I vividly remember my English teacher, Mrs. Grant, bringing a stack of 20 well-read copies of A Wrinkle in Time out from the closet for everyone in the class. She would read a chapter or two out loud during class and later we would read independently until it was time to take a test or write a report on what we learned. I don’t remember ever debating my classmates about the themes in the book or frankly ever even talking to fellow students about what we read.

Yet, for most of my childhood, I spent my free time with my nose in a book. I was an avid reader who read well above grade-level, but even I didn’t like to read the books that were forced on me.

Which is why middle school English teachers like Carrie Friday at Southwest Middle School in Palm Bay, Florida are using the book club model instead. Friday is her school’s librarian, and she also teaches several English classes. With 80% of her students reading between two and three grades below level, Friday says offering students’ choice in literature is a game changer. “Even if you just give them a couple of titles to choose from, they are going to be invested because they had a say in the process.”

In Friday’s classes, book clubs take student choice to a new level.

In one class, at the beginning of each month, Friday assigns a genre to every student in the class—for instance, this month the genre was Dystopia. She teaches the characteristics of the genre and what makes a book fit in the category. Then each student selects whatever Dystopian book they want to read and at the end of the month they produce a project like a BookTalk. She says, “Even our kids who read well need to spend time in books. Choice makes all the difference in the world.”

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