Three (very) Short Videos that Inspire Students to Read

One of the key components of the workshop model is the book talk. There are many different ways of organizing and presenting the daily book talk, but the main idea is that high interest books are presented to kids each and every day. It’s our job to make sure that the books we present are relevant, challenging, and fun to read.

I’ve had students tell me in the past that the reason they became better readers was because they found out that there were so many different options for reading in our library. That the daily book talks really work!Why book talk

This is the kind of feedback that keeps me investing in book talks. It’s an investment in the reading lives of my students.

One strategy I use when giving book talks is to let someone else do the talking. Media plays such an important role with today’s students that I think utilizing it in class is a great way to meet my students where they are. So I occasionally choose to show videos instead of simply talking about the books.

Last week I shared the trailer for HBO’s Fahrenheit 451. It wasn’t a book that was flying off of my shelves, but we have several copies from our department’s book room, and no one is teaching it as a whole-class text, so it’s fair game for our classroom libraries.

After showing the trailer for the new film, four students (in one class!) took it off the shelf and started reading it. And they like it.

Fahrenheit 451 Classroom Library

I loved that I had so many available copies. My students were able to experience the “instant gratification” of getting the book into their hands immediately.

That’s not always the case with our books, even though we have an amazing, robust selection of high interest books in both our classroom libraries and in the school collection.

One of those books that is now unexpectedly in high demand is A Wrinkle in Time. The movie comes out this weekend, so I showed the trailer in order to generate interest in the book and series. I don’t think a single one of my students had picked up that book so far this year, but after showing the trailer for the movie, I now have a waiting list of four for the book, and some others who had read the book in previous years have put the rest of the series on their next reads list.

A Wrinkle in Time Book Cover

The video that created the most hype (by far!) in my classroom so far this year is this interview with Jason Reynolds. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I shared the video with my students before I had an actual copy of the book available for students. One of the complications of living internationally can be the ability to have things shipped right to our door, so it took me a while to get a physical copy of the book. I had students asking for Long Way Down for months before I got my hands on one, and there was an immediate waiting list.

Long Way Down Book Cover

So far, about a dozen of my ninth grade students have read it, and they love debating the ending of this book. It’s been a great success.

While I don’t recommend movie trailers as book talks every day, I do think they have a place in the rotation. They can be used in place of the teacher recommendation on days when teachers are out sick or when a student who has signed up for a book talk isn’t ready for some reason.

Movies can make challenging books more accessible by creating background knowledge, and interviews with the author (like the Jason Reynolds interview) create an energy that might be beyond my ability.

Encouraging and motivating my students to read high quality literature is the name of the game, and I believe that film can be a powerful gateway to a healthy reading life. If we want our students to work their way up their reading ladders, then it’s important to meet them on the steps where they currently are, and not to expect them to make immediate major leaps up to where we think they should be.

Being willing to meet kids at their level and interest empowers them to feel validated about their current reading lives, and to grow as readers, stepping up to the next rung of the ladder at the pace that makes sense for them. I believe that’s how we grow authentic, healthy, life long readers, and that using videos and film can be a useful tool in that journey.

How do you use videos in your classroom to motivate readers? I’d love to read about your strategies in the comments below.

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

What are the kids reading?

I believe that students read more when they know what is available. Isn’t that what advertising is all about? Seeing what is available, and then being tempted by it? So I start each class with book talks. I advertise books. And then I pay attention to what students seem to like, so I can keep pushing the right books.

I do this every class, almost without exception, and when I might get ahead of myself and jump right into the lesson, my students remind me, asking why we aren’t starting with a book talk. It is part of our routine, and we like it.

I try to book talk a wide variety of books, from classics, to collections of poetry, to first titles in a series, to young adult fiction, to autobiographies and memoirs,  to brand new releases, and to the more hard-to-categorize books.

I often share more than one title with each class, and if a student wants one of the books, I give it out immediately and replace that title with a new one for the next class, so I go through a lot of titles.

Some titles are claimed by eager readers right away, while others go back to the shelf. But some titles rarely get the chance to go back to the shelves because they are passed around from student to student.

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One of those titles is Why We Broke Up, a Printz award nominee written by Daniel Handler. It’s a beautifully written and illustrated story that starts with the end, and the line “Every break up starts with a love story” gets potential readers interested right away. The rich illustrations are of the different mementos collected throughout the course of a relationship: ticket stubs, notes written on looseleaf paper, etc. They are little things that students can relate to, and the illustrations tug at their hearts. You might also recognize Handler’s pen name: Lemony Snicket.

