A few weeks ago I wrote about places to locate books for book club discussion and included places to locate discussion questions. However, what if you cannot locate questions? What can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
Write questions yourself using these tips I created:
- Do not write overly academic questions: Remember that participants in book clubs come from many backgrounds. Some may be high school drop-outs while others could hold PhDs. Also, keep in mind that English may not be the first language for some. Keep the questions clear and simple; don’t write detailed paragraph complete with an excerpt.
- You can disregard this if you are using these tips to write questions for an academic course, especially at the high school or collegiate level.
- Discuss broad themes within the books: Every book features a handful of themes that appear throughout. Identify these themes and base questions on them.
- For example, in The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd some of the themes are slavery, family, and gender roles.
- Look for thought-provoking passages to base questions on: Like with themes, almost every book has at least one passage that is aimed at provoking serious thought. And yes, even romances and westerns can too. Look for these and ask others what they thought about that passage.
- For example, in Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief there is ample discussion on rare book library security or the lack thereof. A club could discuss why this is the case and/or ideas about ways to secure valuable items while ensuring its availability for use.
- Ask about character motivations: Every character has a motive. Base some question on that, such as are the motivations ethical? How does it affect the story? Etc.
- For example, in the sci-fi classic Ender’s Game, why does Ender want to succeed? Or why does Peter dislike Ender?
- Ask about changes within characters over the book’s course: One of the best things about novels is that characters grow over the course of the novel. In regards to non-fiction, the same growth is often seen with those featured in biographies. As about those changes. See what people thought. In the clubs I lead, these are often some of the best discussions. If a work of nonfiction is not a biography, look instead at the ideas in the work and how those change.
- Compare to other books read by the club: Never hesitate to ask to compare a book currently being discussed with a previous book read. I have found that when writing questions, if i do not do this, my members will often bring up the connections themselves.
- Draw connections from the book to current events: Current events are always on people’s minds. When possible, draw connections from the book to those. However, keep in mind, these questions can be the ones that provoke the most discontent when some members (political) views on current events differ dramatically from others.
Another option is to use general questions that could apply to multiple books. One I use a lot when in a time crunch is this Nonfiction/Biography set from Reading Group Guides. It can be adapted to every history and biography we have read and many of the questions can apply to other nonfiction topics. A second set to look at is this one from LitLovers that offers general questions for fiction selections.
Do you have any other tips for writing riveting discussion questions? If so, please share below!
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