Facilitating Discussion

Tips for facilitating a book discussion:

  1. Choose one question at a time and toss it out to the group. (See Generic Discussion Questions below.) 

  2. Select a number of questions, write each on an index card, and distribute. Each member (or a team of 2-3) takes a card and answers the question. 

  3. Use a prop (or object) related to the story, such as maps, photos, paintings, food, or audio. This can help stimulate members' thinking about some aspect of the story.

  4. Pick out a specific passage from the book description, an idea, a line of dialogue—and ask members to comment. For instance: “How does the passage reflect a character or the work's central meaning?” 

  5. Choose a primary character and ask members to comment on him or her. Consider things like: Character traits, motivations, how he/she affects the story's events and characters. 

  6. Play a literary game. Use an “icebreaker” activity to loosen you up and get your discussion off to an enthusiastic start. 

  7. Distribute handouts to everyone in order to refresh memories or use as talking points. Identify the primary characters and summarize the plot.

Tips for taking part in a book discussion:

  1. Avoid the words "like" and “dislike.” They aren’t helpful in moving discussions forward, and can make others feel defensive. Instead, talk about your experience; how you felt as you read the book. 

  2. Support your views. Use specific passages from the book as evidence for your ideas. This is a literary analysis technique called “close reading.” 

  3. Take notes as you read. Jot down particularly interesting passages: something that strikes you or, that you don't understand. Take your notes to the meeting.

Template Book Club Questions (Generic)   

Review of sources of questions for specific books, including tips for web searching.

Questions to consider (Fiction):

  1. How did you experience the book? Were you immediately drawn into the story—or did it take a while? Did the book intrigue, amuse, disturb, alienate, irritate, or frighten you? 

  2. Do you find the characters convincing? Are they believable? Are they fully developed as complex human beings—or were they one-dimensional? 

  3. Which characters do you particularly admire or dislike? What are their primary characteristics? 

  4. What motivates different character’s actions? Do you think those actions are justified or ethical? 

  5. Do any characters grow or change during the course of the novel? If so, in what way? 

  6. Who in the book would you like to meet? What would you ask,or say? 

  7. If you could insert yourself as a character in the book, what role would you play? 

  8. Is the plot well developed? Is it believable? Do you feel manipulated along the way, or do plot events unfold naturally, organically? 

  9. Is the story plot or character driven? Do events unfold quickly or is more time spent developing characters' inner lives? Does it make a difference to your enjoyment? 

  10. Consider the ending. Did you expect it or were you surprised? Was it manipulative or forced? Was it neatly wrapped up—maybe too neatly? Or was the story unresolved, ending on an ambiguous note? 

  11. Can you pick out a passage that strikes you as particularly profound or interesting? 

  12. Does the book remind you of your own life? An event? A person—like a friend, family member, boss, co-worker? 

  13. If you were to talk with the author, what would you want to know? (Many authors enjoy talking with book clubs. Contact the publisher to see if you can set up a phone or Skype chat.) 

  14. Have you read the author’s other books? Can you discern a similarity—in theme, writing style—between them? Or are they completely different?

Questions to Consider (for Non-Fiction)

If your book is a cultural portrait of life in another country, or different region of your own country, start with these questions:

  1. What does the author celebrate or criticize in the culture? I.e., family traditions, economic and political structures, the arts, food, or religion. 

  2. Does the author wish to preserve or reform the culture? If reform, what and how? Either way—by instigating change or by maintaining the status quo—what would be gained or what would be at risk? 

  3. How does the culture differ from yours? What was most surprising, intriguing, or hard to understand aspect of the book? Have you gained a new perspective—or did the book affirm your prior views?

  4. Does the book offer a central idea or premise? What are the problems or issues raised? Are they personal, spiritual, societal, global, political, economic, medical, scientific? 

  5. Do the issues affect your life? How so—directly, on a daily basis, or more generally? Now, or sometime in the future? 

  6. What evidence does the author give to support the book's ideas? Does he/she use personal observations? Facts? Statistics? Opinions? Historical documents? Scientific research? Quotations from authorities? 

  7. Is the evidence convincing? Is it relevant? Does it come from authoritative sources? Is the evidence speculative...how speculative? 

  8. Some authors make assertions, only to walk away from them—without offering explanations. Does the author use such unsupported claims? 

  9. What kind of language does the author use? Is it objective and dispassionate? Or passionate and earnest? Is it polemical, sarcastic? Does the language help or undercut the author's premise? 

  10. Does the author—or can you—draw implications for the future? Are there long- or short-term consequences to the issues raised in the book? If so, are they positive or negative? Affirming or frightening? 

  11. Does the author—or can you—offer solutions to the issues raised in the book? Who would implement those solutions? How probable is success? 

  12. Does the author make a call to action to readers—individually or collectively? Is that call realistic? Idealistic? Achievable? Would readers be able to affect the desired outcome? 

  13. Are the book's issues controversial? How so? And who is aligned on which sides of the issues? Where do you fall in that line-up? 

  14. Can you point to specific passages that struck you personally—as interesting, profound, silly or shallow, incomprehensible, illuminating? 

  15. Did you learn something new? Did it broaden your perspective about a personal or societal issue? Perhaps about another culture in another country or an ethnic/regional culture in your own country?