If you think about it, the book club format has really been around for a long time. There are actually many variations on the same theme—a reader has much to gain by reading the same thing as others (fellow students or the like) and then by talking about what was read with them. High-level literary analysis is not necessarily required; rather, just thinking about and talking about what a reader liked or disliked, was reminded about, or was inspired by can be a much more valuable experience for all. Some of you may remember the Great Books series and method, for example. Some of you may be more familiar with the terms "literature circles" or "reading circles." In essence, it's all the same thing.
Today, book clubs are valuable because they can help teachers integrate more reading into their classrooms, particularly extensive reading. Teachers can assign the book club books as homework or offer class time for reading book club books; regardless, the students are—and have to—READ! Hurrah! And more reading begets all kinds of good results—as we all know, the good readers become good readers by reading more than other readers. They have bigger and stronger vocabularies, and they develop the strategies needed to become even better readers (see Grabe and Stoller 2002).
The benefits of extensive reading have long been identified (see Krashen 1993, to name just one leading researcher). Book club readings are often selected because they are selections that students will be interested in or are part of the classical canon. But teachers can also encourage more reading by having students read more in class, and the book club is a wonderful way to do that. Research shows that less than 10% of the time students are in school today is actually spent reading (Allington 2006). "Students learn to read by reading A LOT, yet reading a lot is not the emphasis of most reading curricula" (Grabe and Stoller 2002).
Book clubs have long been popular in L1 reading classes and for developing L1 reading skills, but only recently have become popular in the L2 arena. The lessons from L1 that can be passed on to L2 include giving students an opportunity to ask questions not only about what they didn't understand in the reading but of the author and of themselves as a reader. Book club reading gives students a chance to make connections between the book they have read and their lives or other books they have read/movies they have seen.
Like any type of book club or discussion group, students share in the experience with others who have read the same thing. How often, after reading a novel, for example, do you seek out someone who has also read it so you can discuss it...or might you give the book to a friend to find out what she thinks about it? Book clubs in the classroom work for the same reasons.
For more information on how to use book clubs in your classroom or to integrate more reading into your classroom, we suggest our own Creating Book Clubs in the English Language Classroom and these books:
Allington, Richard. What Really Matters for Struggling Readers: Designing
Research-Based Programs, 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 2006.
Grabe, William, and Fredricka Stoller. Teaching and Researching Reading. Edinburgh: Longman, 2002.
Krashen, S. The Power of Reading. Englewood, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 1993.