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Digital Tools for Book Clubs and Choice Reading

By Angie Johnson
 | Jul 05, 2019

My school is one of many whose ELA departments have moved from a focus on whole-class novels to independent reading and reading partnerships (both pairs and clubs). These combine the essential elements of choice, volume, engagement, and quality talk, which professor of education Richard Allington asserts are foundational to quality literacy education. What follows are a few digital tools for helping teachers and students from upper elementary through high school support choice and shared reading.

Choosing a book

Rudine Sims Bishop talks of books as windows into the lives of those who are different from us, and mirrors reflecting characters whose experiences are like our own. Readers need both. OurStory is a site designed specifically by We Need Diverse Books to help students locate books about diverse experiences and by authors from marginalized communities. Rather than searching by title or keyword, users take a brief quiz to narrow their preferences by level (from toddlers to YA), genre, identity and experience type, and story elements. The suggestions generated include an overview of each book, the specific diversity elements found in it, links to reviews, and a “More Like This” button to find similar titles. For a modest fee, additional resources like study guides and book bundles are also available

our-story-1 copy

OurStory’s list of tailored book suggestions show what makes a book diverse. Green indicates categories the user specifically chose and red indicates categories the user did not choose but are present in the book.

A few other sites for choosing books include YourNextRead by Goodreads, where students type in a favorite title to find other books like it; Epic Reads, which searches by author, genre, and subject and posts video trailers; and Yalsa’s Teen Book Finder, a mobile app for compiling and keeping digital book lists. 

Tracking student reading and organizing clubs

A newer tool for tracking student reading across a school is Loose Canon. For guest visitors, the site is a solid tool for browsing a well-curated collection, but it’s really set up to encourage schoolwide, face-to-face discussions about books. Teachers can create reading “assignments” within a school pool that are accessible to anyone in it, which facilitates both in-class and extracurricular book clubs. Within assignments teachers can narrow students’ choices to a set of books, and users see everyone’s choices, allowing students to self-sort into book clubs. The site tracks a student’s current assignments and books previously read, so teachers have quick access to each student’s reading resume. After a three-month trial, the cost for schoolwide groups depends on size, while a single teacher account is free for up to 60 students. I believe it’s a promising new tool for creating a culture of reading within, across, and outside classes.

Below is a photo of an individual assignment in Loose Canon, showing a sortable list of students who have chosen books for that assignment.

our-story-2 copy

Discussing and sharing books

The award-winning Book Club for Kids is a personal favorite for upper elementary and middle level readers. It hosts a weekly podcast of students discussing their favorite books with public radio journalist Kitty Felde. The shows include celebrity guests reading passages aloud and author responses to the students’ questions. There’s so much to explore here: tips for creating lifelong readers, QR codes for books, recommendation lists from kids and adults. What’s more, kids can even call in their own book recommendations. The site is wonderful for book browsing, but I also share it as a model for book club discussions and student-created podcasts and offer it as an opportunity for kids to share their own voices about the books they love.

Angie Johnson is a teacher librarian, instructional coach, and eighth grade English language arts teacher at Lakeshore Middle School in Stevensville, MI. She earned a PhD in educational psychology and educational technology from Michigan State University. You can find her on Twitter @angkjohns.

This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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