Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tips for Giving a Great Booktalk

One of the centerpieces of my library program is booktalks.  Students come with their language arts class once every three weeks to hear about books I think they would enjoy.  They then have time to check out materials and free read in the library.  I love talking about books with middle school students, but I have to admit, I think I gave terribly boring booktalks when I first started teaching.  It takes a lot of reading both good and not-so-good novels to select the right combination of books for a talk.

Over the years, I've made certain rules for myself in designing my booktalks:

  1. Never booktalk a book you haven't read.  This is a hard one, but I think you are much more convincing when you really know the story and the characters. 
  2. Do not give the same booktalk to multiple classes during the same rotation.  I have 10 booktalks, which showcase 6 books, for each grade level.  I rotate them every time a class comes. That means that I have booktalks prepared for 60 books per grade level.  I do this because I want the books to be available for the students when I finish the talk.
  3. Have diversity in the booktalks.  I try to make sure that all 40 prepared talks have a balance of male and female protagonists.  I also strive to find great books with characters of different races and ethnicities.  Students want characters they can relate to; unfortunately, diverse stories are sometimes hard to find.  Thank goodness for great authors like Jacqueline Woodson, Angela Johnson, Sherman Alexie, and Gene Yan.  I also try to incorporate non-fiction titles and graphic novels.
  4. Know the right grade level.  Students typically will not read a book where the protagonist is younger than they are. When You Reach Me is one of my favorite novels, but I would never booktalk it to 8th graders; Miranda is in the 6th grade.  There are a few exceptions, but when I present in a group setting, I select books where the protagonist is the same age or older than the students.
  5. Leave the booktalk with a cliffhanger.  You never want to give away too much of the story, and you have to end with a reason to read the book.  Who are Janie's real parents? Will Leo stay loyal to Stargirl or follow his "friends"? Does Ender have what it takes to save our planet?  Students beg me to tell them what happens, and I love responding, "I guess you'll have to read the book."
  6. Use multimedia.  I like to turn down the lights when I talk and give the students something to view.  Most of the time I just project the cover of the book, but if there is a great book trailer, I will include it in the talk.  This changes the atmosphere; students feel like they are being entertained rather than lectured.  I'm in the process of converting all my booktalks to Prezis because I can easily embed Youtube booktrailers.
  7. Try to involve the students.  Ask them questions or poll them.  When discussing Among the Hidden, ask how many have at least 2 older siblings.  Then tell them they would not exist in this book.  When discussing The London Eye Mystery, see if anyone has seen or ridden on the Eye.  Kids love sharing their own stories, and it makes them much more interested in the novel.
You know you have given a great booktalk when the students race to the shelf as soon as you are finished!  Feel free to view some of my Prezis online and please offer any comments or suggestions.

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