5 Tips to Use Nonfiction Books in Any Group Setting

How classrooms, universities, and book clubs can create thriving discussions.

Posted Oct 08, 2019

DepositPhotos/VIA Institute
Source: DepositPhotos/VIA Institute

The power of a group is undeniable. Group discussions bring the synergy of connection, insight, and joy to the forefront.

A popular area of focus for group discussions is books – fiction and nonfiction. University classes incorporating book discussions are commonplace. And, more personal book clubs among friends, neighbors, or co-workers are on the rise. In the United States alone, it is estimated that 5 million people are members of a book club.


You might be able to create one or more of these groups or you can try to make the most of your participation in one.

1. Traditional Book Club
Women, couples, men, children. The possibilities for people getting together for book discussions are almost endless. A general approach taken by book clubs is to read and discuss one book each month. Often, this is done in different members’ home and they prepare the food and drink or a potluck approach is used. As the cocktails are savored and the pasta is twirled, each person takes their turn sharing their opinions about the book, the power of the story, and how they related or did not relate to the content.

Personal development books are especially powerful in these settings as they allow the group to go immediately into topics of depth and personal transformation. This offers an additional dimension for the club in that the members can agree to read AND practice with the activities discussed in the book prior to the discussion. This enriches the sharing and deepens the bonds of the members.

2. Practitioner Peer Group

Imagine a group of teachers or a group of counselors getting together to discuss a book that is centered around how to implement a new tool or approach in their field. The insights and sharing are seemingly limitless. The spirit of such groups is to not judge one another ideas and potential applications but to reinforce and encourage new learning and growth. Some groups in this category take a rotating approach where a different person leads a set of activities or discussion points each week or month.

An example of this was a group in Sydney, Australia that experienced Mindfulness-Based Strengths Practice (MBSP) together. In order for the group to self-lead (and experience) MBSP, each practitioner took a particular chapter and prepared and led the book chapter's meditations, strengths activities, education points, and discussion questions for the other members. This rotation gave every member an opportunity to dig into the material by preparing it for others as well as a chance to sit and back simply experience the content and practices. This served to maximize the learning for the members.

3. University Course

Professors and teachers frequently assign the same book to a small group of students or an entire class. Often, guiding questions, handouts, and activities are provided for the students to get the most out of the discussion.

4. Group Therapy

Many types of group therapy are heavy in focus on psychoeducation. This means that the emphasis is placed on clients learning a particular set of skills they can bring to their daily life. The use of books as suggested resources are a staple of psychoeducation. Less common, however, is a practitioner who leads a psychoeducation group as a “book discussion group.” In such cases, a group of clients might read and discuss an anxiety workbook, a workbook on using strengths to manage stress, or the latest book on depression.

5. Organization/Team Discussions

Good communication among working teams is foundational to team productivity. A book discussion group provides an opportunity for discussing the latest innovation in your company, a new approach to strengths use in the workplace, or provide some levity to the tensions of the day.

5 Tips to Jump-Start Your Discussion

Using The Power of Character Strengths as an example of a book used in any of the above group discussion scenarios, consider the following strategies to make the experience positive and memorable.

1. Plan for how you will introduce the book to the other members?

In many of the above scenarios, the members get to select the book that will be focused on for a particular discussion. This might mean you need to “convince” the other members why your idea is a good one. Here’s an example:

For this month, I suggest we focus on The Power of Character Strengths. The authors focus on 24 character strengths that make up who we are. These strengths have been found in hundreds of research studies to bring benefits to us such as stress management, happiness, meaning in life, and a fresh way to help strengthen our relationships. The focus throughout the book is very practical: how we can use these strengths, already within us, to engage more at work and improve our relationships and community.

It may be useful to share your favorite excerpt from the book in your suggestion to the group. You may choose to also introduce your favorite activities, quotes, ideas, strength examples, or guiding questions.

2. Ask powerful questions

Sometimes groups need a prompt or a boost with some strong questions. Here are a few examples from the 120+ exploration questions offered in The Power of Character Strengths:

  • What holds you back from trying to be creative?
  • Were you a curious child? How has your curiosity been affected growing up?
  • What motivates you to act bravely?
  •  In what situations do you struggle to express kindness?
  • How does teamwork extend into your personal life; for example, parenting, family, partner, friendship?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of forgiving someone?
  • If someone does not express gratitude to you, does it make it less likely you will express gratitude toward them in the future?
  • What role does hope play during challenging times in your life?

There's a richness that emerges from any of these questions as members look within and share their stories.

3. Do a strengths practice and share it

This is a BIG point. The book offers hundreds of ways to apply character strengths. The main purpose of the book is to help you use your character strengths more in your life. Check out what resonates most with you and jump in. Take notice of the impact on your relationships, work, health, and daily well-being. Sharing this with the group will catalyze members to share and also to go home and delve into practice themselves.

4. Suggest a rotation where each person has an opportunity to share

While no one should be forced to share, it’s important for each person to feel they have an opportunity to share their insights, opinions, and ways they have come to use their character strengths in their life. Group discussions can take an approach where, first, each person has a chance to share prior to others sharing a second time. This is the approach of “limiting cross-talk” in which two people go back and forth on a topic for 30 minutes. The rotation approach may require some members to use self-regulation but it will also catalyze curiosity in them as they listen to quieter and particularly reflective members.

5. Consider summarizing what happens in the group

It’s common for many discussions to simply end flat. One person says, “thanks for dinner, I need to get home” and this leads to a stampede. Or, the class concludes abruptly with a bell or the work-lunch hour comes to an end. This is where having a succinct summary can help gel insights and reinforce the good that took place in the discussion. You can take the lead on this. Consider these questions to help you compile a short summary:

  • What are the main insights from the discussion?
  • How is one of the insights helpful for your personal growth?
  • What are the main takeaways to implement in our organization or classroom?
  • How is this relevant to the topic of our course/class?

Start a book discussion group today. Or, make your current discussion group even stronger. Be sure to consider the new strengths book for your next discussion! The Power of Character Strengths: Appreciate and Ignite Your Positive Personality.