In order to plan our spring break reading and practice independence for our summer reading, we brought 42 freshmen into our Learning Commons for some book talk/book speed dating.
It’s an activity that can be reproduced with any number of students and with minimal planning time. It also is an activity that elicits positive feedback from students and most importantly, gets kids reading.
To ensure that students were ready to engage in the activity, we provided time and structure for planning the mini-conversations about books.
Students were instructed to choose a favorite book from the school year so far, bring the physical copy of the book to class that day, and be prepared to talk about it for about a minute. They were also instructed to write down questions they could ask others in case the person who was doing the “selling” of the book ran out of things to say.
The other side of their half-sheet handouts had a place for note-taking during the actual speed-dating activity.
Before we brought all of our students together, our wonderful teacher-librarian and I met to plan the activity, and she volunteered to lead it.
The students were lined up at two long tables, paired with the person across from them, so there were two tables with kids lined up on either side of both tables. (She re-created this activity later with one smaller table of sixteen students, and it worked well with that number, too.)
Mrs. Levitt gave the students a couple of minutes of instructions, and the other two teachers and I watched as the magic unfolded.
Each student was given one minute to “sell” their book, and then listened and asked questions during the second minute, when their current partner was trying to “sell” the other book. They were reminded to add to their next reads lists if the books were interesting to them, and then one side of the table stood up and moved to the left in order to find new partners. The activity moved quickly.
The student feedback after the activity was positive and enthusiastic. They liked hearing about books from each other, and felt enthused about setting some spring break reading goals. Mrs. Levitt had them make make a “reading promise” on padlet so that they would have some public accountability when they returned from spring break.
After the public promise on padlet, students set individual goals, responding to the following questions, expanding when necessary.
Students came back from break saying things like “Miss! I read five books!” and “Miss! You have to read this book! It’s sooo good!”
I don’t think they would have the same enthusiasm if we had continued with our usual book talks and generic reading assignments. The fact that they talked to and listened to one another in a fast-paced, structured setting meant that they could later have more authentic, longer conversations about the books they had found interesting during the class activity. Students discovered new titles and authors, and developed community with one another that revolves around reading books.
They could see that all of their teachers, our teacher-librarian, and their classmates value reading, and are interested in each other’s thoughts and ideas about what makes a great read.
It was a positive experience for all of us, and it helped to set the stage for summer reading. The thing about summer reading is that it doesn’t have the built-in accountability that the school year does. It requires either self-discipline or intrinsic motivation, so the practice and encouragement over the break helped to develop “muscle memory” in that students read books even when they weren’t accountable for it the very next day. They read books that they wouldn’t normally have read, and they were able to continue talking about those new reads when they returned from the break, which also helps to build community and develop readers.
How do you plan to encourage and practice for summer reading? I’d love to hear about it in your comments.
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for nineteen years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, and the last four in Amman, Jordan. She’s thrilled to report that she and her family will be moving across the agua to Managua, Nicaragua next year, where a new adventure will begin.
Follow her on twitter @SwinehartJulie