Creating Your Own RAO Discussion Group

RAO is generally designed to supplement basic skills courses, and the emphasis is on helping students use what they have learned in those classes (i.e., grammar rules, vocabulary) to read a novel. Though RAO was originally geared toward Adult Literacy students, we have had ESL and GED students join us in the class. This has expanded the learning of everyone involved and strengthened student relationships.

Choosing Books

Books read in RAO should have some relevance to the students’ lives and/or experiences, and be able to spark discussion. RAO is especially concerned with exposing learners to literature that is outside the traditional canon. However, because RAO is designed to meet the needs of lower-level readers, all of the books should have (a) an unabridged audiotape/CD that is available and (b) summaries/study guides available on BookRags, SparkNotes or CliffsNotes. The audiotapes are utilized to help with comprehension and fluency (i.e., students listen and follow along in their own books); the summaries also help with comprehension as well vocabulary development.

All books have a theme that is introduced prior to starting the book. Themes help to structure the reading, motivate students and encourage discussions that go beyond the content of the story. RAO has read and discussed books with themes that include: “Growth,” “Identity & Destiny,” and “Disillusionment.” Students read the books over 3 - 4 months.

Students keep their books during the class and are able to take them home when the novel is finished. They are also encouraged to read at home and to read with/to family members and friends.

Setting Ground Rules

Developing a set of ground rules is important to help the group run smoothly, and students should be involved in creating these rules. RAO students at Literacy Chicago have developed a list of guidelines highlighting things like the need for everyone to come to class regularly and be respectful of differing viewpoints.

Structuring Classes

At the very start of the book, students are provided with contextual information, including biographical information on the author; a short description of the setting (i.e., if the book takes place in Haiti some information is provided about the country), a character list and a plot overview to help them get a sense of the storyline. Before reading each chapter they are provided with a summary that has key vocabulary underlined and/or defined. This information can be adapted from online resources.

RAO should meet at least twice a week for 2 hours. During at least one class per week time is spent on reading and/or listening to the text. During the second class period, there is a greater emphasis on discussion of key themes or ways that students are engaging (or not) with the story. Creative activities like collages and expressive writing should also be used to supplement student learning.

Before every class, there is a review of what was read and/or discussed previously to help with comprehension. Homework may be provided to reinforce crucial ideas and promote writing skills development.


Attendance at cultural events, like plays and museums, is a central part of RAO. It is especially useful if the activities are coordinated with the text or theme to make the story more interesting and relevant. Free events at local libraries and universities can also provide learners with diverse experiences in new places. Take lots of pictures to record students’ interactions!


Evaluation is crucial. In general, we assess student satisfaction at the end of each book to get a sense of what they thought about the text, what they learned and what they would like to see changed. Depending on your needs, it might be useful to have students take a short academic evaluation before you begin the book and after the book is finished.


These are just a few things to help you get started – every program will bring their own unique vision to the group.

Please let us know if you start a RAO group of your own – we would love to hear from you!