One of the very best ways to spark and fuel our students’ interests in reading is to ensure access to plenty of high interest books. My students are lucky enough to have an excellent collection in our school’s learning commons, and in addition this fall we were blessed with a brand new classroom library.
While both collections are full of amazing titles and are a rich resource for my students and me, it’s challenging to get to know all of the titles in the collections.
I want my students to know and love our classroom library and our school library. It’s incredibly powerful to be able to put the perfect book into the hands of a student right there in our classroom environment, or to walk up to the learning commons and select something together. But before we can get to that point, someone has to really know and appreciate the collections.
While our librarians know the collections well, I also felt that I had to figure out the most efficient way to get to know the library collections and to transfer that knowledge to my students. Because what does it matter that we have a lot of books if the students don’t know what’s there? If they don’t know that they want to read them?
I think book talks are a great way of getting to know our collections. I know it seems counterintuitive – the best book talks are delivered only after we’ve read the books, because then we can do things like choose our favorite passages and explain how we connect to the text. But if you, like me, are given, happen to inherit, or in some other manner are responsible for a large collection of books, and for getting them into the hands of students, you have to realize that reading all of them before the book talks isn’t realistic.
Selecting new books off the shelf isn’t out of the question. Simply reading the inside flap or the back cover is okay. These book features are supposed to get a reader interested, and they do. Reading the first paragraph or page is also a great strategy. Think about Salt to the Sea or the Cirque du Freak series. Those first lines grab a reader and don’t let go.
“I’ve always been fascinated by spiders. I used to collect them when I was younger. I’d spend hours rooting through the dusty old shed at the bottom of our garden, hunting the cobwebs for lurking eight-legged predators. When I found one, I’d bring it in and let it loose in my bedroom.
From Cirque du Freak by Darren Shan
Guilt is a hunter.
My conscience mocked me, picking fights like a petulant child.
It’s all your fault, the voice whispered.
From Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
I book talk two or three books a day, depending on what classes I have scheduled and if the first class checks out the books I’ve promoted and I need to search for new titles to talk up.
Last year I got to know our school library’s collection quickly by sharing books with my classes by theme. I grabbed multiple books that seemed to somehow connect to each other, and depending on the class, I would talk about a couple of them or many of them, but simply by talking about the theme and having them on display, often, even the ones I didn’t talk about would get some attention from a few students. It also ensured that within a few months, I had hit critical mass as far as knowing the books we had in our collections.
When I move on to a new school next year, I know it’s a strategy I’ll employ so that I get to know the new collection and make sure students know what resources are immediately available. I’ll miss knowing my library’s collection as well as I do currently, but I firmly believe that this strategy will allow me to get to know the new books pretty quickly, which means I’ll get to share them with my students in a way that makes sense.
As an aside, I think it’s also important to be public about what we are reading as teachers. I know that if I talk to my students about what I read, it’s more likely to come from my classroom library or from the school library, and when it comes to those books, I go beyond the inside flap when I talk about them with my students. Those are the books that are often checked out by students right away. But I can’t wait to read everything before I book talk it because it would just take too long.
And yes, I have had guest teachers come in to talk about books, and yes, students share what they are reading with each other. And yes, there is something special about a teacher sharing his or her reading life with students, and it must be fostered, nurtured, and encouraged.
I don’t think of this method as “cheating” – we teachers have a lot to do, and while I would love to spend all of my spare time reading YA literature and discovering new graphic novels, I have to be realistic. I give myself permission to talk about books I haven’t read. It means that students are exposed to more new books, develop better and better Next Reads lists. Eventually, they can book talk great titles to one another, taking me out of the loop all together, which leads to an independent and robust culture of reading in our schools.