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Fifth Graders Develop Independence Through Book Clubs

By: Fifth Grade Teachers Annie Menees and Todd Valdez

March 8, 2018

An important component of the fifth grade reading curriculum is the book club experience. In the fall, students read one of a selection of stories from Sudan, Mexico, China, Chile and India to help them learn about different cultures around the world. In the spring, they read one of four time-tested novels for their age group that help them understand what it means for a work of literature to be considered a “classic.”

Students are expected to come to each scheduled meeting with not only their assigned chapters read but also their “job” packets completed. At every meeting, each student is responsible for one of four roles—the discussion director, illustrator, correspondent or connector.

The discussion director, as its name indicates, is in charge of facilitating the discussion for the day, kicking the meeting off by asking five pre-written questions about the chapters. Learning how to ask questions that create a discussion (not ones that elicit simply a “yes” or “no” answer) is a skill in and of itself, so there is a significant learning curve with this task.

The illustrator is responsible for choosing an important scene from the chapters and carefully illustrating it. During meetings, the illustrator asks group members to guess which scene from the story the image depicts and must then explain why the scene is important enough to the story to warrant an illustration.

The correspondent is responsible for drafting a letter from one character in the book to another. While this is a creative assignment, it requires students to show that they understand the thoughts, emotions and experiences of various characters in the book and how they might communicate with one another. Taking the perspective of a character certainly stretches our students!

Finally, the connector is responsible for finding connections between the book and his or her own life experiences (text-to-self), the book and other texts they’ve read (text-to-text) and the book and the world in general (text-to-world), which usually turns out to be a current or historical event.

Once students have shared their “jobs,” they have the rest of the class period to answer discussion questions provided by the teacher. These questions cover everything from recalling basic facts from the plotline to determining character motivations and predicting ensuing events for upcoming chapters. Page numbers for each question are provided so that students can locate exact quotes from the text as evidence for their answers. This encourages students to return to the text to justify answers and ultimately clarify understanding. For example, they may be asked to find an example of foreshadowing on page 11 or an example of figurative language (similes, metaphors, idioms and personification) on page 120. This introductory experience with “close reading” strategies sets them up for success in secondary school when they will have to find evidence in a text for their answers to comprehension questions and to support their thesis statements in analytical essays.

After five book club meetings to discuss the reading as it unfolds and share their “jobs” with one another, students work together to plan and produce an iMovie presentation to share with the entire class. They have a rubric to guide the elements required in all presentations, but students are given a lot of freedom to use their creativity to make their presentations unique.

The rules of book clubs include: 1) Coming to meetings prepared; 2) Listening attentively when others are speaking; 3) Being positive and considerate of group members in words and actions; 4) Staying on task and using time wisely during meetings; 5) Contributing to group discussions and the final project in a meaningful way. Being a successful member of a book club involves some growing pains for our fifth graders, but they ultimately learn a lot and love their experiences! We believe the book club experience is not only fun but also serves as a valuable stepping stone towards success in secondary school English classes and life in general!

Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here

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