Leading a Book Discussion Group
In some discussion groups, each member is asked to come with a question or an observation about the book.
One of the first things to be decided is whether one particular person will always perform the role of leader, or whether the duty will be shared, and what the rotation will be. Will every person in the group be asked to lead a discussion? Will the responsibility be shared by two or three people? Will one leader perform the role for a pre-determined time period such as six months or one year? Once that is established, the following suggested guidelines may help to make your discussions thought provoking. Prior to the discussion, the leader or some other group member may want provide participants with biographical information about the author and reviews of the book to be discussed. An author interview, in printed or audio format, can be very helpful in getting inside the author's head.
Historical information about the time period or factual information about an actual event or occurrence central to the story may be helpful. For example, if readers were discussing John Tayman's The Colony, a nonfiction work about the treatment of lepers in Hawaii, research on the disease of leprosy could help readers grasp the devastating effects of the illness and the subsequent fear that triggered public reaction. Likewise, if readers were going to discuss Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas, the fictional story of a young civil rights worker in 1964 Mississippi, factual information about Freedom Summer and attempts to register black voters could help readers get a perspective on the times. A librarian can help one of your discussion members find this type of information in books, magazines and newspapers, via the Internet and in its online databases. Be sure to ask for assistance!
As you read the book, select passages of interest that might serve as springboards for discussion. Mark the pages with paperclips or post-it notes so you can find them quickly when you are with the group.
Sit in a circle or around a large table to enable eye contact and set a conversational mood.
Start out by introducing yourself and having each participant do the same. This is an especially good thing to do if new people are present.
Don't begin a discussion by asking whether or not everyone liked the book. A strong positive or negative response might intimidate someone who holds the opposite opinion. Generally, it's better to ask questions that can't be answered with a simple "yes" or "no" answer.
Disagreeing is fine. Different viewpoints often spark the most interesting discussions. The discussion leader should, however, not let disagreements become out of hand or personal. The leader might jump in and validate both opposing viewpoints, ask for a comment from someone else, or pose a new question.
Examples of a lead question might include, "What were your feelings about the main character?" or "Using one word, how would you describe this book?" or "Were the events and people believable in this story? Were they meant to be?" The discussion leader may want to open by reading a passage from the book or a quote from a review and then inviting comments.
Other questions that could be raised during the discussion:
- "What did you think of the writer's style? Does the author write like anyone else you have read?"
- "Did you learn something from the book about the time period, an event, or the human condition?"
- "Did the book peak your interest in the subject?"
- "Could you identify with any of the characters? Were any of them like you or like someone you know?"
- "What was the central theme of the book? Were there multiple themes or premises?"
- "Did the author have a message? Was there a character or circumstance that revealed the author's point of view?"
- "Was there anything about the book that was shocking, disturbing, or made you feel uncomfortable? Was this good or bad?"
- "Did the book change a previously held point of view that you had? Did it make you aware of something new or bring you to a higher level of understanding about something?"
- "Was there something unique about this book that made it different from any other book you have read before?"
- "Were there any surprising facts in the book?"
- "Did the author make the subject interesting?"
- "Did the author address opposing viewpoints and was he or she fair in the treatment of the subject?" "Do you agree or disagree with things the author said based on personal experience or other things you have read?"