Read with Me: Presenting Book Talks

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SWBAT share the books they read by presents book talks for their free-choice book selections.

Big Idea

"Literature is my utopia." Helen Keller

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Context and Time Frame

Throughout the year I promote reading by having students read books of their choosing. For the first free-choice reading, students choose a book from any genre and from any lexile range. I take this approach because I'm interested in learning about the students as individuals, and their choices tell me much about them. I will allow students to read picture books, and I keep some in my room for the speech classes I teach; however, a picture book may not suffice as a book choice I grade. Since I have to record grades, I typically give half points for completing the Book-Talk-Template.doc (from a web search originally and now on Teacher Web) or some version of this and half points for the presentation. 

This lesson offers suggestions for introducing students to finding books using 

  • spine poems and 
  • creating spine poems

Additionally, the lesson features a student book talk divided by sections:

  • Student introduction to the book and sharing a passage,
  • Student commentary on the book,
  • Student concluding remarks, including who might like the book.

The lesson time frame is 75 minutes, but there are no hard and fast rules for sharing books and talking about books. From taking a class period for student presentations to filling in leftover class time with a book talk to responding to eager students who are excited about sharing their love of reading, the important thing is to talk about and read books.

First Things First: Beginning Each Class with Free-Choice Reading

10 minutes

The first ten minutes in my class are devoted to reading choice. Students read a book of their choice, and I read one of my choosing, too. 

Today is the first day for free reading time this year. Have some books ready for those students who "forgot" their books or who have not chosen a book yet. Teachers who don't have their own books can use the textbook or selections from the book room. Most important is students having something to read during this time. It may take a few days to get all on board. 

Empowering students to choose books is vital to their future reading lives. I allow students to read audio books, ebooks, and print books. This is not the time for reading a magazine, which may result in students simply looking at pictures. 

Additionally, I want students to connect their personal reading lives to their academic lives, specifically in their upcoming multigenre inquiry projects, which I'll introduce and explain in subsequent lessons.

Several professional texts have influenced my philosophy about reading choice:

Readicide by Kelly Gallagher

Reading Ladders by Terry Lesene 

Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones by Tom Newkirk

Book Love by Penny Kittle

Once students get use to the habit of reading every day, they'll beg for more time. 

A couple of students did come to class w/out a book but quickly found one from my selection. Two girls finished the books they checked out on Friday and selected new ones. One girl finished Prom and Prejudice, which is a rewrite of Pride and Prejudice, and another finished Starters, a Ya dystopian novel.

I took a minute to get all settled and set the timer. I also read while students read. In class I'm reading The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. I chose this book because it's the book that inspired Tom Romano to envision multigenre inquiry projects, which my students will be working on at a later date.  

Finding Books with Spine Poems

15 minutes

I have a small classroom library and encourage students to check out books from me and to tell me what books they want to read so that I can acquire them if our library doesn't have a copy. Additionally, I talk to students and learn about the genres they prefer so that I can help them find books. 

One way to help students find books is by asking them to peruse the shelves and create a Spine Poem. Simply, a spine poem is a type of found poetry created by using the titles on the spines of books to compose a poem. I tell students there is one rule: the spine poem must make sense. If it doesn't and if the student can't explain the poem to me, I send them back to "rewrite" the poem. Here are some student examples: Spine Poem 2 and Spine Poem 3.

The spine poems featured here include titles from a variety of genres: 

  • Nonfiction: Into Thin Air
  • YA New Release: Somebody Up There Hates You
  • Contemporary Adult: One True Thing
  • Dystopian Series: Gone
  • Classic: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  • Graphic Novel: Smile

It's important to keep a variety of genres available for students because they have myriad tastes. 

After students create spine poems, they share them w/ the class so that others get a sense of the titles available. 

Sharing Books by Book Talking

60 minutes

It's important that teachers model book talks throughout the year. This helps students find books. 

For the first book talk, I use Lane Smith's "It's a Book." This is the rare time when the "movie" (book trailer) is better than the book. I tell students this. Showing them the book trailer is a nice way to make reading a fun experience, validate their ways of reading, and model a new book talk method. 


Next, I presented a more traditional book talk and used Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson. I showed students the book and said, "Tyler is the first person narrator. He's like many students. He has girlfriend problems, family issues, and school problems to deal with." Then I read the first page to students because it uses some humor and had me hooked when I read the book a couple of years ago.

After my book talks, I asked students to begin keeping a TBR (To Be Read) list. This, I explained, is what good readers do. Several added Twisted to their list. I had planned to distribute the reading log and even had this on the board. However, I forgot. 

As I indicated in the introduction to the lesson, book talks need not be presented all at once in one class. When students present their book talks, I allow them to have their notes in hand, but they must also have the book to get full credit. If the book is on an e-reader, that needs to be available. I like for students to see an image of the cover, so sometimes we pull it up on the screen if the student is using an e-reader.

The book talk featured here is from a student who chose a book from her family's selection. In the first part of the talk, Amber gives the title and author of her book and shares a passage from it: Amber's book talk passage includes her reading the passage.

In the next part of the book talk, Amber talks about the book and why it appeals to her. Additionally, she makes a connection to C.S. Lewis's The Screwtape LettersAmber's book talk commentary 

Finally, Amber offers some suggestions about who might like the book she chose in Amber's book talk recommendation to readers.

I don't pay attention to the book talk form when students present their book talks, unless I sense a gap in the information, and I encourage them not to worry about the order of information in the book talk. The important thing is to have a conversational presentation and to help others find books they will love to read.

Creating a TBR List

5 minutes

As the year progresses and students present more book talks and see the titles others are reading, they will begin to share. To help this process along, it's important to help students create a TBR list. A TBR list is a "To Be Read" list of books. 

I have a TBR list on Goodreads and tell students about this. I also add to my list at school and students see me do this. In her book Book Love, Penny Kittle talks about how life-long readers always have a pile of books and a list of titles they plan to read. That way we're never w/out a good book.