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Lunchtime Virtual Book Club Offers Middle School Kids a Chance to Connect and Talk

A new club for seventh- and eighth-graders has them talking about their lunches but more importantly, it has them talking about books.

The brainchild of Heidi Maloney, a seventh- and eighth-grade reading teacher at Cheektowaga Central Middle School, the Virtual Book Club was started in December because she noticed some students needed time to connect with her and their classmates. She originally did the two grade levels separately on Fridays during their lunch so they wouldn’t miss any class time. 

Now, starting Wednesday, Jan. 20, the virtual book club will meet from 12:30 to 1 p.m. Students from both grades can pop into the discussion during their lunch break since all students work from home asynchronously on Wednesdays.

“The most important thing about book clubs for me is that they make reading a social activity,” she said. “When we talk about the book we are reading it helps us socialize our learning. We get to share experiences with other people and that helps create connections with others, which I think we all need right now.”  

In class, she pushes her students to achieve more each week and the book club is a fun way for students to improve their literacy comprehension skills.

Students don’t have to come every week and not everyone is reading the same book. The club is an open forum where they showcase a book and then see where the conversation goes. In their classroom reading workshop program this year the students pick their own books to read, so she has piggybacked off that concept.

During a meeting earlier this year, Mrs. Maloney shared about Jason Reynolds’s book “Ghost” which is about middle school students on a track team shooting for the Junior Olympics.

“We got into this discussion about Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive and watched some of his Olympic and World Record breaking races,” she said, adding that the discussion was awesome. 

She usually starts off the book club by asking what everyone is eating for lunch and then asks if anyone wants to share about a book they are reading or make a recommendation to the group. Students are allowed to respond to what they have read in both words and emojis and are often asked to clarify what certain emojis mean. This teaching “tool” forces students explain what they have read and at the same time also pushes students into expanding on both their thoughts and writing.