Learning Plans & Activities
Issue-Based Book Groups

In this literature unit, students work in book groups to read and discuss realistic fiction that incorporates themes related to mental health.


English language arts
Social studies
Research skills




English language arts teachers


Learners will build their awareness of mental health issues through reading and discussing realistic fiction

Learners will summarize and react to the realistic fiction through the creation of book trailers


Multiple copies of books that feature characters dealing with mental health struggles. These may include:
Free Verse by Sarah Dooley
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
Paperweight by Meg Haston
This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart

Access to recording equipment (computer, table, phone, etc.) and basic video editing software.


Two weeks


AASL National School Library Standards

II.C.2. Contributing to discussions in which multiple viewpoints on a topic are expressed.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

Instructional Procedure

Day 1: Activating Prior Knowledge

Introduce the unit by asking students to make a private list of issues that they or someone they are close to are presently struggling with in their lives. Emphasize that this list will not be shared, but that its intention is to help them start thinking about difficulties that adolescents often face.

As a class, make a list of mental health issues that students have heard or read about. Engage students in a discussion around these issues—what do they already know? What questions they have?

Explain to students that in the next class period they will meet in the library to hear about realistic fiction books that incorporate mental health components and select one that they will then read in a book group.

Day 2: Book Talks and Selections

In the library, give students a brief overview of realistic fiction, then book talk the selections from which the students will choose. After this, students will browse the multiple copies available before making their selections of which reading group to join.

Days 3-14: Reading and Discussion Groups

Set the reading groups up for success by providing discussion scaffolding and talking points and helping them set group reading goals for each day.

Meet regularly with the student book groups throughout their time reading and discussing. Every three days students should complete an exit slip that asks:

  • What is happening with the story at this point?
  • What do you predict may happen next?
  • In what ways is the group discussion succeeding or not?

As groups finish the books, guide them to create a video or PowerPoint book trailer that discusses their books and their reactions to them. Common Sense Education has a helpful lesson plan for creating iMovie Book Trailers at https://www.commonsense.org/education/lesson-plans/imovie-book-trailers.


Provide a range of book reading levels and audiobook options for students who would benefit from them.


Use a rubric to evaluate the book trailers for a group grade. For individual assessment, students can write a reflection essay, discussing how the book influenced their thinking on the mental health issue it addressed and whether or not the book gave them a reason to take action on teen mental health issues awareness.

Additional Resources

Richmond, Kia Jane. Mental Illness in Young Adult Literature: Exploring Real Struggles through Fictional Characters. Libraries Unlimited, 2019.

About the Author

Liz Deskins, MA, currently serves as an instructor in the School of Information at Kent State University and has been a teacher-librarian for more than 25 years. She earned her master's degree from the Ohio State University and is coauthor of the books LGBTQAI+ Books for Children and Teens: Providing a Window for All (ALA Editions, 2018) and Linking Picture Book Biographies to National Content Standards: 200+ Lives to Explore (Libraries Unlimited, 2015). She has served in numerous leadership roles within both the Ohio Educational Library Media Association and the American Association of School Librarians.

MLA Citation Deskins, Liz. "Issue-Based Book Groups." School Library Connection, February 2019, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2189117?childId=2189118&topicCenterId=1955265&tab=1.

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Entry ID: 2189118

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