Start a book club to build students’ speaking and reading practice

Students participating in a book club

Improving your students’ reading skills can sometimes feel like a challenge for world language educators. It can be difficult to get them reading, the choice of titles is often controversial and it can be hard to know whether your students have done the reading or not. Moreover, given the increasing pressure to do more with less, educators are keen to use activities that build several different skills at the same time.

If this sounds familiar, then setting up a book club using the target language literature with your students could be one solution for you to try. Whether run outside of school, as a stand alone element or included within your normal class timetable, book clubs can give students more opportunities to practise their core language skills in a less formal, more relaxed setting.

As International House suggested in a recent blog post:

“Participating in a book club in their second language allows students not only to develop skills such as reading comprehension, speaking and writing, but also use their imagination, expand their vocabulary, get to know their classmates better and feel more comfortable around them.”

Sounds good? So let’s now look at how to organise and integrate a book club into your language classes!


What is a book club?

A book club is a reading group, usually consisting of a number of students who read and talk about specific books / texts. These are based on a selected (by the teacher) or agreed-upon reading list, i.e. it has been chosen by all participants.

The club should be carefully composed and organised to meet the needs of the participants. As a result, attendance can be either compulsory or voluntary and the titles could be selected to cover curriculum content or simply because they’re enjoyable to read.

The club selects a book (or part of it) to read in their target language. A date is agreed by which all participants commit to reading the text and then, all club members do their reading individually and in their own time. Finally the language educator brings club members together at a meeting where they discuss the agreed activities / book, using the target language throughout. In this way, students are able to build up their reading, speaking and listening skills.


Choice of titles

Choosing books for book clubs can be a challenge. Some students might have already read particular books, whilst others don’t like to read fantasy or sci-fi titles, for example. It is also important for educators to consider the specific learning objectives you’re looking to achieve through the activity or which students you’re looking to support and how. This will help focus your choice of titles. Of course, if you work with older students / adults, then get them involved in the decision-making process.

Having selected the title, students should then be given a set number of pages to read on their own at home before the next book club meeting. This can clearly vary depending on the difficulty of the title, skill level, age of learners etc.

Similarly, the educator can vary the nature of the specific task. Be clear if you’re looking for students to gain a general understanding of the story and characters or whether you want them to know / learn every word. In either case, the meeting will be an opportunity to identify and address any gaps in their knowledge and understanding.



Depending on your class, it may be necessary to run a lesson on the author or book to prepare your students. This might be to give them some useful context on the historical period in which the book was written or the themes that the book addresses.

If you want students to think about specific questions or topics relating to the book or the section to be read, then it can be handy to share these with students in advance. This provides a focus for their work and gives them time to read and think about their answers.


The meeting

Now is perhaps a good time to reiterate that whatever text your students are reading for the meeting, you should too! This is obvious perhaps but educators need to be prepared for any questions that might come up and should also be an active participant in the discussion.

Another part of your preparation will be to pull together some questions for students to discuss and debate. Typically this will first occur in pairs before broadening out into smaller groups and then potentially a whole class discussion. 

There are many different ways to run these meetings, but it makes most sense to begin with a discussion on anything students hadn’t understood in the book / passage as well as reviewing any unknown grammar / vocabulary. This then leads into the prepared / shared questions and then when everyone’s contributing and engaged, the meeting closes with a wider discussion on the key themes / topics. 


Post meeting

Depending on your creativity and / or lesson plan, the book discussion can be an amazing springboard for future lesson activities or homework. Such language learning activities help students respond to the story and the themes it raises as well fixing the discussion and key learning points in their memories.

Could your students write an alternative ending? Perhaps they could record a podcast about a key theme or a major character? Maybe they could host a debate about a film treatment or consider why so many filmmakers have adapted Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?


Why run a book club in your language class?

To summarise, there are many ways in which students can benefit from book clubs. These include:

  • Building a reading habit – it’s obviously vital for all students to regularly read in their target language. This can also help develop a broader love for reading that is of huge value throughout their learning / life journey.
  • Improve reading fluency – of course, the more you read the better you get! But importantly book clubs also offer students an opportunity to take turns in reading aloud. Students also practise listening to others read and to following the text as they do so.
  • Extends vocabulary – students will come across new words in every book that they read. Finding out their meaning and discussing their use in the meeting can help learners retain the word more easily. Books also expose students to words being used in different ways and with different meanings, thereby improving their comprehension and understanding.
  • Develop better speaking skills – the discussion is a key part of the book club meeting. Students will quickly improve their speaking skills by reading the text and discussing it with their peers.
  • Enhanced writing skills – as Annie Dillard, the US author, once said: “The more you read, the more you will write. The better the stuff you read, the better the stuff you will write.”

Running a book club can be a brilliant way to get your students reading and speaking more inside and outside of class. They also offer a break from the normal lesson routine and give students a chance to have fun, to find their voice and develop a love of reading!


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