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Video Booktalks — Booktalk 101

By Mary Blow on November 30, 2010
  • Grades: 6–8

Have you ever had one of those moments when you begin teaching a well-planned lesson, and the students’ enthusiasm takes it in an entirely new direction? This happened to me at the beginning of the school year. My students and I were sharing our favorite books in the classroom when the idea transpired to record our booktalks like a talk show. So, we grabbed our flip camera and started recording. In the process, we learned that there were some key elements to creating a successful, engaging talk show. Throughout the year, as we create more video booktalks, we will be evaluating what we create and striving for improvement.

There are six video booktalks included in this post.



Read_every_day Scholastic 90 birthdaqyOn this particular day, I took advantage of a teachable moment. We succeeded through class discussions and student responses. The collaborative approach motivated students to solve problems, critique videos, and strive to set new goals. As a result, students are now motivated to read because they want to be interviewed on Booktalk 101, our talk show. A seed has been planted. Plans for expanding and improving our talk show are in the works. We will be sharing our video booktalks in celebration of Scholastic’s 90th anniversary celebration promoting global literacy.

The videos below illustrate what our public speaking skills were like at the beginning of the year. The videos have many wonderful qualities, as well as areas in need of development. Our goal now is to evaluate the videos, comment on what we do well, and make suggestions for improvement. As a class, we will also create a rubric. I have already viewed the videos, which will help me guide the direction of the discussions. It is important to give students a voice in shaping the assessment. Often they will set higher standards and be more motivated to achieve them if they have a voice in the process. Furthermore, having a role in designing the rubric gives them a better understanding of their goal.

If time limitations prevent you from creating a class-generated rubric, you may want to use this talk show rubric.


Books of Interest

After considerable debate, the students agreed that they wanted to do their booktalks on their favorite books. We also agreed that they would not be limited to books assigned for homework or outside reading. We decided to include books that they loved in elementary school or books that inspired them to become lifelong readers. We all agreed that the guest reader must finish reading the book before the interview. Furthermore, before a guest reader can be interviewed, he or she must fill out the Guest Reader Form. This helps the guest reader speak fluently during the interview. At this time, we scheduled recordings of Booktalk 101 for once each marking period. In the following episode of Booktalk 101, a student talks about her favorite book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.



Production Crew

Producing a successful talk show requires many people. Notice that the roles we decided on allow students to contribute in various ways:

  • Talk show host: interviews the guest reader
  • Guest reader: talks about the book, providing a brief summary without giving away the ending
  • Camera person: records the show
  • Announcer: introduces the show behind the camera
  • Live audience: listens, observes, and claps on cue; also provides feedback
  • Director: uses hand signals to tell audience when to clap and when to stop
  • Film editor: downloads and produces the video

Eventually, each student will be interviewed. A talk show student tracker helps me to manage student progress and participation. Students sign up for a role knowing that they will try each role before the year is over.

After the first recording session, we realized that when the camera light comes on, it is easy to forget what you want to say, so we created a list of key elements that guest readers must list on the Guest Reader Form before he or she talks about the book. However, the readers can go beyond these questions. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we adapted an outside reading book response:

  • What is the title of the book?
  • Who is the author of the book?
  • What is the genre?
  • Who are the main characters? Protagonist? Antagonist? Favorite character?
  • Can you give us a brief summary without giving away the ending?
  • Why do you like this book? Or, why does this book mean so much to you?
  • What do you rate the book? (out of five stars)

The talk show host guide helps the interviewer maintain focus. The Booktalk 101 episode posted below is one of the first produced. It is about a favorite book, The Cay by Theodore Taylor. The student does a good job giving a detailed summary.



Talk Show Host & Guest Reader

Everyone’s role is important; however, the talk show host and the guest reader have key roles since they are on camera 100% of the time. Below are guidelines for the talk show host (or download the talk show host guide to use in your classroom):

  • Welcome everyone to the show.
  • Speak loudly enough for the video camera microphone to pick up their voice.
  • Speak slowly enough to be heard clearly.
  • Exercise good posture.
  • Face the guest reader and the camera when talking.
  • Thank the reader for appearing on the show.
  • Say good-bye to the audience.

The following video depicts Grace, an enthusiastic talk show host who ad libs the booktalk questions. Her enthusiasm in the interview makes it informative and entertaining, our ultimate goal. Watch the video and find out why Grace’s favorite book is The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.



Announcer & Audience

The announcer’s job is to introduce the talk show host and the guest reader. This video provides a great example of an enthusiastic announcer who hooks the audience. To help the announcer be successful, we ask them to:

  • Write down the introduction to prevent misspeaking.
  • Hook the audience with an enthusiastic voice.