Another title which got a lot of attention from my students this fall was PostSecret by Frank Warren. It’s a charming collection of postcards which reveal secrets from people all over the world, and my students love it. I had to hold a raffle for this one because so many students were clamoring for it. I like it because each page can serve as a inspiration for a quick write in their readers-writers notebooks, as the postcard confessions are raw and relatable. This one has what we call “spicy language” and many of the pages are for mature audiences, but I think it’s worth a look. I’m glad to have it in my classroom library.
PostSecret

The last one I’ll share in this post is Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan. It’s an updated version of the classic Snow White story, set in 1920s/1930s New York City. When I book talked this one to a ninth grade class, I couldn’t get through talking about it before I had students asking if they could have it first.

It looks like film-noir, which to my students, is all kinds of cool. Students respond to the pictures and to the familiar, updated, dark story. Graphic novel enthusiasts loved it, and then even passed it around to other students who hadn’t demonstrated an interest in graphic novels before. I called it a win.

Snow White Graphic Novel

I’ve noticed some students don’t think illustrated books “count” or are “real books.” They either shy away from them and limit themselves to more traditional books, or they don’t bring the graphic novels they are reading to class, and only read them at home.

So I’ve tried to make an effort to present more non-traditional, beautifully illustrated books intended for more mature, young adult audiences. I’ve tried to send the message that not only are they “real books,” but those of us who aren’t in the habit of reading them should branch out and try something new in the form of non-traditional looking books.

I believe it’s important to meet students where they are, especially when they are emerging readers. When teachers validate students natural preferences, we gain trust and credibility, which is important when we are recommending new genres and authors to them, helping them to build their reading lives.

It’s important when we are trying to teach them anything, when we are trying to build community in our classrooms. Talking about what matters to students is one of the most effective ways to build trust, and I’m happy to read and discuss these beautiful books with them.

Get to know your library through book talks

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.

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I always list the titles of the books we’ve discussed on my wall so that we can go back to them and find them.

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. Continue reading “Get to know your library through book talks”

On Being Vulnerable in the First Days of School

Tomorrow is my first day of school with students for the upcoming school year. My own children are entering the 5th and 9th grades, and it feels like a big milestone year. One more year with a child in elementary school, and the beginning of high school for the other. It’s a big deal.

As much as I’m thinking about how quickly their childhoods are going by, I’m realizing that parents all over the world are feeling the same way about their own children. That I have two groups of ninth graders starting high school tomorrow, and their parents are feeling that same combination of whimsy and excitement and “how am I old enough to have a child in high school” and “when did my baby grow taller than me” that I am feeling. Or at least something similar.

I’m thinking about how I’m going to connect with these students, how I’m going to convince them that they can trust me with their writing and thinking this year, and most importantly, how they will learn to trust each other in a reading and writing community of their peers. How will I ensure that they find my class relevant? How will I ensure that they become people who like to read, and who look forward to writing? And the ones that already do? How will I challenge them, nurture them, and help them to become more independent?

Last year was my first year of teaching within the workshop model, and my classes were focused on reading. The students had separate writing classes last year, but now we are combining them. I’m looking forward to this change; it will be a new challenge for me, and I’ll get to know students in a way I didn’t last year.

The change also means I’m studying Penny Kittle’s Write Beside Them, taking lots of notes, watching the videos that come with the digital resources, and maybe I’m overthinking the first day or two of classes.

Better to overthink than under-plan, I suppose.

One of the things I’ve noticed is the vulnerability Kittle displays with her students. She writes about sharing her process, and not her final product. In her videos, she demonstrates asking students for advice about structure and craft in her own writing, and in doing so, models exactly the vulnerability and openness she wants her students to learn. Her students follow her lead, and they produce beautiful writing.

I’m going to be deliberate about following her lead.

I’m originally from Oregon, and for the fifteen years before I moved to Amman, I lived in the center of the state: in Prineville, a town of fewer than 10,000 people. Today happens to be the day of the total eclipse of the sun, and there are significantly more people than that in the area for this event.

Suffice it to say that I would love to be there to witness the spectacle of the crowds, to observe this once-in-a-lifetime event (I know there have been others, and there will be others, but right above my house?), and to generally feel the energy that comes with something like this. But I’m also glad to miss the crowds, not worry about running out of gas, and to avoid the traffic gridlock that has accompanied the scene.

