At the very beginning of the year, I relish in choosing the books that I want to expose students to via Book Talks to hook ’em, spark an interest, or at the very least; have them raise an eyebrow. With over 3,000 books on our lending library, it can be a daunting and downright overwhelming process for reluctant readers to choose a book to kick off the year. To start their reading journey. To be brave enough to try something they haven’t before. To simply engage in the process.
Sometimes a mini-lesson is about exploration; such is the case as students are trying to find their way through the minefields of endless books. While it’s important to educate students on skills and techniques; it’s also just as beneficial to teach them how to authentically explore letting their interest and intrigue guide their process.
So, we pull back and take it slow…
Objectives – Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge Levels: Students will draw from their own interests and personal experiences to predict the literature that will capture their attention and support their literacy growth. Students will assess their reading fluency and stamina through analyzing their reading rates, commitment to completing books, and data that supports their movement.
Lesson: To kick off the introduction to the library, I choose a few pieces to Book Talk – share an excerpt, a few paragraphs, sometimes a page or two…but nothing too long. I keep it short. To keep the energy high and interest levels peaking, I want the process to flow and be completely full with variety. (After all, at the beginning of the year, I am unfamiliar with who many of my students are as readers.) I ask students to jot down titles in their Writer’s Notebooks that have caught their attention as to keep them in mind – now or in the future.
Next, we physically tour the library where I expose students to the themes (not genres) that categorize our books. Fun ones such as: No Sleep Till Brooklyn (compliments of the Beastie Boys – books on our favorite borough), Behind Barbed Wires (Holocaust affiliated literature), A Day in the Life (stories of all kind)… Along the way I show students where I grabbed the books that were Book Talked. This is essential because, if students are interested in a particular piece, this process provides them with a focus. With so many books to choose from, initially narrowing down their interest to a section or two makes the process manageable…and quite enjoyable.
Once we’ve toured our library, students are given time to explore. They choose books that have caught their attention. Eventually, stacks of books are taken off the shelves and brought back to our tables. Students are then given an opportunity to interview their books of choice by having time to explore them – covers, flaps, table of contents, page 107; whatever they are drawn to.
To guide students along in this process I also provide them with The Six Steps to an Effective Book Interview:
1. Jot down the title and author of the book.
2. Study the cover. Jot down some of your thinking… What do you think this piece may be about? What do the colors and visuals represent? Does the cover alone capture your attention?
3. Read the back of the book or the inside flaps. What is this book about? What is intriguing or off-putting about this book? What questions do you have?
4. Open the book to any page of your choosing. Read three consecutive pages.
5. What do you foresee being an obstacle when reading this book? (Language, vocabulary, author’s point of view, etc.)
6. Are you interested in reading this book either now or in the future? Will it be going on your Next-to-Read List? Explain your rationale.
In the meantime, I am conferring with students all over the room: the ones at the library scoping things out, students who seem a bit disengaged, those who have chosen a piece at lightening speed, ones already interacting with The Book Interview and everyone in between. There becomes a buzz in the room which signifies the learning process has begun!
Before class rounds an end, I ask students to bring at least one book home with them and read for 45 minutes. This is a process. Some students are psyched about their choosings and others are disappointed that they didn’t find ‘the one’. We talk it through. It’s imperative for each student to leave with literature, yet we also leave with an understanding that if it does not feel like a right fit after they’ve had time outside of class to ‘play with it’, then we go back to the drawing board again tomorrow – knowing just a bit more about why it wasn’t the one. And the cycle of collecting data on students’ interests and needs commences.
Follow-Up: As the year progresses and students and I learn collectively what they enjoy reading (and what they are willing to be challenged by), Book Talks become more tailored to student interest. Sometimes they are done with specific students in mind, other times they are presented based on big ideas/themes (love, injustice, the power to overcome, etc.).
The beauty of this process is that although Book Talks remain a constant all year, students do not bore of them; every day they are different. And, students become more in-tune with what they enjoy, are curious about, want to challenge themselves with, etc. Typically by mid-year, students are no longer needing to use the The Book Interview because, by that point, it has become an innate part of their process.
What initial strategies do you instill in your classroom to make the rest of the year’s learning fruitful?