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TEEN BOOK GROUPS CAN WORK !. DUXBURY FREE LIBRARY. “The Bookmarks”: a weekly high school discussion group Mission: to create a “buzz” about books host events for teens at the library learn discussion and conversation skills . OBSTACLES.

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duxbury free library
  • “The Bookmarks”: a weekly high school discussion group
    • Mission:
      • to create a “buzz” about books
      • host events for teens at the library
      • learn discussion and conversation skills
  • High school students under a lot of pressure to achieve
  • Lots of after-school commitments
  • Heavy reading assignments for curriculum makes it difficult to find time to read for pleasure.
  • People have very different reading interests and reading levels.
  • Start a group with a super popular book of general interest: Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games
  • Word of mouth brings more people into the group.
  • Choose a day that works with commitments.
  • No attendance requirement: if you have a play or a sport and need to stay away for a month or a season, you are still welcomed back into group when you can make it.
  • Create a format which is flexible.
  • Consider collaborating with a high school interest group.
how do you get so many boys to participate
How do you get so many boys to participate?
  • But we do play games…

“Are you a werewolf” by Looney Laboratories, is popular

Also, Apples to Apples…. Generally games that don’t require high skill but are social

recruiting people the first time
Recruiting people the first time
  • Book talking in English and Reading classes helps a lot.
  • Finding that initial book that is a hook for many teens.
  • Make it easy to get to: be sure school buses are able to stop at the public library if you are not within walking distance.
start with a book review time
Start with a book review time
  • Sometimes everyone has something to bring up, sometimes only I have some titles to recommend.
  • Create a gold sticker that can be put on a book to denote book group acclaim.
socrates caf
  • Using the device of a philosophical discussion as a way to create inclusivity seemed to be a way to blend a focus on literature with larger questions that anyone might find compelling.
    • Christopher Phillips book, Socrates Café, has been a source of inspiration and ideas.
    • Format used in nursing homes, prisons, schools, universities, coffee houses, villages in southern Mexico and all over the world.
socrates caf9
  • Brainstorm topic ideas
  • Vote on one to discuss
  • Listen to each other and be respectful
  • Try to keep the thread of conversation going
  • Try to think about a probing question, a follow-up
  • This is not a therapy session
  • No talking about people behind their backs. No names
  • Keep the discussion general so all can find commonality
digging deeper
  • The Socratic Method traditionally looks for:
    • Built-in assumptions in the questions: ARE YOU ASSUMING THAT PEOPLE WANT TO BE HAPPY? ARE THERE PEOPLE WHO DON’T?
    • Embedded concepts: IS IT ALWAYS EITHER OR?
    • Differences of degree: IS LYING SOMETIMES THE HUMANE CHOICE?
    • Logical consistencies and inconsistencies
    • Compelling objections and alternative viewpoints
example what is a friend
EXAMPLE: What is a friend?
  • Starting with the example of Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione, how did they initially become friends?
  • How did their friendship change? What were the factors that made the change?
  • Have you had experiences with friendship bonding and shifting, too?
example what tribes to you belong to
EXAMPLE: What tribes to you belong to?
  • Talking about The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, which many but not all the group had read…
    • What tribes did Junior belong to?
    • What tribes do you belong to?
    • How do you define belonging?
    • What do you expect from belonging to a group?
example what is loyalty
EXAMPLE: What is loyalty?
  • Using The Hunger Games s a starting point, which, again not everyone had read, but most had:
    • What loyalties did Katniss have?
    • How did those change?
    • What are you loyal to? Have you ever be betrayed?
here s a challenge
Here’s a challenge…
  • Can any of you think of a meaty question that might be able to be discussed by a group of teens that springs from a popular novel they might have read?
  • Be thinking about it and respond via chat as we explore a few more examples...
  • Christine will relay your examples to all of us.
topic without a book connection what frightens us
Topic without a book connection: What frightens us?
  • General discussion of recently seen horror movies and suspense films and books they are based on
  • What are the ways they work? What doesn’t work?
  • What senses are most susceptible to evoking a fear response?
  • What kinds of things are frightening at difference points in our lives?
  • Are there archetypal fears we as a species harbor?
example what is evil
EXAMPLE: What is evil?
  • Of course everyone has an opinion on this subject.
  • I have found that teens with obvious learning disabilities or challenges that are very discernable have strong opinions on many of these topics.
  • One of the goals of the group is to model good listening skills. Almost all have discovered a truth in what someone else has said.
example truth is it overrated
EXAMPLE: Truth, is it overrated?
  • Here’s a topic that gets everyone going.
  • As the leader, the probing questions are important.
  • Be sure not to come to any particular conclusions.
  • We usually just end when the group gets too small or we run out of things to say.
what about the inappropriate
What about the inappropriate?
  • Privacy:
    • Although we are clear that overly personal information is NOT allowed in the discussion, if something comes up that is touchy, it is important to ask that the speaker stay after and talk to you privately. You need to be clear that if you are concerned about their safety that you will intercede on their behalf with authorities.
  • No talking about people behind their backs.
  • This includes teachers, other students, family members, friends.
  • We stress that the point of our discussions are not to solve peoples problems, but rather to raise questions and issues that are universal in nature.
  • Many of the teens have taken a philosophy course or psychology track in college as a result of our discussions.
the value of self check
The value of self-check
  • One of the goals of the book group is to model civil discourse. Politics and religion can be discussed, but it is important to keep the dialogue open, non-judgmental and non-threatening.
  • I frequently ask if they think something is appropriate or if there is another way to frame a question that makes it more appropriate.
example of self check
Example of self-check
  • Question: Is Islam a dangerous religion?


  • Question: What about our crazy math teacher? She’s so awful.


  • Question: Did you see what so-and-so wore today?


new examples
New examples?
  • Did any of you think of some good topics?
conclusion talk is good
Conclusion: Talk is good
  • Many times we have teens who don’t participate for a good long while. When they do, they are worth listening to.
  • Without a proscribed “message” or adult agenda talk is freely shared.
  • Listening is still a very hard skill to cultivate.
more information
More information:


  • Kaye, Sharon, Philosophy for Teens: questioning Life’s big ideas
  • Law, Stephen, Philosophy Rocks! Find out what it all means
  • Phillips, Christopher, Socrates Café
  • Van Lente, Fred, Action Philosophers!
to see it in action
To see it in action:

See the Duxbury Free Bookmarks on our youtube channel:


Contacting Ellen Snoeyenbos:

  • esnoeyen8@gmail.com
  • 781-934-2721 x106
  • Here’s where we can tackle your questions.