Why does this matter? It matters because I will share my feelings and experience with my students. I’ll talk to them about the eclipse, which even across the planet they are certain to know about. But I won’t talk to them about the science or math or physics of it. I’ll talk to them about what it means to me. About how I hope my parents, who live in the middle of town, won’t go out and get caught in an hours-long traffic jam. About how I hope all of these visitors will respect the cleanliness and beauty that is in small-town-Central-Oregon. About how I am glad I am here for the first day of school, but in another lifetime, I’d be there in the center of the chaos.

I will be vulnerable.

I’ll share about what I read over the summer, and I’ll specifically book talk the YA novel I deliberately read about a solar eclipse: Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass. It’s a sweet story about three teenagers who are looking for their personal identities and might not even realize it. It’s relatable and relevant to the topic of the solar eclipse, and I’ve looked forward to sharing it with students since I finished reading it.

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I also plan to talk to my students about the reader’s and writer’s notebook, and when I do that, I’ll use the question in chapter four of Write Beside Them which says, “What’s in a writer’s notebook?” and includes the following quote from Sylvia Plath:

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I’ll ask students to respond to the quote on the chart, and to realize that they are full of experiences and ideas worth writing about. Worth reading about. Missed experiences might be just as valuable as the first-hand. That we all have self doubt, but together, we can find the guts to get past it and write.

I’ll ask them to contribute phrases from their own writing and brainstorming on the anchor chart so that we can refer to it and remember that we are all full of good ideas. We just need to be brave enough to try.

What’s different for me in this particular part of the class is that I’ll be writing and revising with them (beside them!), and I’ll write about the eclipse that I’m not witnessing, but that still somehow has an impact on me. I’ll try to link my writing to the idea that “everything in life is writable,” even including things that we don’t actually experience (like my eclipse!), because we are unique, have our own thoughts and feelings, and we matter.

I’ll write publicly, show my quick revisions, and deliberately model vulnerability.

I will try to validate their ideas through my vulnerability.

Hopefully this first class will set the tone for the rest of the year. We’ll do a quick practice of writing, revising, and sharing. We will ask each other for input, critiques, and help. We’ll celebrate each other’s victories and vulnerabilities, and we’ll learn to be better readers, writers, and thinkers.

Wish us luck!

On Being Public Regarding My Reading Life

Summer is the best time.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the fall. Really. The beginning of the school year is so full of potential and possibilities, how could a teacher not love it?

But summer is traditionally my time for reading. And I get to read whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. That is glorious.

Before I started teaching reader’s workshop, I didn’t worry about what I was reading. I read a ton of brainless detective fiction and thrillers all summer long, and I loved it. And I won’t apologize for it.

But no one was asking me what I was reading, and I didn’t have my students in mind. It wasn’t expected that I would talk to my students about my reading life, and even rarer that a student would ask about it. It’s wild to think about now; I don’t understand that as an English teacher, as a person who loves literature, I wasn’t a book pusher. I was an assignment giver. Erg. 

Things are different now. Better.

I’m a book pusher, and boy does it feel good.

Now that I’m teaching workshop, I can’t help but think about my students as I pick up a book and begin to read. Is it a great first sentence? Could I book talk this one? How about putting it on a themed list?

Which means no more mindless thrillers… nothing too gruesome, nothing that I wouldn’t want to go public about.

A year ago I might have balked at the idea of this – that I was supposed to report back to teenagers regarding my reading life.

But now, I can’t wait to share it!

I’ve read thirteen books so far this summer, and it’s only July. I could have read more, I’m sure, but some summers I’ve read less. I call it a win, especially because I can talk to my students about (nearly) all of the books I have read.

I started with Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton. My husband had read it and recommended it to me, and when I got to my parents’ house in Oregon, my mother recommended it to me. How could I not with these two recommendations?

I know I’ve got some students who will enjoy it based on the fact that they loved Jurassic Park and Sphere, and it’s nice to have that “in” with some historical fiction, which can be a hard sell.

IMG_1405Next I read All the Light We Cannot See. It was a book club selection more than a year ago, and I somehow skipped it. How glad I am that I picked it up and tried it this summer. This time, I recommended it to my husband, and he loved it too. I look forward to sharing this title with students – watching the different stories converge was both fun and tense.

After that, I listened to Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. It was glorious. I was on a five hour solo drive in my convertible, driving through Oregon’s forests and high desert. I know that under these circumstances, any book would be fantastic, but honestly,  this title is a winner. I’m more likely to recommend it to colleagues than teenagers, but I’ll happily talk about it with students. It made me laugh out loud, and it often hit way too close to home. It has one of the best first paragraphs I’ve heard in a while.