We record with a live audience, so it is imperative that the audience be cooperative and respectful. The director signals for the audience to start and stop applauding. The audience refrains from talking during taping. Otherwise, their conversation overrides the booktalk. When we meet again, I am going to suggest cue cards. A stage crew person can hold up cue cards for the audience or talk show host.



Camera Person & Film Editor

Creating an engaging video booktalk requires a camera person who is alert and attentive at all times. They must make sure they are capturing all the action. However, too much movement will give the audience motion sickness. Apply the “The Three Bears” theory when using a camera. Don’t zoom in too close or zoom out too far. Zoom in to the point where the host and the guest reader are framed as closely as possible. This eliminates a lot of movement. Visit Scholastic's article "Digital Video Photographers" for tips such as:

  • Center the people on set, being careful not to cut people out.
  • Move the camera slowly.
  • Stay quiet when recording because the camera will record your voice.

The film editor uses Windows Movie Maker (Windows XP) or Live Movie Maker (Windows 7) to add background music, title pages, pictures of the book, and transitions. Although we have not gotten to the publishing stage, we will be uploading our booktalk videos to SchoolTube, a video hosting site, which is like YouTube, except that it limits usage to students and teachers. Once the videos are uploaded, we can embed them or link to them on our Web site.

In the following episode of Booktalk 101, a student talks about J. K. Rowling's book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The camera movements can be somewhat distracting; however, the student does a great job of providing specific details to back up his opinion.



Filming on Location

Our first goal was to set the stage. It didn’t take long for the students to decide to use the classroom library as it seemed the most appropriate location for a booktalk. We dragged two of the most comfortable chairs, a rocking chair and my desk chair, to the library. Our goal was to ensure that that the guest reader was comfortable. Now, because we have learned the importance of good posture and of looking into the camera, we are considering changing the set.

Before making any decisions, I plan to show them two videos that illustrate the difference between an informal and a formal booktalk. The first one is Border’s Book Club with Christopher Paolini, which depicts an informal booktalk. In contrast, Forbes.com's interview with Christopher Paolini is more formal, with the talk show host and Paolini sitting at a desk. After watching them both, we will compare and contrast what we like and dislike about the formats. Eventually, we will design a set that creates an atmosphere and tone that will draw in our targeted audience.


Self Reflection

Through these booktalks, students read and evaluate books, forming opinions and backing them up with text details. This is powerful. However, it is only half the goal. Now it is time to focus on developing effective public speaking skills such as:

  • Articulating words clearly
  • Speaking at an appropriate pace
  • Using an audible voice
  • Speaking with enthusiasm
  • Maintaining eye contact

In addition, this is the perfect time to focus on speaking grammatically. Many students confuse “who” with “what” when referring to a person. I also need to provide clarification so that they use manners and list themselves last when speaking, saying, “______ and I . . . ,” instead of “Me and ________. . . . ” I am hoping that the practice of speaking correctly will transfer to their writing.

This activity can also be adapted in many ways. Instead of doing a standard booktalk, students could conduct mock character interviews, student author interviews, or news interviews.

Please share your ideas for video booktalks below. If you have any suggestions, we are glad to hear them.


Additional Resources


Comments (8)

Tony, I did not post your last message because your e-mail info was in it; however, I just sent you an e-mail. If you don't get it, let me know. ~Talk soon, Mary

Thanks Mary I look forward to hearing from you. Please email me as soon as you can. Thanks!

Hi, Tony,

I'd be glad to help you. I'll send you an e-mail, so you will have my contact information. We keep it simple. My students sign up when they are read to be interviewed for the book talk. I have volunteer talk show hosts who do the interviewing. They take turns. It is an extra credit because they actually write book responses for the reading teacher. I try to tap into their public speaking skills. My kids helped to design the handouts for the talk show host and the guest. If they set the criteria, they will aspire to achieve it. ~Talk soon, Mary

Hi Mary I would love to have a chance to talk with you about this AWESOME project. With your permission I would love to do a parallel project at my elementary library. I just need some helps with forms and tracking sheets. Can you contact me at mfhsgolfguy@hotmail.com I'd love to learn more. Thanks!

Hi, Jill, We can do about 5 book talks in one 40-minute class period. Once we are proficient, we can probably do even more. I think we need an area for those who are about to be interviewed to practice before going on stage, so that would keep a couple more kids busy as well. ~Happy Holidays, Mary

Thanks so much for this post! I've been wanting to start book talks and now I can't wait! I love how 5-6 kids are involved in each book talk. Thanks!

Hi Brent. We do recordings of our book talks between major writing projects. As you can tell, I have a few students who should be up for Grammy Awards. We are talking about interviewing teachers as well. It is one of those activities that it taking on a life of its own. ~Happy Holidays, Mary

Loved the interviewer in the Slob segment. Great idea. Great post. This generates so many ideas. Thank you for posting and giving video samples. My students will be able to have a goal to shoot for. Brent

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