I have been a teacher for 24 years, and over the years I have developed a book-buying habit. I collect great children's books by author, by theme, by awards. You name it, I have it. I love the feel of books. I love purchasing them and adding them to my shelves. But I know a book collected and treasured is not enough — a book should also be shared. One of the best ways to share your enthusiasm for books is through booktalks. These talks fuel my students' desire to read in class, at home, and over the summer. The positive outgrowth of booktalks is that my students read because they want to, not because I ask them to.
What Is a Booktalk?
A booktalk is an energetic discussion about a book or books, done with a whole class, small groups, or an individual child. It is strategically designed to yield big results. First, it can get students enthused about reading. A good booktalk practically makes books fly off the shelf and into the hands of students who might not have chosen them otherwise. Second, a booktalk gives students a greater understanding of the range of books available to them, and sometimes children need this head start. Third, it makes the initial connection between the student's prior knowledge and the book's content. Reading comprehension is enhanced by these real connections between reader and text.
The Content of Booktalks
There is no standard set of rules to follow for a booktalk. When I conduct one, I do any of the following:
- Share a single book or a range of books by one author or within a genre.
- Share details about the life of the author and/or illustrator.
- Talk about the setting and characters in the book.
- Read the first three pages of the book—enough to get students curious.
- Read a paragraph or two and discuss my predictions about the book.
- Read the book flap or the back cover and discuss my initial feelings about the information I find there.
- Connect the book to events in my life, hoping students will make connections to their lives as well.
- Compare the book to other books I have read or we have read as a class.
- Compare the book to other titles by the same author.
- Share how the book made me feel.
- Make eye contact with the audience.
- Leave my audience hungry to get its hands on the book.
My booktalks range in length from one to five minutes. As a rule of thumb, my booktalks are as short or long as they need to be to achieve my ultimate goal: Getting students excited about reading the book.
The Timing of Booktalks
Booktalks can happen at any time throughout the school day, linked to any block in which reading is important. For example, at the beginning of readers' workshop, I often use booktalks to get more hesitant readers to try a new genre or author. At the end of readers' workshop, booktalks leave the group with the knowledge that there are other books out there to consider.
At the beginning of writers' workshop, booktalk selections can serve as models for a specific type of writing. Booktalks can also be a great start-up for literature circle discussions. Reading selections are made after we complete a series of talks. Students then have a good variety from which to choose.
In addition, the beginning of sustained silent reading (SSR) is a great point to hook children on a booktalk choice, because they will have uninterrupted time to read it. At the end of SSR, booktalks are a good way to sum up and share what we've learned.
One facet of my teaching is that I do not retain "ownership" of the booktalks. After a few weeks of modeling them, I encourage students to conduct them on their own, for five to 10 minutes, a couple of times per week. Students often share their independent reading choices. Over time, these talks give the class a sense of the depth and breadth of reading that's going on in the classroom and at home. As a result, students get ideas for new authors and genres they might want to try.
Before the school year ends, I have students participate in summer-reading booktalks, in which they share good vacation picks. After all, these final days lend themselves to this kind of informal conversation. I always distribute an annotated bibliography for students to share with their parents, based on what they discuss in their summer-reading booktalks.
With the Internet there are now video booktalks students can watch on the computer at home or at school, (or on their video iPods)! Scholastic offers video booktalks of some favorite Scholastic books. For more video booktalks, check out Bookwink, video booktalks for kids.
My goals for my students are big. I want them to know how to read. And I want them to want to read. Booktalks support both goals by motivating students to read in the classroom and on their own. So, everyone choose a great book and start talking!
Ellen A. Thompson teaches at the University of Vermont in the Elementary Education program, and works as a literacy consultant in schools for grades K through 5. She is the author of I Teach First Grade (Crystal Springs Books, 2001).