Each quarter, I ask my students to participate in a Book Talk. They choose one book that they have been reading that is at their level and share with a small group of 8 to 10 students. On Book Talk day, I create groups based on interest if possible and have students sit in a circle with their books. They basically follow a rubric that I swiped from someone and modified to make it work for me.
It is a really simple process that I started for several reasons. Sixth grade is an age where many students, and I hate to say it, but many boys, lose interest in reading. It is tough to make sure they are reading. I initially started the Book Talk as sort of a reading accountability piece. My other reason is that I secretly hope that each student will fall in love with a book and share it with us! I want to promote the simple joy of reading which is why I don't pair it with a written assignment or report. We do enough writing about what we read in class. On book talk day, we simply read and talk about it!
Most students are successful, but I do have a few students every quarter that don't read the whole book or (gasp!) don't read any of it! It usually only happens once because I don't go easy on their grades.
I find that Book Talks give students the opportunity to read what they are interested in and also read at their individual lexile, which doesn't always happen in class. This activity also promote CCSS in that it exposes to students to a variety of text in their own complexity band.
Some quarters my book talks last for 60 or 90 minutes, and I start to feel guilty for spending instructional time on it. I am also known to sneak in a few minutes of reading time or take my class to the library to make sure everyone has a good book. Even though these practices do take some time, I feel that my job as an ELA teacher is to promote the love of books. After all, I want my students to be life long readers and enjoy doing it, so I am willing to spend a few days simply discussing the good books we've read. And when I say we, I include myself! I try to always give a book talk and introduce my students to a new author or series.
For the more avid reader, I offer an alternative to a book talk which is Book Club. Students who participate in Book Club read a pre selected book (most of the time by me) and meet every other week during recess to discuss it. I usually have the students read around 50 pages between meetings and write 3-5 questions using Blooms Question Starters to bring to discussion. I really try to stay out of the conversation if possible and try to let the students discuss freely, but I do have to step in and redirect on occasion.
For my first Book Club of the year, I selected Double Identity by Margaret Haddix Peterson. This book is a page turner and the kids get hooked right away.
I wanted to choose another title because I had a limited amount of Double Identity books and lots of kids wanting to participate in book club.
I started reading Nothing but the Truth by Avi but quickly realized that there are a couple of bad words. I was bummed because it was really interesting, and I thought my boys would love it. It is about a high schooler who tries to annoy his teacher. What better topic for 6th grade boys??? I read the whole book, and at the end, I realized why the author chose to use such strong language. I decided to use it for Book Club anyway. I talked with each student that chose the book, telling them that there was some strong language and asked them to decide if they were comfortable with it. Most kids were fine and explained that they "had seen movies before!" Before long word got out that the Book Club book had a bad word in it. Soon after, Book Club exploded! Boys were coming out of the woodwork willing to give up their recess just to read the book with the bad word (which in the realm of bad words isn't really that bad...)
It has been very awesome to watch those boys ( and two girls) who are not really into reading, devour a book. They really are loving it! Much of the book is written as a script or in memos, so it seems to go really fast which helps too.
We had our first book club meeting this week, and it went well. I had fully planned on setting up norms and discussing the questions we wrote, but the kids were so excited to begin that I completely forgot! Yikes!
The Double Identify book club didn't need any of that though. They were born to be in a book club. They sat down, got out their questions, and began discussing.
On the other side of the room was the Nothing but the Truth Book Club who I affectionately call "The Bad Word Book Club". They had never done anything like this before and were shouting out questions while standing and waving their books. I ended up sitting with this group and using a "talking stick" method to keep the chaos at bay. They were successful in the end even had a great discussion about why the author would choose to use a bad word in the story.