It All Starts With The Book Talk!

Excited Readers = Excited Writers

Reading and writing are all too often cyclical. Everyone knows good reading fuels good writing and vice versa. As a middle school teacher, I really wish that I was able to teach reading and writing separately or even give them their own block of time, but I do also love the impossible harmony that is being a reading AND writing teacher. This post will explain how I start my week with students. I always start each hour the first day of the week with a book talk about a middle grade or young adult novel or nonfiction book. It kicks off my mentor text work with kids, and it gets them excited about a book they may or may not have heard about before.

Why Book Talks? What Are They?

We Are Teachers gives a great overview of the book talk process. Also, here is a great post from Pernille Ripp on book talks. Simply, book talks are short glimpses into what the book is about and why you should be reading it. I have seen lots of great book talks, and I have seen lots of book talks that lack the energy to get the audience involved. The goal of a book talk is always to have the the enthusiasm to make the book contagious. Same with teaching, I need to be excited about what I am doing so they get excited. As a book lover and reader myself, the goal for my teaching is to share this positive book relationship with my students as often as possible. Here are Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller talking about book talks:

My first book talk of the 2018-2019 school year was Ghost by Jason Reynolds. I happened to have 35 copies of it on hand, and those copies were gone after my third hour of doing the book talk. My other two hours were pretty disappointed they had to sign up for a wait list. This was a sure sign of a successful book talk, although, Jason Reynolds makes it easy by writing amazing books. We as teachers of writing must show our love for reading. It is hard for me to find time each week, but I have appreciated that by the end of the year I will expose them to 36 or more books than what they originally may have picked up from the shelves themselves.

How I Do a Book Talk

Step 1: Read the book and get excited to share it with other people.

Step 2: Use an attention grabber or hook to capture your audience’s attention. I like to start with the opening scene or the first line.

Step 3: Keep their attention using the highlights of the book or the favorite quotation from the book. I love the favorite quote because it reinforces that I am annotating and marking what I think it is important about a text.

Step 4: Explain why you loved the book. This really matters because this is the biggest part of the book talk where you can show enthusiasm for the book. I often am hugging the books I am talking about at this point.

Step 5: Show a book trailer. Kids ask me each week if I have a book trailer, and I always have something digital to show students that lasts about 2-3 minutes. Even if it is a non-fiction clip with information about the text. Seeing is believing.

Some Of My Book Talks

Student Book Talks

It is important to get student voices in the room as well. If you clicked on the video clip with Colby and Donalyn, they make a great point that “The best person to recommend a fifth grader a book is another fifth grader.” There are so many books out there! When we start looking at our students as experts of books as well, they build their own confidence when becoming book recommendation specialists to their peers and other teachers. This is the definition of a community of readers. Here are just a couple of the book talks my sixth graders completed before we went on break.

As I pause just for a moment to reflect on the awesomeness of student voice. I have signed each of my students up for the next four visits to the library to complete a book talk in front of the class. It is amazing to watch how students respect each other when they know it is difficult to get up and speak. The speaking and listening strands of our standards become so much more important as we learn to support each other. So many students were afraid to speak, even if it was just for 5-6 minutes. It reminds of slam poetry. If we learn to support each others’ voices, we learn to respect our own.

Writing Mindset Reflection: How do you incorporate book talks into your classroom? What is your FAVORITE way to balance the impossible harmony of reading and writing?