Promote Outside Reading and Genuine Response with Book Reviews
Take Part in National Turn Off the TV and Read Month while engaging your class in authentic reading and writing.
By Noel Woodward
While this may not be the case in every eighth grade class, I know that in mine, when I mention that we are going to read, there is a collective groan. And yet, when I say we are going to watch a movie, most of the class whispers, “Yes!”
I want my students to read and enjoy reading, and I would like “yes!” to be the reaction to reading. With National Turn Off the TV and Read Month just around the corner, there is an excellent opportunity for increasing interest in reading. Participate by making independent reading a requirement and wrap up the reading with book reviews.
Tapping into Student Choice
Start off your unit by explaining the purpose of reading in place of watching television and then ramp up your out-of-class reading requirement. One way to engage students in reading is to provide some choice. Have them choose their own book to read. As long as it is class-appropriate, it is allowed. You might also have readers choose a book that is related to your current unit in order to deepen their understanding and give more purpose to the reading.
While it may be impossible to prevent children and teenagers from watching TV entirely, they will have less time to do so if they are reading (especially if they are interested in what they are reading). Give your class three weeks to read, and spend the last week writing book reviews.
Book Reviews as an Authentic Reader Response
After reading their book of choice, have each individual write a book review. A book review is different than a book report, since it is a real genre that can be found outside of the classroom. Everyone makes judgments while they are reading, and with book reviews, class members can express their opinions in written form.
Book reviews can be scaffolded, depending on the level of your class. You might start off by showing a series of models and real-life book reviews to your learners. If your class is advanced, let them take the reins and write their reviews in a way that makes sense to them. For learners who need more support, you might provide an outline with sentence starters and a place to fill in necessary information that is included in real book reviews. Either way, make sure your book reviewers have a chance to share their work with classmates and possibly a larger audience.
Publishing Inside and Outside of the Classroom
The final touch to make this experience authentic and effective for your students is to publish their work. Many young writers complain that they just read and write about what they read, with no real-life application. Publication is definitely authentic and rewarding. Learners will love seeing their name and work in print. Here are five ideas for publishing book reviews:
- Have each class member print out a copy or send you a copy of their review. Create a class book review binder, or bound booklet, and place it near your classroom library. Learners can read the review of a book before choosing it to be their next reading book.
- Contact a local bookstore and ask if they would welcome reviews of books they have in stock. Stores often have bulletin boards and some shops have websites and blogs where they post information about their products.
- Create a class blog and post book reviews. You can provide your class with the URL and writers can view their own work as well as read and comment upon the work of their classmates.
- Send book reviews off to journals. Publications, such as NCTE’s Voices from the Middle, accept work from young writers and publish their work.
- Involve the whole school and display book reviews in the front office. Writers can show their work off to their friends each time they walk by.
This lesson lays out a plan for keeping class members engaged in reading and reviewing throughout the year. Writers are required to post at least two book reviews online. Once posted, other pupils access the reviews and provide feedback.
From the New York Times’ The Learning Network, this detailed plan asks readers to not only share books they enjoy, but to also make connections between different works of literature. The culminating activity is a book review that stresses common elements and themes among several books.
Engage your class in historical fiction. Young readers choose a historical fiction book from a variety of provided choices. Once they have read their book, pupils write a review and post it on a class timeline according to the time period of their chosen work of fiction. This lesson provides an effective way to teach book reviewing as well as the genre of historical fiction.