Thematic Book Clubs: Merging Classic Reading Lists with Contemporary Lit

Updated: Jan 3

Part 1: Overview

Part 2: The Classic Novel Mentor Text (coming soon)

Part 3: Accountability & Assessment (coming soon)

Part 4: Reflection & Adjustments (coming soon)

This year has been a bit of a classroom crusade for me. As this is my first year back in a high school English classroom in a few years, I decided before the year even started that I was going to start from scratch with my lessons, doing away with almost 12 years of curriculum building, and see what cream rises to the top.

One thing that has not risen to the top in many of my units is the whole class novel.

{A little background, in case you are new around here… I have a single subject credential in English Language Arts, and have taught grades 9-12 English. I was also the director of my school’s Theatre Arts program for 5 years, as I have an MA in Theatre Arts. I taught the last 2 years as an itinerant teacher in my district, visiting a rotation of 13 different elementary campuses (1 each day), and teaching an array of ongoing enrichment lessons. I know… it’s a lot.}

Early in the year, I started to toy with the idea of simply throwing out some of the whole class novels I would traditionally teach, and replacing them with choice reading, and while I like this idea in theory, I quickly remembered what it is to teach a class full of only 10th graders (versus the 9-12 mix I had in Theatre), and decided that was a bit too unstructured.

The happy medium that I have found is to teach with one of the classic school reading list novels alongside a curated list of contemporary novels from which students get to choose. Essentially, the classic novel became a mentor text of sorts, and the choice novels were where students practiced on their own and in groups what we learned as a class through the mentor text.

Here is how I set this up when I tried it out for the very first time with my 10th grade English class:

Classic Novel -

Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

Book Club Choices -

One of Us is Lying, by Karen M. McManus

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

The Giver, by Lowis Lowry

What links these titles together?

In short, THEMES! I have taught LOTF more times that I can count, and themes that inevitable enter the discussion have to do with human nature, good vs. evil, violence vs. peace, leadership & power, and entering adulthood.

I drew from my experience with the novel and narrowed our focus to two themes - HUMAN NATURE (violent vs. peaceful) and COMING OF AGE (loss of innocence)

How did students choose their books?

I had my students choose their books weeks before it was time to start reading them so that they had ample time to get their hands on a copy. Most students were able to check out a copy of their book from our school library, but some did prefer to purchase their own copy and I wanted to make sure there was time for it to come in.

In order to figure out which book they wanted to read, I had students Speed Date all 3 books! This was a freebie activity that I downloaded from the TPT store of Ashley Bible (Building Book Love) and it was GREAT! Students knew by the end of class which was their top pick, and many went straight to the library to grab their copy before they ran out!

Book Clubs - Organization & Operation

Once I had my list of book titles everyone chose to read, I grouped students as best I could by mixing reading strengths among like-titled groups. Each group got a folder with paperwork inside to guide them through each of their 6 “meetings,” where they would discuss the latest chunk of reading, check with each other for understanding, and work together on various analysis prompts.

{More information on how Book Club meetings run HERE}

The next piece of this puzzle is the strategic use of Lord of the Flies to model reading strategies, annotation, analysis, and discussion. More on that SOON in Part 2: The Classic Novel Mentor Text!

Also coming soon are Part 3: Accountability & Assessment, detailing how I kept students accountable for their learning throughout this whole unit, and Part 4: Reflection & Adjustments, detailing what worked, what didn’t work, and how I plan to adjust for the future. Stay tuned!!

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