I’ve never been a big fan of the book report. When I was in sixth grade my teacher, Mr. Young, assigned us a book report every week. Back then I loved reading series chapter books, Trixie Belden, The Bobsey Twins, Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames- oops, I’m dating myself! Our teacher really didn’t care if we were reading any sort of variety….only that we reported every week. I know that this was accountability for some of the students in my class, but it really annoyed me that I had to retell the plot on a weekly basis. And I didn’t think he graded them at all…most of the time, we all just got a ‘C’ written in red pen on the top left of the paper. One day I decided that since there was a pretty good retelling on the back of the book that I would just use that. I got it back with an ‘F’. I was caught red-handed and repented profusely.
In today’s world some of us still feel that need to keep our students accountable in some way. I prefer to use a‘ double circle drill’ or ‘book dates’. It is only fair to students that they know that one of these forms of discussion will be coming on a regular basis, every two weeks or so. It is necessary to have their book with if they want to refer to a page, read a part of the description, or make a connection or prediction.
This is how I usually set up for double circle drill. The desks are pushed to the edges of the room if I don’t have enough space for them to be in a circle. If I have 30 students 15 will be the inner ring and 15 will be the outer ring. Each ring faces the other ring and they are matched up with a person to start with. If there is an uneven group. I will lead the drill and also partner up. I ask some warm up questions: How is your day going? What are you looking forward to after school? etc. I usually will have the outside person talk first and then the inside person. I blow on a soft old fashioned train whistle and even if they are not done talking. it is the inside circle that rotates one person to the right or clockwise. They now have a new partnership. I will have them answer a general question about their book (example: Is it fiction or non-fiction?) and then we rotate again after both people converse. Each consecutive question I get a little more detail oriented. If a student hasn’t been reading, they will not be able to converse logically about their book. It is very good peer accountability.
‘Book dates’ is very similar, but the goal is to talk about your book for about two minutes each and then find an open seat in the classroom to hear about another book somewhere else in the room when the whistle blows. This is fun because it has a game-like quality and the students have the flexibility to discuss what they want to from their book or magazine. Magazine…..yikes, did you say that? I believe students who are just moving in to the reading game should be allowed to read articles from specific magazines. Obviously, I don’t let them choose magazines that have any underwear commercials in them. I prefer National Geographic, Sports Illustrated (for Kids), the newspaper or Time for Kids. We discuss ahead, what is allowed and what is not. I also will allow ‘clean comic books’, and the latest genre- graphic novels.
I have found that most students participate and are definitely doing the reading. It is hard to talk about something that you are not reading. Students that are not reading???? Well that is where the other students and I can be very helpful. We are able to sometimes find that very first book that turns them on as a reader- it can come from me or most of the time another student. The most important thing for me is of course, that they have choice as well as voice !