Finding Good Book Reviews to Serve as Models

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SWBAT use a custom Google search engine, search for book reviews, and select appropriate book reviews to serve as models and for insights into their "choice" books.

Big Idea

... there are limited ways for students to find academically serious or rigorous book reviews ...

Introduction and Context

10 minutes

Unlike film reviews, book reviews are difficult to come by -- good ones that is ...  For film one need only use IMDB or -- these two sites alone provide hundreds of excellent film reviews from major newspapers and magazines as well as reputable online only media like Salon or Slate.

But, if you simply search a book title in Google, you will get everything from user commentary at to award winning critics' opinions from The New York Times or The Boston Globe (for instance).  My point is simply that there is not a reputable "clearing house" for good book review content, and students have difficulties determining the level of quality (at times) -- I mean it is the first hit in Google (they often observe) so it must be "good."

I discovered a way to address this problem two years ago when I read online about Google's custom search engine feature; in Sept. of this past year, Wired posted an excellent short piece on custom search. If you have a Google acct., you can "make" Google itself search only where you tell it to in a custom search engine.  These are actually easy to make (as I explain in the attached video and with the attached handout), and, well, the mind reels at the possibilities for helping your students to land on the EXACT right content in your classes.  (As always with Google products the help files are extensive and cogent.)

Hopefully, if you use this lesson, you will discover this nifty tool and its uses for your own curricular needs ... as an important caveat regarding the resources here - use BOTH the video and the .pdf handout to assist you ...


After I give my students a thumbnail version of the above observation, I direct them to my classroom blog, where they will use the search engine I built during the day's guided practice exercise ...

Guided Practice: Searching, Weeding, Saving

35 minutes

After students listen to my introduction and have a good idea of why a custom search engine is important for finding content, I have them use the search engine at my blog.  

I ask them to look though the pages that return and select 6 - 8 reviews of more than 1000 words (or so) and, then, to cut-n-paste the urls for these "target" reviews into a Google Doc or even an email to themselves -- just somewhere where they will have a reference for these urls.  I explain, also, that by tomorrow's class period they should have added 5 "target" reviews to their Research Interests list on their Research Notebook.  I point out, further, that this will be a great place to keep the urls handy for future reference (as well as add content to this page for the upcoming final summative check of the Research Notebook site).

When selecting the "target" reviews, I state that these reviews ought to be accessible (to the individual student), thorough, and useful to form a better understanding of the text.  I ask them to pick ones that enhance their meaning of the book they have now finished reading.  I expect these "target" reviews to also be used as models for the writing of their own reviews.