B1 Book Club

Updated on 20th July 2017 to include A Fruitcake Special.

Today’s post is all about ideas for book clubs at B1 level. I’m a huge fan of reading, so the idea of getting my English students involved in a book club really excites me. I’ve been running these book clubs for 7 months now so I thought I’d share some of the books and questions I’ve been using so you can set up your own book club.

The benefits of a book club and get your students involved in reading are numerous and I’ve talked about them more here. Needless to say, over the past 7 months, I’ve seen huge improvements in test scores in the majority of the book club members who attend.

The book club which I run is divided into levels. I think this is a great way for each student to work at or just above the level that they’re at, meaning they don’t end up feeling like it’s all too much.

In the B1 book club, the first book we read was A Puzzle For Logan by Richard MacAndrew, which is a level 3 Cambridge English reader. We read it over the course of 3 months so that everyone would have time to read it and think about the questions. Each book club session was 1 hour long, allowing everyone time to speak.

Here are the questions I came up with for each month:

Month 1 (having read chapters 1 to 3)

  1. . In chapter 1, why did the police tell the newspapers and radio about the crime?
  2. What is the link between Ronnie and Morag?
  3. Chapter 2 talks about Ronnie and Craig’s past. Why did they become criminals?
  4. Why is it difficult to be a police woman?
  5. What does Jimmy Brown mean when he says “it’s the pigs”? Who is he talking about?
  6. What does “main man” mean
  7. How did Jimmy get the evening newspaper?

Month 2 (having read chapters 4 to 7)

  1. . Did Jean have the correct attitude with her brother?
  2. What do you think is the relationship between Bags Baxter and Craig?
  3. How important are scientists in criminal investigations?
  4. What’s your impression of Robert Baxter?
  5. The title of Chapter 7 is ‘A Good Reason To Kill’. Do you think there is ever a good reason to kill someone?
  6. Do you believe Ronnie? Is he innocent?

Month 3 (having read from chapter 8 to the end)

  1. In chapter 8, why does Jimmy feel the police will treat him badly?
  2. In chapter 8, who was in the car with Morag?
  3. Why can’t Logan use what Angus said?
  4. Who was the killer?
  5. What did you like and dislike about the book?

It was a really great book to start with as it had a bit of everything, meaning no one was bored or turned off by the book itself. You could, of course, read the book in one sitting and do all the questions together in 1 month, but as it was my first attempt at this book club, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on anyone.

From Month 4 to Month 7 we read another Cambridge graded reader A Fruitcake Special & Other Short Stories (Level 4). The students actually found this book much more engaging as they were able to read an entire story for a book club meeting rather than just part of it. I think this really helped to keep the students engaged and coming back.

So, if you’re thinking about using this book in your book club, here are the questions I posed to students:

Month 4:

Story: A Fruit Cake Special

  1. What does the title ‘A Fruitcake Special’ refer to?
  2. What were the consequences of the fruitcake special?
  3. What is the relationship like between Anna and Aunt Mimi?
  4. What do you think of Mr Amos’ girlfriend?
  5. Is it a good thing that Anna could not buy any more cake?
  6. What do you think of the ending?

Month 5:

Story: The Real Aunt Molly

  1. What does the title ‘The Real Aunt Molly’ refer to?
  2. Why couldn’t Aunt Molly go to school when she was a child?
  3. What do you think about Maxwell Marvel?
  4. Would you allow another person to make decisions for you?
  5. What are the consequences of Aunty Molly being hypnotised?
  6. What would you do?

Month 6:

Story: Brains

  1. Who is Max? Why is he used in the experiment?
  2. What’s your impression of Mr Dimitri?
  3. Why must Gina stop her work, according to Mr Dimitri?
  4. What do you think of Mr Dimitri’s offer?
  5. Why does Mr Dimitri think Gina’s idea is dangerous? Do you agree?

Month 7:

2 Stories: The Book of Thoughts & Finders Keepers

Questions for The Book of Thoughts:

  1. What’s your impression of Chester?
  2. Why do Chester’s colleagues feel jealous of him?
  3. Why was Chester excited about substituting his manager in a meeting?
  4. What are the consequences of Chester having the book?
  5. Would you like to have this kind of book?
  6. Do you think Chester asked Dorothy to go out with him?

Questions for Finder’s Keepers:

  1. What does the title refer to?
  2. Why does Harry feel he can steal things?
  3. What are the consequences of the whistle?
  4. Why was the old priest afraid of Lou Foo?

Side note: Though some of the questions seem quite superficial, many opened up much wider debates around gender, professional behaviour, scientific advances and so on.

Feedback

As Month 7 coincided with the end of the school year and the end of the first year of this initiative, I asked the students for feedback on the book club meetings. From their point of view, the second book (of short stories) was much better than the first one and they loved being able to both read outside of the language school and get lots of speaking practice in the sessions. Regarding negative points, they made it clear they’d much prefer to read short stories rather than longer ones split up over a couple of months. Their only other criticism was that once a month was not often enough (much to my surprise) and that come the next academic year, they want to have at least 2 sessions per month.

Conclusions

Overall, from a teaching perspective, the difference in reading skills when these students came to do their exams was noticeably different to their peers who had not done any extra reading outside of class. Also, their debating and turn-taking skills increased gradually over the year due to having to listening and respond to other people’s opinions within the sessions. And on a book-lover note, I really enjoyed hosting these sessions and getting my students excited about books.

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