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April 29, 2013 Understanding Audience: Writing Book Reviews By Julie Ballew
Grades 1–2, 3–5

    Every time a student sits down to write, we hope they have two things in mind besides the content of their piece: purpose and audience. Beginning in kindergarten, we ask students to think about their audience when they write by making sure there are small spaces between the letters and larger spaces between the words. Once they’ve mastered that, we talk about how to consider the audience by choosing correct punctuation in our writing. As they get older, we ask students to think about their audience when choosing what details they should include (or remove) from their pieces. This concept of audience is an abstract idea, but it is increasingly important as students get older and begin to write more complex pieces like persuasive letters and opinion-based essays.

    Book Reviews

    Beginning in 2nd grade, students have one unit that focuses on writing book reviews. Audience is a big factor in writing book reviews, as students have to consider how they will frame their opinion of the book and to whom they will (or will not) recommend the book. Second grade is about to begin their unit on book reviews, and 3rd grade is finishing their pieces this week. I worked in Mindy Brock’s 3rd grade classroom for the duration of this unit and, as always, learned so much.

    We began our work like we begin every genre-based unit of study in writing — by immersing the students in that genre. Ms. Brock downloaded a large stack of book reviews published online by students. (Most of them came from You can also find editorial reviews on many children’s books on any bookseller’s website. Students spent time reading those reviews, and we gathered them together at the end of workshop to share what they noticed. Ms. Brock wrote their “noticings” on an anchor chart, and it became a great resource for the unit. We used that chart to create a rubric for the work that we wanted students to do in the unit, and we shared the rubric with the students the following day.

    Chart of book review noticings    Charted rubric for book reviews

    This rubric became the structure for each day’s mini-lesson. We referred back to it every single day, and students knew that they would learn how to get better at one component of a great book review each day.

    How Do You Know?

    Without a doubt, the biggest hurdle for students in writing book reviews was providing evidence. We referred back to the concept of audience as we tried to push them to provide text evidence for their opinions. We had them talk with a partner to practice giving evidence orally, and we created the chart below to give them some stems for providing evidence in their reviews.

    chart about evidence


    Partner revision checklist


    Revising with a Partner

    Anytime students can work with a partner during writing workshop, the concept of audience becomes much more concrete. We created a checklist to guide students as they read their drafted reviews with a partner. This checklist was directly linked to the rubric, which helped with consistency and made the revision work more meaningful. Students traded their drafts with their writing partners and completed the checklist as they read. Then they met to discuss the checklist and to give each other some advice based on what they read. They repeated this process with three different drafts.

    (Click here to download a PDF of the revision checklist.)




    We published in two ways for this unit. We had students publish their revised and edited drafts onto nicer paper. They also added a small illustration. The photos below show students in all of the 3rd grade classes moving from their writing notebook to drafting paper and from draft to published piece.

    Student working on book review   Teacher helping student with book review

    Teacher helping student with book review   Student working on book review

    Published book review   Published book review

    In addition to the written pieces, Ms. Brock and I also had her students record a book commercial based on one of their reviews. We are excited to share these commercials with them as part of the final writing celebration!

    The only way to really emphasize the importance of considering the audience is to give students multiple opportunities to share their work with an audience. Inviting another class to your writing celebration is one way to do this. They can also publish their reviews online or share them through a kid-friendly blog. Have other ideas? Please share them in the comments below!


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Susan Cheyney