Tag Archives: sharing books

#FridayReads: 6 Ways to Stir Up Your Daily Book Talk

I’m not sure if it is because we are on the cusp of cold weather or that we just ended quarter one, but my students are dragging.  They rub their eyes more in the morning, carry in larger cups of coffee, and stoop a little lower in their chairs.

This lethargy seeps into even my strongest classes, which is why I like to change up my approach to book talks from time to time to re-energize students before they dive into their independent reading books.  Here are five ways I stir up my book talks.

  1. Musical Chairs: Music is naturally energizing and I love getting books in students’ hands FullSizeRenderquickly. This is “played” like typical musical chairs, the main difference is that students who sit in a chair also get to look at the book that has been placed on the desk behind them (I have separated desks and chairs so I face the chairs outwards).  The student left without a chair writes a “mini-book talk” on the board, which includes the title of the book they have read this year, the author, how many stars it would receive out of five, and a quick sentence to get readers interested.
  2. Group Book Talks: Getting students chatting about books is one way to ramp up energy at the start of class. My desks are grouped into fours, so students turn to their group members and book talk their current book (or a book they read prior).  Oftentimes there are repeat book talks from books I previously shared, but I reiterate the value of multiple perspectives and opinions.  What others notice as readers might be something I never thought to share.
  3. Guest Book Talks: I’ve spent years chatting with my favorite library staff about new YA books,FullSizeRender-3 but sadly it didn’t dawn on me to tap into their brilliance until this year.  Our phenomenal librarian Kathy Vetter book talked Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates to my AP Literature students, and our AV and computer lab guru, Melissa Ciotti, book talked Little Brother by Cory Doctorow to my freshman classes.  By the end of their visits, all copies had been checked out of both the classroom and school libraries.  Next up, I have a PE teacher…and hopefully our principal! Students need positive reading role models in all of their educators.
  4. Speed Dating: I have mentioned speed dating with books multiple times before, but it is one of my favorite ways to get books off my shelves and into my students’ hands. I typically put the desks in a circle and have students rotate the books every minute or so, but I love Amy’s approach as well.
  5. Book Talk Puzzle: This is a longer project, but I love the final product.
    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students piece together their final book talk puzzle.

    Students write out book talks on large puzzle pieces.  I have students discuss their favorite parts of the book and to whom they might recommend it.  Finally they draw their favorite scene, symbols, or images from the book.  Once the puzzle pieces are complete, we share our final products, build the puzzle, and put it on display for our peers.

  6. Book Trailers: I had my Advanced Composition students complete book trailers last year. The final films were phenomenal and provided excellent material for this year’s book talks.  I oftentimes play the film for my students then read an excerpt to expose them to the language.  There are some brilliant book trailers here and sprinkled across the Internet and TTT.

What do you do to change up your book talk schedule during the year? What are some unique ways you introduce your students to various titles?


Growing Readers

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

Autumn in my New Hampshire school district.

In New England, where I teach, time is measured by temperature. New Englanders cherish Indian summers (the bout of warmth before fall settles in); we sense the bite of autumn, and can smell an oncoming snow. We are a community of seasons, and ultimately these changes dictate the course and development of our year. In turn, to show the development of my classes’ reading progress throughout the year, I drew my inspiration from what New England is famous for—its foliage. To visually represent my classes reading progress within the reading workshop, I developed a reading tree.

The concept of the tree is simple: for every book read, students received a leaf. On the leaf they wrote their initials, the book they read, and the author. They would then staple the leaf to their class’ branch. In turn, students had a visual representation of their individual progress (because they put their initials on the leaves) as well as their class’ progress. They would look to the tree to see what books were the most popular/appeared on the tree most often.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The bare tree before students arrived.

The reading tree exhibits student work and promotes individual success. In addition, it also reinforces teamwork since students look to see how their class is doing as a whole. Furthermore, the tree inspires friendly competition between classes. When I first introduce the tree, I tell students that the class with the most books read wins an ice cream party at the end of the year. This year, due to increased federal health regulations on snacks during the school day, my rules have changed. Instead, students will be able to drop two of their lowest reading scores. Unlike last year, I will tally the total books per class every quarter instead of at the end of the year to determine each quarter’s winner.

Construction for the tree is relatively simple and can be used from year to year.


  • One concrete form tube sawed in half. I purchased mine from Home Depot and they sawed it in half for me
  • Two cans of brown spray paint. I used a textured spray paint similar to Rust-oleum’s multicolored textured spray paint, but you can use any type
  • A ream of brown paper—the same type you use to cover bulletin boards
  • A staple gun and staples.
  • Four packs of different colored paper for the leaves.
  • Brown or black duct tape
  • Bulletin board


