Teach differentiated book clubs thematically
Dual language researchers have demonstrated how reading across themes is very powerful for language learners. The question is: How do we make reading across themes happen when our students span 12 reading levels in the same class? I was a fifth grade teacher with students reading at levels G through W, and racked my brain to find a solution. I found thematic book clubs to be the answer to this problem.
What exactly is a thematic book club? One theme or genre ties several books at different reading levels together. All of the students read about the same genre or theme, but each student reads at or around their reading level. This allows each student to read independently, while still being able to discuss the same theme or genre. It also gives teachers the ability to create lessons around specific themes or genres that students apply to all books, but at their own linguistic proficiency level and literacy abilities.
Working around themes or genres also allowed me to dig deeper into standards. I could talk about theme, author’s message, and story elements. I could do a lot more work around inferring, finding supporting details, and quoting.
I suggest keeping book club groups to no more than four students. I feel it’s better to have fewer students than to have too many. With five or more, I would usually end up with a shouting match, or some students staying very quiet. However, I always had six or more copies of each book: one for each student to have, one for me, and one in case someone forgot theirs.
I loved being able to ask general questions for everyone to answer. These questions could be tied to the genre we were studying, such as:
Questions could also be tied to the overarching theme:
I especially enjoyed teaching book clubs by guiding student discussions and modeling certain notetaking habits and think alouds. For each book club, I had a specific read aloud in mind. Sometimes, it was a title that also existed in English. Other times, I read this book by myself. For example, my partner teacher and I co-read The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark and Number the Stars when we led historical fiction groups. When my students were in fantasy book clubs, I also read a French fantasy novel that sadly is out of print, however I find that Le maître des licornes by Éric Sanvoisin is a good substitute.
The difficult part was finding books that merit attention and foster animated discussions. In 2021, I read several hundred titles in French, and selected just under 100 that met both of those criteria. In this brochure, you will find all of those French titles grouped together by theme. My goal is to save teachers the time it took me to read and compile these lists.
In addition to books for independent student reading, I identified books that teachers can read aloud with the class; books that also match the themes and suit a range of reading levels. A great read aloud gives you ample opportunities to model reading strategies while also developing students' receptive skills on the language surrounding that theme. Students will also benefit from your leadership during discussions and turn-and-talks to produce language orally.
It would be my pleasure to show you these texts in a book preview. Please feel free to reach out for suggestions on reading levels.
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