share any background knowledge of or familiarity with the author, setting, characters, topic, and genre. You can also share guiding questions to think about throughout the reading process; guiding questions are suitable for all age groups, and are a great focus to continue coming back to throughout the book study.

Ask participants to do the following as they read: make and reflect on text-to-self, text-to-text, or text-to-world connections; respond or react to important passages; make predictions; and/or identify and comment on textual elements or the author’s craft. For a deeper reading experience, have them focus on making more complex and broad textual connections, as well as critically analyzing the author’s craft and textual elements.

Ask participants to do the following after they are done reading: summarize; make and reflect on text connections; reflect on the guiding questions; identify and comment on literary elements or the author’s craft; analyze the text using different literary theories (feminist, reader response, Marxist, etc.); or share how their thoughts, ideas, and beliefs have or have not changed as a result of reading the text.

These strategies can be modified for any age range of students or adults.

Post-Pandemic Uses for Online Book Clubs

Soon, we will return to some semblance of normal when pandemic restrictions ease or cease altogether. When that time comes, there will still be good reason to stick with online book clubs.

In classrooms, online book clubs are a natural fit for students who are often away due to illness, extracurricular activities, or other reasons. They are also great as a forum for extra credit for students working on course requirements that stretch beyond regular curriculum expectations. Students in online classes who are living in different geographical areas will also benefit from this type of learning platform.

Educator and social adult groups will also find online book clubs convenient and purposeful due to the impossibility of scheduling something “in person” for everyone. Moving the book club to an online format will also allow people in different locations to participate.

Online book clubs are a fun way to encourage and/or maintain the development of reading, thinking, oral communication, and social skills with people of all ages. Set one up in your online or hybrid classroom, or consider starting one with colleagues or a group of friends to maintain social connections and cognitive stimulation throughout pandemic isolation periods and beyond. 

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  • Online Learning
  • Technology Integration
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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