Okay, so you've selected a book, written questions and baked cookies. Well actually, the cookies are optional for you, but for Joyce and me? MANDATORY! I think some people come just for the cookies.
1. Reading Time: We usually give the kids and parents about 6 weeks to complete the book. I think this year we may have cut down on the time since we are ordering the books and they have the books in hand sooner and don't have to spend time looking for them. During that time I check informally on their progress and to see how many are potentially participating.
2. Night of the Event: We usually arrive early and set up tables in groups of 10 or 12 depending on how many we are expecting. With our crowd on November 17, did I mention we had 85? it was nearly impossible to fit them around the library tables so we actually spread out all over. As the families come in we ask that the parent and child sit together. It seems so obvious, but it really does need to be stated. Once the crowd has gathered we go over some basic ground rules. Things like reminding parents not to dominate the conversation, be willing to listen to their children's good ideas. We ask the kids to focus on the conversation and not be side tracked by silliness. When the questions are handed out we share that they are only suggested questions, not required and there aren't any tests or quizzes. If the conversation takes them a different way, go there, it will probably be better! The groups break off, no assignments, just who happens to be sitting near you and the the Grand Discussion is off and running. Joyce and I wander around making sure to join in on all of the groups at some point during the evening, making comments, answering questions and handing out cookies when appropriate. We usually let them talk for 30 to 45 minutes and then come back together to share especially insightful comments and I always like to take an informal poll about the general feeling about the book. I'm always interested to see if opinions change after the discussion, and interestingly enough, they usually go from a negative to a positive.
That's about it for How to Host a Grand Discussion, it's really pretty simple and Joyce and I both agree that it's one of the most rewarding things we do as teachers.