Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Talks Matter

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Every class period begins with reading in my classroom. I confer with five to seven high school students each day during structured independent reading time. I have a special place in my classroom that we call "the journal U" where I meet with readers and writers each day. The journal U is seven desks arranged in a  U shape at the front of my class. Much like a kidney table, the shape allows me to interact closely and quickly with students in a small group each day.

For today's slice, I'm going to share a conversation I had with Natalie, a tenth grader reader in my third period class.

Last week during a reading conference, Natalie and I talked about Ismael Beah's book, The Radiance of Tomorrow.

I updated the reading conference notes from last week with Nathalie's new titles.

You can listen in to what she had to say about that book by watching the conference video below.

Today's we are focused on last minute preparations before our writing test, but I couldn't ignore the new book on Nathalie's desk, so we had a short conversation today.

"What are you reading now? " I asked.

"We Were Liars," she said.

"Oh, I thought you were going to read Milk and Honey next."

 "I did. I finished it this weekend." She paused,  looked up at me and grinned.

Of course she did, I thought. Milk and Honey is the hot title making the rounds this spring. Line drawings, poetry, a book that fits in the palm of your hand, the pages are sweet, if a bit too sexual to actually shelve in my classroom.

"Of course you did," I say to Nathalie.  "Good for you, finishing another book this month! So, why did you choose We Were Liars next?" I love the book about a group of teens, a tragic event and how to come back from a wrong. When I first read it, I think I got to chapter three or four before the unreliability of the narrator dawned on me.

"I think you book talked it earlier this year," she said. "And I wanted to read it."

Yes! Book talks for the win. Too often I forget the power of a simple book talk--it's easy to let go of it, especially as we get into testing season (today is SAT day at school and our state's, high-stakes writing test is Monday).

When I talk up titles in our classroom library, kids remember them. They may write the title down on their "to be read" list. They may tag the title "to be read" on their Good Reads accounts; they might not do either of those things if the books I talk about don't appeal to them, but they do listen and odds favor the titles I talk up. Today's conversation with Natalie made me feel good about my practice. I'm glad she remembered the title when it came time to pick her next book!

Having a plan for what to read next--even just having an idea-- helps keep the reading momentum going.


  1. Nice! I love introducing and recommending books to my students.

  2. Lee Ann, every time I read about your classroom I want to be back in mine! Although I taught slightly younger students, their reading mostly mirrored your students' choices, too. It's just wonderful to see the love of reading in your class. I noted Milk & Honey, new to me! We Were Liars is an interesting read. I wonder how she'll like it? Thanks for the video, fun to hear your voice and Nathalie's.

  3. YES! This sounds so very familiar to my classroom at the moment. Milk and Honey are making the rounds, along with Crossover by Kwame Alexander, and I can never keep Ruta Sepetys's books on my shelf for more than a day. In talking with the students, many of them say they selected the book either because a friend had read it or because of the speed dating a book activity we did back in September.

    You've created a culture of readers! Bravo!

  4. Book talks are so powerful with kids. Every time I talk up a book it disappears into the hands of students and is gone for quite awhile. I don't think they get checked back in. Just passed hand to hand...

  5. Loved listening in to your classroom...such a rich conversation, and I loved peeking into all the scaffolds you created to ensure such conversations can take place.

  6. I talk about books with my students all of the time, but reading this, I realize it has been a LONG time since I did any whole group book talks. I need to change that!

  7. Yes- the TBR keeps the momentum going as does the conversation and the time investment!

  8. I love the power of a book talk! We have a daily one after independent reading time. I usually take the first two weeks of a quarter and one day a week after that. The kids are responsible for the rest. Fastest way to build a reading community. And thanks for the book talk of your own. I haven't read Milk & Honey. Adding to the list.