How To Reignite Their Desire to Read

Promote independent reading by hosting a book tasting in your classroom where kids can sample new books and hear your personal recommendations.

By Stef Durr


Stack of books in a library

Although the Common Core State Standards push nonfiction to the front of education during the middle and high school years, it’s still important to promote independent reading, whether pupils choose fiction or nonfiction works. Reading provides many benefits to the growing brain; it develops vocabulary, broadens horizons, builds background, increases fluency, and sparks creativity. We know kids should read; they know they should read, but the truth is that the growing number of book titles only makes it more difficult for kids to decide what to read. What can you, the teacher, do to help your readers choose a book that’s interesting, engaging, and appropriate for their age and reading level? 

Whet Pupils' Reading Appetite with a Book Tasting 

I have tried numerous things to combat this phenomenon. I even put aside class time for peer book suggestions, hoping that the excitement some kids found in their reading would rub off on their peers. However, it turns out the enthusiasm kids showed me about their reading, fell flat in front of their peers. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of hosting a book tasting. This event sparked interest and promoted engagement for even my most reluctant readers. 

Set the Tables 

  1. To prepare, print the tasting guide for each student. The worksheet currently has space for class members to taste, or investigate, five books, but you can adjust this number. It is important to ask learners to record specifics (like the teacher’s rating and the book’s first line), in order to keep them engaged in the day’s activity and to help them narrow down a choice at the lesson’s close.
  2. On the day of the tasting, set up anywhere from 15-30 books (all genres) around your classroom. Too few books, and you probably won’t spark an interest with all of your learners. Too many books, and they’ll be overwhelmed. Group the books by genre: mystery, non-fiction, historical non-fiction, classics, adventure, biography, etc. Each section should be clearly labeled so kids won’t have an excuse to waste time searching for a particular genre.
  3. In each book (or taped to the cover), place a notecard with your own personal review, a rating (out of five would be sufficient), and a conditional statement starting with if. For example, “If you liked The Great Gatsby, you might like this book because it’s also set in the 1920s and involves an odd, dramatic love triangle.” At this point in the year, the kids trust your opinion. They want to know how you feel about something before they decide how they feel about it. 

It’s Time to Taste! 

Everyone laughs at the idea of having a book tasting. I’ve even had kids pretend to lick my books! Before sending them off to explore their choices, discuss what it means to attend a tasting. Consider asking these questions to spark a brief discussion aimed at why you’re devoting a whole class period to the tasting:

  • Question: What does it mean to attend a tasting? What is expected from the guest?
  • Answer: Encourage your class to think about food tastings, as this is probably more relatable to them. As a guest, they must be respectful and polite. They must taste multiple selections, be respectful of the choices presented, and honestly consider the options laid out before them.
  • Question: Does the host choose things the he or she believes the guests will enjoy?
  • Answer: Of course! The host always wants the guests to be happy; he or she chooses things that will be appealing to their specific audience. To highlight this point, you could explain how your choice of books would differ if you were hosting a book tasting for other teachers at your school.
  • Question: How does he or she choose the selection?
  • Answer: As their teacher, you know some of their interests! They need to know this isn’t a random assortment of books you’ve thrown together; you’ve hand chosen the selection based on the topic, language, vocabulary, and reading level.
  • Question: Will the host be angry if the guests don’t find something they find appealing?
  • Answer: Absolutely not! While the host does his or her best to compile an interesting selection, one can never strike gold with every guest. However, highly encourage your learners to select an option presented, after all, you know the content and reading level.

After prepping your class, release them for the tasting! Since timers set boundaries and motivate students, consider setting the clock for the activity. Then, distribute the packets and begin. To start, give them 20-25 minutes, adjusting the time as necessary. This is also a great time to pull aside specific students; maybe you could point your highly skilled readers in a certain direction, or maybe you’ve selected a few options with a particular disinterested reader in mind. Now is the time to make those suggestions.

After the Tasting

With 5-10 minutes left in the period, give your class the opportunity to sit down and read over their notes. They revisit the five (or so) books they explored, choosing one to hunt down in the library or a nearby bookstore. Then, have each student write the name of their selected reading at the top of the front page to get an idea of what your class will be reading. If you’re hoping to group together some readers for literature circles or discussion groups, this provides the opportunity for you to do so. And if you’re not looking to create literature circles, it’s still worth noting which books seem popular with your classes.

How do you promote and manage independent reading in your classroom?

Consider Following Up with One of These Ideas:

A Reading State of Mind

In this article, Dawn Dodson, one of our article writers, discusses how she creates twice-weekly reading journals to connect independent reading with skills her students are covering in class.

Analyzing Literature through Book Projects

Several ideas are presented in this article! Readers explore social media by creating profiles for their character, plan a vacation for their character, or create a newspaper. These are not your typical independent reading projects!

Comic Book Presentations: Unleashing the Power of the Visual Learner 

Readers develop a deeper understanding of the literature they have read as they create comic books for their independent reading selection. They use online tools to help them plan, create, and complete a visual representation of their story.