Book Tasting: A Recipe for Designing Student Book Clubs in Language Arts Classes

I’ve done many variations of book tasting activities over the years, but this past Wednesday (February 21) I did one that did not involve as much planning and was structured differently.  However, as simple as this format was, I think it was one of the most effective variations I’ve tried.

I began by working on a wish list of nonfiction and fiction books available in our media center that I felt would be good choice for soon to be graduating seniors.  I originally had planned to do all nonfiction, but after reviewing numerous lists of books for “freshmen reads” or “one book, one campus” programs, I adjusted my original plan to include some fiction.  My media specialist, her assistant, and their student helpers graciously pulled my wish list and delivered them on a book truck to my classroom for our book tasting.

We began by reviewing the procedures for the book tasting form.

I projected a real-time clock (you can click the enlarge link to make the clock full screen) with my LCD projector on the screen so that students could track their time (phones were tucked away in our phone nursery).   This structure kept everyone moving along roughly at the same pace, but students could complete their reflections and select the next book without feeling rushed or having to stay lock-step with their peers as I’ve done in the past.  The result was a more relaxed feeling book tasting, and most students seemed deeply engaged in their selections.  I noticed some students quietly trading books or sharing a quick whisper about a book, so it was heartwarming to see some of them providing support and encouragement to a friend.  Overall, most students worked right at 60 minutes; some worked a little longer.

Once students had finished their 6 book tastings, they completed a book ranking form; I did not give this to students until they had finished the activity (see final page of the book tasting document for this final form).   Thankfully, our block schedule lends itself to this approach of book tasting.

After class ended, I used my planning period to type up students’ first choices.   Once I had completed this task, I could see how many students had picked the same first choice; in other instances, I could look at first choice selections by theme and group students into book clubs around books that shared a certain genre of writing and/or themes.  This took some time as I tried to avoid bumping any students to a second choice (though I told them this possibility was one that might happen).  I also did not want any groups smaller than four though I do have one group of three; the rest of the groups have 4-5 members.   After a bit of tinkering, I finalized the list Wednesday night.  As you can see, clubs are either organized by a common read OR by shared themes and genres.  I’m especially excited to see how the “cross pollinating” groups organized by theme/genre with different books work out.

Now students will get their book assignments on Friday, and we’ll head down to the media center to finalize our book checkouts plus return the cart of books that were not selected.  Once we return to the room, book clubs will meet to decide norms, expectations, and responsibilities; we’ll then do a large group share (a blog post on this activity will come soon).  I am thankful to Julie Swinehart for generously sharing her work and strategies in this area!  If you are not following her blog, do so NOW.  In addition, I am indebted to my friend and fellow English teacher at Norcross High, Sarah Rust, for her inspiration (please note many of the Vine videos that were in the post no longer work since Vine shut down–sadness!).

In my next blog post, I’ll share our norm setting activity as well information about  our book club meetings and activities that will begin the first Friday in March!  Are you doing book clubs with seniors or other middle/high school students?  What strategies do you use and like for forming book clubs?

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