Book Club Discussions: Get your best tips here

Do you get nervous when it’s your turn to lead your book club discussions? If so, keep the most important rule in mind: Less is more. The less you say, the more your group will probably enjoy themselves. The main thing you want to do is to get as many people as possible engaged in the discussion. If you do that, your group will probably go away happy.

How to accomplish that, you ask? Years of teaching high school and working with adults as a teacher trainer have given me plenty of opportunity to practice, and I have my best tips for you below.

The good news is that people want to be there and they are also probably your friends. So they are going to be nice. 

What can be difficult is keeping your friends on track or getting them to stick to the topic of the book.  

Teacher-Tested Ways to Have Great Discussions

General Guidelines

Running the Discussion

Warming Up

Digging Deeper

Wrapping Up

Teacher-Tested Ways to Have Great Book Club Discussions

General Guidelines

Decide in advance whether you will socialize before or after the book club discussion.

Personally, I prefer before. It lets people get it out of their system and accommodates late arrivals. Really though, it depends on the timing and the group. 

Remind people of the ground rules, and keep them simple: 

  1. Stick to the topic. 
  1. Give everyone a chance to speak. 

If someone forgets, just remind them in a friendly, joking way, but don’t let anyone run away with the discussion. People usually won’t say anything, but they don’t like it and won’t have as much fun. 

To keep myself in check, I like to play a mental game in which I try to talk as little as possible. I consider it a good meeting if I spoke 20% of the time or less.  

Running the Discussions

Our guides always follow this format to help keep things simple for you!

Warming Up Your Book Club

Start with an easy, open-ended question that everyone can answer. You will always find some good ones on one of our guides. Try to get as many people as possible to respond. There’s no need to answer each person: tell the group you’re letting everyone share.  

Another good strategy is to ask people what they wondered about or wanted to know more about. Later in the discussion, you can try to focus on those things.

Reading the background information in our book club post will help you address anything that confused any members.

Note that some people love lots of background information, but some people don’t care about it at all. So don’t make it seem mandatory.

For a lot of people, that first comment is scary, and the longer they wait, the more afraid they become. If you let them start with something low stakes, they will be more inclined to join in later. 

Only do one, or at the most two, warm up questions. 

Digging Deeper in Your Discussions

As you get into the “Digging Deeper” questions, give the group a chance to decide which questions they want to focus on. They may also have a topic you didn’t think of, so give them a chance to generate their own. 

Limit the group to 3 “Digging Deeper” questions at the most! You want people to feel as though they have a chance to express themselves.

Also remember that if the question has only one answer, it’s not a good discussion question. I see this problem with questions in a lot of book club guides, which is why I started writing them.

Don’t be afraid to pause and sit quietly after asking a question. In teacher school, there is a thing called “wait time”. Aspiring teachers practice sitting in silence after asking a question so people have a chance to think. Don’t be afraid of “dead air”. If no one answers, try rephrasing the question or ask them if they want to move on.

If you’re really nervous about “dead air”, enlist a friend ahead of time to “save” you if no one responds.

Keep an eye on the time. Allow 10-15 minutes for each question. If the group is really into one question, you can remind them when time is up and ask if they want to go on with that question or go to the next one. 

There’s no reason to rush, but you want to respect everyone’s needs. Perhaps there are people who have been waiting to dig into the next question! 

Wrapping Up Book Club Discussions

Be sure to leave time in book club discussions for “wrapping up” questions. For the “wrapping up” questions, always address a “take away” somehow. There doesn’t have to be a group consensus. It’s helpful for attendees to have some type of conclusion or opinion in their minds for times they will be discussing the book later. It’s ok if the opinion is entirely their own! Having the discussion will remind them to think about it.

You can always go with something like, “What does (author) want us to think about after we finish this book?” or “Why do you think (author) wrote this book?” People like to have some sort of resolution in their minds, and it will also help them to remember the book. 

At the very end, solicit very subjective feedback from the group about the author, the length of the book, the difficulty, the content, etc. Keep records of this feedback to reference during future planning.

There you have it! If you have any other ideas or questions, be sure to put them in the comments section!