As we continue our work bonding as a reading community, I am struck by how often the idea of finding a good book comes up. Over and over again students share that they like reading only when they have the right book, that they cannot find the right book, that they have never read a book they truly like. And I watch them browse the books, unsure of what to look for, idly picking a book up only to drop it again the very next day. The more I think about; book shopping and how to find a great book is one of the biggest skills we can teach students before they leave us. And others agree, Donalyn Miller wrote her phenomenal book Reading in the Wild based on the notion that students need to be able to be readers without us and I couldn’t agree more. So while book shopping and how to find the right fit book is something being taught in classrooms all over the world, how can we make it more effective?
For the past few years, I have been inspired by my students to tweak the process a little bit. Here are the small things that seem to make a big difference in how we book shop in our classroom.
Old way: Books are displayed like a bookstore, in a row on the book shelves.
New way: Books are grouped together in bins by genre, topic, or author.
What difference does it make? The bins can be placed on tables as a group and students can easily flip through them. Students can also more easily identify where books are that may capture their interest. It also means that book covers are displayed out, catching the eye of readers as they sit in the classroom.
Old ways: Books are randomly placed back in their genre bins.
New way: I place all books back in the library taking care with which book is at the front of the bin, thus facing out to the class.
What difference does it make? Much like bookstores and libraries change their displays, so must we, so the fronts of our bins become mini displays that are ever changing. This is also a great way for “older” books to be discovered. Students see amazing books waiting to be read whenever they are in our classroom.
Old way: A designated book shopping time.
New way: Book shopping whenever they need it.
What difference does it make? Kids need a new book whenever they need a new book. They should not have to wait until a designated time or day to book shop. Encouraging them to book shop whenever it is needed, means that they always a have a new book to read. This also means that I can see how students book shop on their own and what their habits are, which, in turn, helps me help them become better book shoppers.
Old way: Book shopping was mostly silent as students tried to get through it as quickly as possible.
New way: Book shopping is a social event at least every few weeks.
What difference does it make? One of the things we work a lot on is creating a community of readers, and that community comes from finding your reading peers. So when students can bookshop and are encouraged to discuss books as they go, we are creating ties that bind us together as readers. I jump in and out of conversations as they book shop, perhaps highlighting a few books or helping a child that seems to be lost, but I love the conversations that I overhear about books and why a certain one looks amazing. This also shows that I am not the center of book shopping because students should not rely on me to be the one that finds them a great book, at least not at the end of the year, so the bookshopping event plants the seed for them to rely on each other, rather than just the teacher.
Old Way: Book shopping meant just new books.
New way: Book shopping piles are now a mix of new books and old favorites.
What difference does it make? While we all love brand new books, there are so many great books published in earlier years. I put these in the piles with the brand new shiny books so that students cane be introduced to them as well. I love when a child sees a loved book and has to share it with others to recommend it.
Old way: Book shopping lasts a few minutes.
New way: Book shopping takes the time it takes.
What difference does it make? Book shopping should take time, after all, students should be flipping through pages, perhaps reading a few, looking at the covers, and discussing books with each other. I ask my students to slow down and savor the moment, this helps them understand that book shopping is not just something we get through, it is something we enjoy.
Old way: Teacher as the first stop for book recommendations.
New way: To-be-read list as the first stop.
What difference does it make? Their To-Be Read list is my way of helping them rely on themselves rather than just on the teacher. So while I love book-shopping and recommending books, I also need to teach students that they can rely on themselves. So when a child asks me for a great new book to read, I ask them to find their to-be-read list first. This year our list is in our reader’s notebooks which stay in the classroom so the students always have access to it.
Old way: Book talks once in a while.
New way: Book talks every day.
What difference does it make? Inspired by Penny Kittle and her great book Booklove, I book talk a book every day, these can be books I have read or books that are brand new to us. I try to book talk a new book every class because kids want to check out the books right away so it is not fair to tell them to wait until the end of the day. My bigger goal though is that students take over these book talks, one student has already jumped in, and they start to recommend books to each other. Again, trying to shift the responsibility back on themselves rather than the teacher to find them books.
Old way: Little conversation about books they abandon.
New way: Book abandonment is written down and discussed.
What difference does it make? When a child abandons a book it is a conversation waiting to happen. Why did they choose to abandon the book? When did they abandon it? This is why we keep track of the books we abandon on our To-Be-Read lists, something most of them think is odd, but when I try to help them discover who they are as readers we start with the books they abandon. It is amazing to see students realize what types of books they do like by studying the types of books they don’t.
Old way: Book shopping guidelines apply just within the classroom.
New way: Book shopping guidelines apply to the library as well.
What difference does it make? I have noticed that students who know how to bookshop in our classrooms sometimes flounder in the larger school library. So this year, students are asked to bring their reader’s notebooks with their to-be-read lists in them and then book shop together. I will also be walking around with the groups pointing out great books.
A final idea for better book shopping is also to have a stack of books ready for the kid that just hates reading. These should be some of the books that have had the most success with other kids that really have written off reading. I pay attention to what the game changer books are for my 7th graders and will often pull these out when I help a child who says they hate reading find a book. It is amazing what some of these suggestions have done for planting a seed about how reading is maybe not the worst thing in the whole world. To see our list of some our game changers, go here.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.