How To Run a Virtual Book Club with Middle Schoolers

School librarian Laura Gardner offers best practices to stay connected with students and keep the fun factor high. 

I never wanted to be an online librarian, and I bet you didn’t, either. I don’t even like ebooks.

I miss my library. I miss the books. Most importantly, I miss my students.

Now that COVID-19 has forced us all to become online school librarians, we need to find ways to deliver virtual content, stay connected with our students, and help them continue reading. One way that I’m doing that is through online book clubs via Zoom. Our two daily meetups are now an established part of my day.

Getting online book clubs off the ground wasn’t too difficult for me. It helps that we already had established book clubs at my school library, but that isn't a prerequisite. I’ve been running three “Lunch Bunch” book clubs (one per grade) almost every day for over three years. We read aloud books from the Global Read Aloud or Project Lit book lists, and every Friday, I do First Chapter Friday to get more books in kids’ hands. We cap our in-person Lunch Bunch at 30 students per group. We max out, and we have a wait list! But the online lunch bunch can include far more students, and there’s no cleanup necessary at the end of the session.

Tips and Tricks for an Online Book Club

Everyone is invited

I got the word out about our new virtual Lunch Bunch via email, social media, and Google Classroom. I first sent all our regular Lunch Bunch kiddos invitations to our new Google Classroom and encouraged them to get chatting with a welcome/introduce yourself post. Then I sent an email to every student in the school, as well as all the parent contacts, via our student management platform (Aspen) and posted the event on the PTO Facebook page.

Most of one day was spent helping parents and students troubleshoot the Google Classroom codes and Zoom meeting code over email and Facebook. Parents and students also helped one another out and invited one another to join. A lot of our “regulars” sign up for our virtual meetings, as well as new students who never came to our in-person events. So far, we’re averaging between 10 and 15 students per session, but I’m hopeful for more in the coming weeks.

Live meetings are a fun way to connect

We’re using Zoom for our daily meetups, one for sixth graders at noon and one for seventh/eighth graders at 1 p.m. Zoom has been very easy to use: It works on any phone, tablet, or computer, and students have been helping each other troubleshoot. I love the functionality it offers the host. I can mute everyone and unmute one by one, and I can also record the meeting if I want to.

The first 10 minutes of our sessions are designated hang out time. We chat about the daily challenge (more on that later), as well as how everyone’s feeling and what they’re up to. I’m loving the social interaction, as well as seeing everyone’s house, siblings, and pets. Our connection may be virtual, but it’s still meaningful. My primary goal is to give students a sense of normalcy and routine in a time of uncertainty.

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Asynchronous participation is important, too!

Not everyone will be able to make the live meetups. To keep kids engaged between our Zoom sessions, I’m posting a daily challenge in our Google Classroom. Examples include posting a picture of a student reading to a sibling, pet or plant; signing up for Sora, our ebook/audiobook platform; and finding a previously abandoned book in the house and reading 10 pages to give it one more chance. Google Classroom is also the best place for me to answer any questions about how to access library resources.

Give students choice

I’ve always read aloud to my middle schoolers. English language arts teachers in our school sometimes run book clubs where kids have physical copies of their own books, but that’s not my preferred format. Given resource limitations, this may be a good time for you to try out a read aloud format, too. That said, I’m also a big proponent of student choice. We always have one set read aloud for the year, the Global Read Aloud pick. But for the rest of the year, students get to pick our read aloud from a list of choices that I booktalk. For our sixth grade virtual read aloud, we first finished up our previous book, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson, and then voted on Google Classroom to see what students wanted to read next from the selections I snagged from the library. We’ve settled onThe Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry for sixth grade and Small Spaces by Katherine Arden for seventh and eighth grade. So far both are going great!

Follow publisher rules

SLJ posted a great article about how to do this. Almost any book you will pick will be covered by one of the publishers listed. One quick email about each book and my read alouds are all set. I’m finding it easiest to read live and not record. We recap what has happened in the book at the start of each session by taking turns sharing what we remember, which helps increase participation, too.

I’m excited to see how our virtual book clubs evolve over time. I certainly miss seeing students in person, but given the situation, this is a nice consolation. 

Laura Gardner is a teacher librarian at Dartmouth (MA) Middle School and a 2016 SLJ School LIbrarian of the Year finalist.

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Patsy Divver

Hey Laura~ thank you! I've been trying to get the online groups going and your article is super helpful! I may need to use Hangouts vs. Zoom per school policies, but we already have Google classrooms set up. Thanks again!

Posted : Apr 02, 2020 02:17


Nancy Brown

Hi Laura, thank your for this thorough and clear article!

I'm the co-founder of a platform called Bookclubz that helps book clubs stay organized so they stay together. To date we have served private book clubs and mainly adults, but during this time of physical distance and online learning, our tool has broadened its audience to educators and parents who are running virtual book clubs. We are keen to learn more about how our tools can serve this group and wondering if you'd be open to chatting? It's a free service, available as an app on iOS and Android but also on web at www.bookclubz.com.

Please feel free to email me if this sparks interest and if you think this could be helpful for those leading and managing virtual clubs. My email is nancy@bookclubz.com

Posted : Apr 01, 2020 09:05


Julie Sheridan

I love this idea! I've never done a read aloud book club before, but I think that is a great idea with the circumstances. About how long do you read to the kids each time?

Posted : Apr 01, 2020 08:17

Laura Gardner

We were only doing 30 minutes for the whole meeting, but we're moving to 45 minutes because we're having so much fun. Ideally I would read aloud for 30 minutes and 15 minutes would be for hanging out, chatting, etc. One idea we've been trying this week is a Google Slide Party -- students share a Google Slide presentation w/me about their personal interests/passions and then once a day we let someone present. It's easy to share your screen in Zoom. So far we've learned about Disney movies, role playing and fanfiction, and a favorite manga character and his entire backstory. :)

Posted : Apr 02, 2020 02:02


Jill Lurie

Love this but I also want to hear more about the lunch book clubs you do with students when they are in the building!

Posted : Apr 01, 2020 07:11

Laura Gardner

I started the lunch bunch to do the Global Read Aloud three years ago and I've continued reading books aloud beyond the first one each year. We usually read 4 - 5 books a year per grade (I do a lunch bunch for each grade, 6th, 7th, and 8th). It's more successful with some groups than others, but this year it's been great with all three groups. Besides read alouds, we also do some special lunch bunches. For example, we also always do the Cardboard Challenge the first week of October to coincide with Caine's Arcade/cardboard challenge. This year I also did one other new special program -- a Climate Prep week the last week of September. We watched a documentary, had two special guest speakers (one a scientist from our local university and the other was the executive director of a local regenerative farm), and we had discussions. Lunch bunch is a fun opt-in program for students in our school. We have 30 kids per group with a wait list for each one. :)

Posted : Apr 02, 2020 02:22


Pascale Viala

Thank you so much for the great inspiration! A few questions: How long does the session last total? After the 10 mn hang out time, how do you structure the rest of the session? Is it around the challenge you gave to the student in the google classroom? I would love to learn more. Thanks in advance

Posted : Mar 31, 2020 09:59

Laura Gardner

So lately here's the breakdown:
5 minutes to chat about how everyone's doing
5 minutes I mention the challenge of the day and remind everyone that we're doing a Google Slide Party and to send me their slides (more on that above)
3 minutes Read a poem aloud (last month we read a short bio of a famous girl from Rad Girls Can)
30 minutes read aloud from our current read
2 minutes goodbyes

Posted : Apr 02, 2020 02:04


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