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Guidelines for Book Discussion Groups

Every book discussion group will have its own personality. The key to a successful book discussion is to use the group dynamic that is already in place to expand the world of the reader by exposing him or her to new books and new ways of thinking about the themes presented by the author.

Have a comfortable seating arrangement that suits the size of the group and the room. The discussion leader should introduce him or her self. If this is a new group where members are not familiar with each other, go around the room and have people introduce themselves. Refreshments are optional but can sometimes reduce the feeling of constraint that newcomers may feel.

Preparation prior to the group discussion will give the leader a way to introduce the book, the author and the topic and lead into active participation by the group members. Read the book, biographical information about the author, and book reviews. Have a photograph of the author available.

Prepare questions ahead of time. There are three types of questions: factual, personal and interpretive. A mixture of all three provides for variety among the questions.

  • Factual: asks for information and has a specific answer found in the book.
  • Personal: asks for member’s personal viewpoint.
  • Interpretive: asks member’s to delve into the book for understanding.

The discussion leader’s job is to facilitate an open dialog among all of the group members by encouraging each person to share their thoughts without criticism or judgment. In many discussions there are no right or wrong answers. Discussion can begin with general questions that could be answered about any book or questions that relate specifically to the chosen book.

Begin by asking a prepared question but then ask people to elaborate on comments they make. Involve everyone in the group and never take sides in a controversy. Ask if others agree or disagree. Go back to the prepared questions but be flexible enough to pursue ideas that are presented during the discussion. Bring in your own opinion last so as to not influence others or impose your ideas on group members.

Bring your discussion to a graceful conclusion at the allotted time by summarizing points which group members have made during the discussion and thanking everyone for their input and participation.