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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Everybody's Doing It - Using Books to Create Communities

There is no doubt that people get interested in things when “everybody’s doing it” – that is the basis for going viral…everyone is watching OR those hard to come by toys that become a craze at the holidays (I am hearing that the rainbow loom bracelets are going to be hot this holiday…I feel driven to purchase them even though I have no one to give them too!).  Harry Potter is a great example of “viral” reading –all ages got in on the reading because we wanted to know what the hubbub was about.  That’s the idea of community book reads – get people talking, making connections, and reading! 
I have joined an adult book club, that is, a book club made up of adults, not reading adult books, well, we are, but not that kind, but, well, I digress.  Anyway, we are a diverse group (except that many of us have been in education in one form or another), different interests and experiences which makes our discussions very rich.  I can attest to the fact that having just one book in common, we have indeed become a community, we have a built-in connection, camaraderie, relationships, because we have something to talk about, something in common, something to connect with.  And we are forced to think outside the box (that is the TV box). 
Going beyond the Language Arts Classroom
Extending a common book choice beyond the classroom walls, to the entire school community and beyond can help students, teachers and other adults connect.  Whether they like the book or not is immaterial (some of our best book club discussions are the books that we do not all love!). Building a community is easy when you all start out with similar interests, ideals or experiences, and building a community is essential in the classrooms!
Going beyond the School Building
Extending a community book choice beyond the school to parents and community has great relationship-building potential.  The Black Rive Middle School in Chester, NJ has selected Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt as a community read.  They will be using it as one of the foundations for advisory discussions – a great way to connect kids to kids and kids to adults.  Parents, too can benefit from having read the same book as their child – gives them a topic beyond “what did you do in school today?”. 
So how do you get started?
Looking for a good book?  The Library of Congress has resources for the “One Book” program.  It lists books that have been used by state or community over the last years.  The lists go by state – apparently it is no longer active, but there are some great ideas and reads listed there.
Want to start a formal discussion?
Just type in the title of your book and “book club discussions” and you will get a set of standard questions to get you started.  I use little sticky note tabs to make places in the books that I am reading that catch my attention to share with the group.  In my book club, some question-types make you glaze over (more appropriate for that language arts classroom), however, everyone seems to like the questions that ask you to connect the book to your own life – making the book relevant works with all ages. is an excellent resource for questions, etc.
Need something to get kids interested?  
Get kids hooked by looking at the Banned books list. Here is a list of activities that you can get kids reading and thinking about around banned books:  Banned Books:  The Forbidden Fruit
Want to start a virtual discussion? Try these tools: is another great platform for discussions, check out this great facilitators guide to get you started.  
Google hangouts can be used for real time book discussions AND you can often get authors to “hang out” with you there!  Mary Beth Hertz suggests this and other ideas for Google hangouts in her blog on Edutopia.
Google groups can also be used to form a group for discussion outside the classroom. 
Connected Educators
Why not try out getting connected to other educators by joining a nationwide book discussion.  Sign up at to join us.  We will start a discussion on Dave Burgess’s book “Teach Like a Pirate” on October 15th.  We’ll even get Dave to join us!
What books would you recommend for community reads?  What tools would you use to facilitate them?

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