Finally getting around to blogging about the Bricks and Books Club I started in 2021! This popular program combines two of my favorite things: middle grade lit and LEGO® bricks. Our group of 3rd-5th graders meets bimonthly to discuss a book (picked up in advance) and build.*
When I asked on social media what you wanted to know, a lot of people asked how I came up with this idea. Well, when my library brought back in-person programming, I was tasked with starting a book club with a VERY limited budget for supplies. (You know, the good old “do more with less” thing). So… I looked in the supply closet and discovered my branch owned many bricks and kits from years and programs past.
Thus, a new book club was born!
If you do not already have a closet full of bricks, you’re going to need some starter sets. I suggest purchasing a few Classic Tubs, base plates of various sizes, and a some wheel/axle sets. We’ve been able to do all sorts of STEAM challenges and fun activities with just these basic bricks! I would say we have the equivalent of 4 classic tubs and 2 wheel/axle sets. This amount robustly supports our group of 15.
You’ll also want to get some minifigures. Unfortunatley, minifigures are expensive, hard to find in sets, and tend to disappear fast. Our minifigures come from an awesome LEGO® Education Storystarter Set that is sadly no longer sold, but you can purchase minifigure sets directly from the LEGO® store: https://www.lego.com/en-us/themes/minifigures.
Every new kid gets a pair of glasses to keep and commemorate their first Bricks and Books Club visit. We started off with a stash I also found in the closet, but I’ve been able to order more glasses since from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Building-Creative-Birthday-Carnival-Supplies/dp/B07Q81FRHN/
Occasionally, I supplement our bricks with other materials, such as eggs for our egg drop challenge and weights for our pulley engineering challenge.
I usually have a queue at the door and waitlisted families hoping to get in, so I start letting registrants in 10 minutes early. This gives me time to check everyone in, let any new participants know what to expect, and make sure their caregivers are okay with photos being taken. Everyone is allowed to free build (or decorate their glasses) for a little bit, which allows me to see if we have any no-shows and room for anyone on the waitlist. Then I use music to transition us to the rug for discussion.
4:35-5:00PM: Book Talk
We start with an icebreaker. Then I ask 3-4 additional discussion questions, ranging from lower-level recall to higher-level reflection. I always make sure to include at least one question that can be answered without having read the book.
Then I introduce the challenge! Our challenge relates in some way to the book. We usually do engineering challenges, but not always. For example, we’ve built catapults; pulley lifts; getaway cars; and mystery zoo animal exhibits. I review a little bit of the science behind the challenge (if any) and ask for any questions. Then we get building!
If kids complete the challenge pretty quickly, I encourage them with a more difficult version, or they are always welcome to free build.
5:25-5:30PM Break Apart
I put out a last call for pictures, use music to transition us again, display a slide with the next month’s book/sign up information, and thank everyone for coming. Many caregivers like to snap a photo of this slide and save the date in their phones.
After the Program
Sometime later that week, I email families photos from our time together and discussion points/resources for continuing the conversation at home.
Tips & Tricks
It was pretty easy to facilitate discussion when our group started off with just 10 participants, but it’s amazing what a difference 5 more kids makes now that our group has expanded to 15! Here are some strategies I use:
I have a variety of attention getters in my pocket (e.g. “If you can hear my voice, clap twice” or “Give me five, four, three, two, one…”). I always let the kids know which attention getters to expect when we start our book club discussion.
Music to Manage Transitions
I play a song from one of the LEGO® movies at the beginning when it’s time to come to the carpet area for our book talk, and also at the end when it’s time to clean up.
The Minifigure Mouth (aka the Speaking Stick)
Have you ever heard of the speaking stick? This trick comes from my teacher days. Only the person holding the stick (or in this case, a special minifigure) is allowed to speak and everyone else listens. In theory. 😆 I let the kids chose who to hand off the minifigure to next and only intervene if necessary.
Turn and Talk/Think Pair Share
Almost all my kids have lots of say! Unfortunately, half an hour isn’t enough time for everyone to share, so sometimes we turn and talk with a partner. My teen volunteer and I keep an eye out for anyone who seems uncomfortable and make sure to enter those chats.
Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down or Stand Up/Sit Down
Sometimes I will ask quick, closed questions that can be answered nonverbally (e.g. thumbs up if you agree with…) before we explore the more open-ended why.
Sometimes I use a fun brick-themed video countdown timer when we’re nearing the end of a discussion question.
I have been thinking about Total Participation Techniques from my classroom days and how I might adapt these for book club. Next time we meet, I plan to ask a question that can be answered with a Quick Draw or a Quick Write!
Where do I get ideas for activities? Sometimes the book comes first. For example, we already owned a book club kit for The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller. The book includes an egg drop competition – hence, our challenge!
Sometimes the activity idea comes first, and I think about possible books. For example, I loved the Secret Zoo Exhibit Challenge on the Lego Librarian’s Blog. I ended up pairing this activity with The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate.
Here are some invaluable resources I consult regularly for ideas:
Blog: The LEGO Librarian
Be sure to check out Peter’s post for getting started with a LEGO® club!
Website: Frugal Fun for Boys
Sarah shares so many great ideas for building with various ages! She’s also the author of many great LEGO® Books.
Book: The LEGO® Games Book by Tori Kosara
Speaking of book resources, this is one of my favorites!
Publishers (especially Scholastic) often create discussion guides, so I get a lot of book questions from these resources. Multnomah County Library also has a great resource about book groups for kids that includes a helpful list of general questions that can be used with any book: https://multcolib.org/talk-it-book-groups-kids.
Stay tuned for more Bricks and Books Club posts! I’m so excited to share our cool creations and the great discussions we’ve had.
*I’ve brought Bricks and Books Club with me to a new library system! We now meet every month.
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