  1. Spray paint the concrete form tube with the two cans of brown spray paint. This will serve as your trunk.
  2. Pull large sections of the paper of the ream and begin twisting the paper. As you twist the paper, begin stapling it to the concrete tube using the staple gun. Continue ripping off multiple pieces of paper from the ream, twist and intertwine them as you go along. This will make your trunk look three-dimensional and more realistic. Leave long ends on the bottom. Twist these to a point to create the roots of the tree.
  3. Before you get to the top of the trunk, fashion what looks like a strap. I did this by taking a piece of the brown paper and folding it to make a 2’ X 6” rectangle to wrap around the top of the trunk and affix to the wall. I reinforced the back of the piece of paper with brown duct tape. I then put this strap around the front of the trunk where the bulletin board first meets the concrete tube. I stapled the strap to the tree then the excess ends of the strap to the bulletin board to ensure that the tree wouldn’t fall over once it was complete.
  4. Finally, I continued twisting individual brown pieces of paper and then layering them by twisting multiple pieces together to create a thicker branch. Make sure to create a branch for each of your classes that will be participating.
  5. As you create the larger branches, staple them to the bulletin board. Because the paper is pliable, it is easily to manipulate to look more like a tree. Add smaller branches by twisting additional paper scraps.
  6. Cut out small leaves and store them in a jar or bag to give out to students as they finish their books. I usually have a volunteer cut them out for me so that I have a bulk amount for each quarter.
  7. Get excited to watch your tree (and readers) blossom!
    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

    The reading tree full of leaves at the end of last year.

While the tree may look complex, it does not take an extraneous amount of time to complete or teach to students. Last year, I allowed my classes to pick which branch they would like to use. Furthermore, I color coded the leaves based on the quarter. Each quarter, I would let my students pick the new leaf color. Green was the first quarter, red was second, orange was third, and yellow was fourth. Just as fall foliage shows the change of seasons in New England, the changing leaves showed my students their development and growth as readers throughout the year.




It’s Monday. What are You Reading?

Mon Reading Button PB to YAI just want you to know that I love love stories. I especially like to read about love as we get closer to my Favorite Holiday– Valentine’s Day! So, with that in mind, I asked my sweet school librarians to find me David Levithan’s book The Lover’s Dictionary. I found it on my desk this morning. I know nothing about this book except:

1) It has an awesome cover.

2) It is written with page headings like dictionary entries.

3) It has me hooked with this on page 3:

abyss, n.

There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us.


Who Needs Books?

I have a book addiction. I admit it. I am addicted to books. Of course, I read them, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I also collect them.

I think I need to stop.

Yesterday, I invited my colleague to bring her class to my room, where I could chat to them about books. I’d just returned from NCTE in Las Vegas where I shipped home five boxes of books I’d collected from the exhibition hall. Five boxes. I also had two tote bags full of the books I got at ALAN, special ones with author signatures.

Book Addict Heaven.

When my friend’s class arrived, I had them sit around my eight tables, which I’d piled high with 6 to 8 new books, mostly ARCs. First, I book talked a few of my favorite YA titles: Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, Delirium. I asked these 9th graders what they liked to read. They told me, and I explored shelves and unopened boxes for books that would match interests. One kid asked for fantasy. Another asked for paranormal. Surprise endings? More copies of The Fault in Our Stars? Others like it?

I had each student choose one book from the stack on the table.

“Just one that you think might interest you.”

Then I set a timer and had them read for three minutes.

“Stop. What do you think? Do you like the narrator’s voice? Do you want to keep reading?”

Students could keep reading that book or choose another they thought looked more interesting. Again, they read for three minutes. We did four rounds of this. Each in-between-time talking more books, and what kids liked or didn’t like. The pace was quick.

I heard comments like:

“I read that one. It’s good.”

“Mrs. M. has that one on her shelf. I want a different one today.”

“If you liked that, you might like this.”

“I’ll finish this over the weekend, I hope I can come back Monday.”

I am pretty sure every student found a book to read–most found two. My friend created a sign out sheet that she’ll keep track of for me. I hope I get my books back, especially the signed ones, but it’s okay if I don’t. The books were free to me (I don’t even mind the shipping fee.) See, I love books; my bookshelves are bulging and cluttered, and the books my friend’s class took didn’t even make a dent. I really have become more of a collector than anything. Sure, my own students read books. We read and talk books all the time. But I only have so many students, and they can only read so many books.

Why do I have so many just sitting there? Wouldn’t they be of better use in the hands of other readers?

I had some interesting discussions with my students this week as we got started on a global issues project. We talked about literacy, and I shared these statistics:

  • More than eight million students in grades 4-12 read below grade level. Most are able to sound out words—the challenge isn’t to teach them to decode text but, rather, to help them comprehend what they read.
  • Only 31% of America’s 8th-grade students—and roughly the same percentage of 12th graders—meet the National Assessment of Educational Progress standard of reading “proficiency” for their grade level.
  • Among low-income 8th graders, just 15% read at a proficient level.
  • On average, AFrican-American and Hispanic 12th-grade students read at the same level as white 8th-grade students. (This one made my kids mad.)
  • The 25 fastest-growing professions have far greater than average literacy demands, while the fastest-declining professions have lower than average literacy demands.
  • Roughly 23% of high school graduates are not ready to succeed in an introductory-level college writing course.
  • About 40% of high school graduates lack the literacy skills employers seek.
  • Male and female students with low academic achievement are twice as likely to become parents by their senior year in high school compared to students with high academic achievement.
  • High school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be arrested in their lifetimes. (From Alliance for Excellent Education: http://www.all4ed.org/publications/FactSheets.html)
 Why am I holding on to books, if I know that reading can make a child’s life richer and more complete? Pretty selfish of me really.
I think it’s time I overcame my addiction, broke my book-collecting habit, and learned to share my books. No longer will I boast of having a great classroom library. I’d rather boast of having gifted books that helped create life-long readers.
Guess what my students are getting for Christmas? colleagues, too.
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