Probably like many of you, our school year is looking a little – actually, a lot – different in 2020-2021, and our book club is among the elements of our learning plan that have changed drastically. We’re no longer meeting at a cute little coffee shop and enjoying hot cocoa or a cookie as we talk through our book in our oh-so-cozy setting. We’re on Zoom.
Zoom book discussions present their own set of challenges beyond the normal stew of pandemonium and reticence to speak up that’s inherent to in-person book discussions with kids. In our new online reality, we’re also competing with whatever distractions are happening at each end of our Internet connection and trying to overcome the feeling of distance that comes along with video calls.
Here’s how I adapted our book club’s meeting for The Secret of Goldenrod by Jane O’Reilly.
Meeting #1 – Book-Inspired Art
While I might have been able to supply needed supplies from my own arts and craft collection in the past, in this era of online book club meetings, I’m trying to keep the list of supplies needed for our book-inspired crafts minimal and limited to basics that just about everyone has at home. For our Secret of Goldenrod-inspired craft, I split my screen to share this YouTube video with my group of readers. I paused the video periodically to let the kids catch up and to ask them for ideas about how to adapt the drawing to look more like Goldenrod.
Meeting #2 – Discussion
Warm-up – 30-Second Scramble
Whether in person or on Zoom, I’m a big believer that a good discussion warm-up is key to getting a good discussion rolling. A warm-up serves as a transition, helps distract kids from any social anxiety they might be feeling, and sets the tone for having a good time together that’s focused on the book.
Back in the spring when the Ellen DeGeneres show was being filmed from the cast’s homes, I saw Ellen playing a game similar to what I’m calling 30-Second Scramble with her celebrity guests. If Ellen is playing it, you know it’s fun!
I asked the kids to freeze until I said “Go” and told them that when the timer started, I wanted them to quickly find something in their homes that is related in some way to The Secret of Goldenrod and make it back to their seat at their computers with the item within 30 seconds. I asked the kids to explain how the items related to the book, we all had some laughs over a naked Barbie that one kid brought, and then we were all warmed up for the discussion.
Discussion Game – How Gothic Is This Book?
To help keep our energy going, I used this silly “game” to keep things on track and drive discussion. On each of ten notecards, I wrote out a characteristic of the gothic genre and made checkboxes for us to decide yes or no after we discussed how that characteristic is or is not present in the book. I held up each notecard as I discussed it just to have a prop to direct attention.
These are the 10 characteristics we discussed with our notecards:
- Curses or prophecies
- Damsel in distress
- Atmosphere of mystery and suspense
- Intense emotions
- Dreaming or nightmares
- Supernatural beings or ghosts
- Gloomy, decaying setting
- Bad weather
After we talked our way through all ten notecards, we tallied up our score to see how gothic The Secret of Goldenrod really is. Spoiler: It was 10/10 – really gothic!
Wrap-up – Make a Prediction and Give Your Rating
To wrap up our discussion, I asked the kids to make a prediction about what life might be like for all of the characters a year after the conclusion of the book, and finally I asked the kids to give the book a rating out of 5 stars. It’s always so exciting for me to hear from kids who say that discussing the book caused them to give the book a higher rating than they would have given it after their solo reading experience. It’s such a testament to the power of discussion and the importance of sharing book experiences with other readers.
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