Book Talks vs. Book Reports

When I was a child I had to do traditional book reports. We had to read X amount of books and write a certain amount of words/paragraphs/pages about the books that we read. I've always been an avid reader but once in 6th grade I remember writing an entire book report based upon just chapter one and the summary on the back of the book. Those were the days before the internet and I was still able to pretend I'd read a book. Today it's much easier to pretend you've read a book.

How many books have students read for pleasure in the past year?

As an ELA teacher I give book talks pretty much every day. Students will ask me what I'm currently reading, if I've read a certain book, to recommend a book or to tell them about a book in my classroom library. Also every time I teach a new book I do a book talk before giving out the books. I give so many informal book talks it's like second nature to me.

Many of my students aren't readers and they hate public speaking. As teachers we need to figure out ways to foster a love of reading and try to help students get over their fear of public speaking.

When I started teaching I gave students traditional book reports. I wanted them to read more so we'd have the book we were reading as a class and then they'd have to pick one book to read independently each marking period. The problems are that 1) I didn't know if they were actually reading and 2) book reports are boring. They didn't like writing them and in all honesty I didn't like reading them. I wanted to foster a love for reading and book reports were not the way to do it.

A few years ago my school started having independent reading once a week in all ELA classes. As a department we decided which day to do this. Students could either read a book from the classroom library or bring their own. Obviously everyone reads at their own pace and everyone picked books of varying lengths. I didn't assign a due date but I told students that they had to do one book talk each marking period. I modeled a formal book talk using a book I'd read recently. I used the following format:

Title of Book
Number of Pages
Information about the author
Summary of the book ( a paragraph or two)
Connections to the book
Read a passage to the class and explain why you chose it.
Recommendation (Who would enjoy this book?)

After the book talk I asked the class if they had questions. After each student's book talk their classmates asked questions. Sometimes (not always) after a book talk other students wanted to read a book someone else had read. That never happens with a book report. The more book talks a student did (they sometimes did more than required), the more comfortable they got speaking in front of the class.

How often do your students visit the library?

I still had students that didn't love reading but I think that book talks were effective for many students. Even if you don't have time for independent reading during class, I think you should consider having students give book talks in class. It will help them with public speaking and the class will learn about a variety of books.

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