“Never underestimate the power of a great book in the hands of a teacher who knows how to use it.”
This quote from Seven L. Layne in Igniting a Passion for Reading is one in which I often quote. I believe books have power and we, as teachers, have a great responsibility to transfer reading energy by what we do with them. But many times, our students hold that power too.
Many teachers give book talks in their classrooms, which are a fun way to get kids reading and buzzing about books. I have found that when teachers create a short presentation about a book they have read, students are more apt to pick that book up and read it themselves.
I like to eventually give students the opportunity to give book talks to their peers, but before I hand this responsibility off to them, preparation and teaching need to be done.
In the book, In the Middle by Nancie Atwell, she talks about a time she and her husband sat around the dining room table with some friends and “gossiped by candlelight” about a book. She compares her dining room table to a literate environment where people around it talk about literacy. She states “We don’t need assignments, lesson plans, lists, teacher’s manual, or handbooks. We need only another literate person.”
After reading this, I began to wonder how I could bring that dining room table environment to my own classroom? How could I use the low-risk environment of sitting around a dinner table to encourage my kids to have these discussions about books?
Enter dinner table book talks.
Students are given a paper plate (non-coated works best). Some years I have given them no instructions but to think about a book they have loved this year and create a prop to help them talk about the book. Other times, I have given them specific requirements such as title, author, passage, summary, or a blurb. No matter what the directions were, they have enjoyed being creative with their plates.
I tell them they will be doing book talks, but I do not tell them what this will entail. The room is set up like tables with tablecloths and some type of centerpiece. They take their plates and find a seat at a table. Each student uses their plate to help them give their first talk. After some time has passed, they get up and mingle, find a new table, and give another talk. We continue to mingle until they have given 3-4 talks.
These first book talks are unpolished and imperfect, but they get the conversations going in a low-risk environment of sitting around the dinner table with their friends. This space becomes a place where they can share the books they have read without the anxiety of talking in front of the whole class.
This activity is the perfect way to add a little “art” to English language arts, boost student confidence, and hand over the power to students while placing book talks at the head of the table!
Leigh Anne teaches 6th grade ELA in southern Indiana and gave this perfect-for-a-sub assignment while she attended NCTE in Baltimore.