Dinner Table Book Talks

“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.

plate 6

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.

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7 thoughts on “Dinner Table Book Talks

  1. margaretsmn December 8, 2019 at 7:54 am Reply

    I’m planning to use this idea. Such a great low stakes way to incorporate book talks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Anne Eck December 8, 2019 at 1:17 pm Reply

      Thank you Margaret! It really does get them talking but without the anxiety that sometimes comes with talking in front of your peers.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Elisa Waingort December 7, 2019 at 1:17 pm Reply

    I love this idea, Leigh Anne. Thanks for sharing it. Just curious about how often you did this with students.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Anne Eck December 8, 2019 at 1:19 pm Reply

      Thanks Elisa. I typically do this before Thanksgiving. In the last two years I assigned the plate while I was at NCTE, and then we had the dinner talks the Tuesday after I returned. The timing works out well. I only do this once as I hand over the book talks to them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Tracy Vogelgesang December 6, 2019 at 10:05 pm Reply

    This is a great idea, Leigh Anne! I’m wondering how I could adapt this to help students share their writing. We often do museum or gallery walks. This could be another option.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Leigh Anne Eck December 8, 2019 at 1:20 pm Reply

      Thank you Tracy. I think you could do this with writing as well. It is similar to a gallery walk, only it is at the “dinner table.”

      Liked by 1 person

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