IMG_1490My next book was a YA, Openly Straight, recommended to me by my son. I’d wanted to read this one for a few months, and was happy to have a book to discuss with him. It is a great story about a teenager trying to figure out who he is and who he wants the world to see him as. Any teenager, any human, can relate to this struggle. It’s a beautiful book. I can’t wait to recommend it to my students.

IMG_1507Next was The Crossover, part of the Book Love Foundation Summer Book Club. I have to admit that I don’t always love books about sports, nor do I usually pick up books written in verse. This book pushed my thinking, and I look forward to sharing and discussing it with my students next year. Now I understand why a few of my ninth grade boys loved it last year.

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I read The Silver Star by Jeanette Wells next, a book I didn’t even know existed until I found it on the shelves of a used book store. It reminds me of The Death of Santini and The Great Santini, and I think it will make a nice bridge of a book for some of my students who loved The Glass Castle, and might be able to get into some of Pat Conroy’s heavier novels. What I love about these books is that I can talk to my students about the power of writing. These children grew up in wildly difficult circumstances, and through writing, they found success, they found their own paths, and are now respected authors, and most importantly, respected and loved humans.

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Since The Silver Star, I finished In The Woods by Tana French. I had read and book talked The Secret Place last year, and one of my freshman girls put in a ton of effort to get through it. I was proud of her and she was thrilled that she finished it. I look forward to talking to her about the rest of the series, and I think other students who love detective fiction will like this set of books.

IMG_1933After In the Woods I read Tigers in Red Weather, which was a really fun, quick read, and had some great nods towards The Great Gatsby. I also read spy novel Legends by Robert Littlel. One of my favorite summer reads is The Company, so I thought I’d try something new by the same author. I wasn’t disappointed. I also re-read A Prayer for Owen Meany. This is another title from the Book Love Foundation Book Club, and it shouldn’t need much introduction. If you haven’t read it, drop everything and read it. It’s that good. It also has a great first sentence.

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Orphan Train is a book I finished today and can’t wait to book talk. It references Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre, it’s a quick read, and super-compelling. The main character feels alone, alienated, and wants to find a safe place in this world. I think all of us have felt that way in one sense or another, so it will be an easy “sell” to my students.

I’m still reading The Liar’s Club. For some reason it’s a slower read for me, so I keep going back to it between books. Maybe it’s the thread that will tie my summer reading together, I’m not sure. I like it, and it reminds me of The Glass Castle. I think I have some tenth grade girls who love a good memoir, so this will be a great match.

The last book on my list is the one I probably won’t talk to students about. It’s Find Her by Lisa Gardner. I like the author, and I’ve read several of her books over the last few summers. I’ll keep reading her books, no doubt. But reading it also made me realize that I don’t want to read the gruesome, serial killer thriller type of book as much I used to. I like detective D. D. Warren. I like her back story, and I generally really like detective fiction. It’s just that I don’t feel as comfortable talking to students about it as I do the other books I’ve read this summer.

Here’s the hopeful takeaway from this blog post: As I’ve chosen books to read this summer, I’ve felt that I would be a bit more public about my choices than I was in the past.

I think the same is true for students who are in a reader’s workshop class, and that’s the really important part. Maybe it’s too obvious, but when people – students, teachers, whoever – feel that they are going to talk about what they are doing, when they feel that someone else cares, they are likely to do better.

Last year, I watched my students stretch from middle school level books to young adult books to contemporary fiction. It’s not simply because they felt a sense of confidence. They also felt compelled to share with others, and that brings its own internal push.

I’m feeling that internal push to go public with my reading life.

I think the workshop model does that to all of us, and it makes us better readers. It makes us better thinkers. By being better thinkers, we become better readers.

I think going “public” is going to be really important. I’ll be careful, respectful of my students’ privacy, of course, but talk is what it’s going to be all about next year. Talk about books, about what we are reading.

I think we should all go as public as possible, because our next reads lists will become phenomenal.

Reading as an Investment

While I’m back in the States for the summer, I’m trying to plan for the long-term future.

Eek. That’s always daunting.

It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking. I know that eventually I could head back to Oregon in my retirement years, so my husband and I are looking into buying a house somewhere in the state, knowing it has the potential to be a good financial investment, and could offer peace of mind. The problem is that no investment is guaranteed, but that’s what we all want.

As I am looking into buying a house, I am reminded of the recent last day of classes. It wasn’t the last day with the students I had taught for the whole school year; instead, it was a day when I got to meet with all of the students who will be in my classes next year. We had a special schedule with 30 minute class periods so that returning students could meet their new teachers and learn a little more about what next year’s classes will be like.

As an aside, this was my first experience with this sort of schedule, and I liked it. It was nice to see those new faces, and to be able to let them know what school would look like next year. It was a summer pep-talk, and I hope it worked.

Essentially, I talked to them about investments.

I explained that everyone wants maximum returns on their financial investments, but that there are never really any guarantees.

But, if they invest in themselves, returns are absolutely guaranteed. If they invest their time doing the right things, they will be happy with the results.

I talked to them about planning for summer reading, and that summer reading is an investment in themselves. I showed them a picture of my spring break reading list, and explained that I was planning for my summer reads in the same way. IMG_8719

I showed them the chart from page 136 of Disrupting Thinking, explaining that an extra ten minutes worth of investing in themselves, in reading something they enjoy, will give them the results they all want. disrupting thinking chart p 136

I said to them that someone in the world will be in the 98th percentile. Why not them?

One student asked me, “What if we haven’t really done any investing in ourselves yet?”

Fair question. He hasn’t done the reading over the years that he should or could have, but now he might wish he would have. I told him it’s not too late, but that he needs to actually invest, to actually read, and to start trusting himself that he can do it. I reminded the class that fake can reading feel good in the short term, maybe. But it doesn’t provide the satisfaction of actually reading, thinking, and feeling that we get when we do the actual reading. And it doesn’t give us the long-term returns that we all want.

I compared it to being tired. Sure, we all need a proper night’s sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep, it catches up with us and we might need a mid-day nap. What a person can’t do is say “I’m tired, can you take a nap for me?”

That’s the equivalent of fake reading. The only way to get the return on the investment is to actually invest. No one else can do it for us. You can’t get returns on investments you don’t make.

I think sometimes students don’t understand why it’s important to read. Sure, practicing reading makes us all better readers. But some of my students question the importance of being a better reader, and I think it’s a fair question.

Those reluctant students who haven’t yet discovered their own love for reading understand that they want to be successful in school and in life. They understand that they want to stand out above their peers, whether that’s in their classes, schools, or even on standardized tests that are given world-wide. That’s why the chart from Disrupting Thinking was so important in this particular conversation.

So the take-away on the very last day of the school year, and on the first day of classes with those particular students, was that investing in themselves will give them guaranteed returns. There isn’t much that’s guaranteed in life, and a risk-free investment sounds pretty good to all of us.

I encouraged them to check their next reads lists, ask each other for recommendations, and to keep investing or to start investing in themselves over the summer. I hope it worked!

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Book Talks for Summer Reading

I wish I had another couple of weeks with my students.

I know that’s counterintuitive – often teachers are counting down the days until that first glorious lazy summer morning. We dream of sipping our coffee slowly, while it’s still hot, and of eating breakfast at an actual table instead of during the drive to school or even during the break between our first and second classes of the day.

I look forward to those things, too, but I still wish I had a few more days with my students to really get them geared up for their summer reading.

In a way, we’ve been preparing for summer all year. They have been developing healthy reading lives, learning to read independently, to choose their own books, and to have rich discussions about what they’ve read.

But I know summertime is when some good habits slide, when schedules change from week to week, and when routines can be scarce.

It’s when fragile reading lives can falter, and I want to encourage my students for just a few more days, reminding them that they, too, are readers.

We’ve focused on creating robust next reads lists, most often through daily book talks. We’ve book talked titles that can be found in our school’s library and in my classroom library. Books that students can have in their hands before the end of the class period.

But for the last few weeks I’ve tried something a little different. I’ve chosen books that we don’t have in our school library collection, and that I don’t have in my classroom library. (One unique aspect of teaching internationally is that we get shipments once per year. I can’t wait for next fall when we will get tons of new titles in both our school library and our classroom libraries! Waiting is the hardest part… but it will be so worth it!) For these booktalks, though, I’ve chosen titles that can be found in airport bookstores, in county libraries back in the States, and of course, online.

I have booktalked new-to-us titles that many students have never seen before, and they are adding these titles to their next reads lists, which they keep in the notes app on their phones. This way, when they are traveling, out of their normal routines this summer, and they find themselves needing a book, they can reach into their pockets and find those lists of books they knew they would like.

I’ve encouraged my classes to download the kindle app onto their phones and other devices so they can access books and read anywhere. I’ve told them that if they are traveling to the US, their local libraries will have many, if not all, of these titles. If they don’t have access to a library or bookstore, downloading the titles is pretty simple. It’s exciting to think that their healthy reading lives can and will extend into the summer months.

Continue reading “Book Talks for Summer Reading”