- Evaluate and thoughtfully respond to literature and products through the craft of study
- Read, review, and reflect on a variety of written works by professionals and peers
- Understand the importance of written reviews in our literate lives
- Recommend and persuade peers to read and try out different products and book selections
- Use self-reflection and formative assessment to improve their quality of writing
- Participate with an online book review community
- Learn to think critically about objectively about one's own reading and writing
- Use technology tools to collaborate, publish, and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences
- Use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences
- Use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources
- Chart paper and markers
- Book Review Writing Tips Checklist printable
- Computer and projector
- Write a Book Review With Rodman Philbrick: A Writing with Writers Activity
- Scholastic Video Booktalks
- Writing paper and pencils
- Access to online book reviews (start with Goodreads and Book Loons)
- Sample Student-Friendly Book Reviews printable
- Students' reading notebooks and book responses from throughout the school year
- Setting the Stage printable
- Book Review Rubric printable
- Share What You're Reading online activity
- We Recommend... Example Class Magazine Cover printable
- Students' food and movie reviews from the first two lessons of the unit
- Optional: Space Odyssey music
- Optional: Plot Diagram printable
- Optional: Book reviews written by former students
- Optional: Template for Student Book Recommendations printable
- Visit Goodreads and Book Loons to compile example book reviews. The abundance of wealth within these links will allow you to modify your lessons as desired. You will definitely want a set of multiple reviews that provide different opinions of one particular book. You can compare and contrast the reviews in class.
- Make class sets of the Book Review Writing Tips Checklist, Sample Student-Friendly Book Reviews, and Setting the Stage printables.
- If you want students to use a plot diagram to help them organize the patterns they find in book reviews, make a class set of the Plot Diagram printable.
- Decide which rubric you want to use to assess student writing (the Book Review Rubric, the Writing With Writers Book Review Rubric, or your own version) and make a class set for students to review.
- Print a color copy of the We Recommend... Example Class Magazine Cover or plan to display it with the projector.
Part 1: The Final Frontier — Where No Other Writing Had Gone Before 1994
Assessment Note: This is a culminating unit lesson on review writing. A heavier weight and responsibility should be given to content and conventions. Individual conferences should continue to drive instruction for areas of need individually and one on one.
Note that this is not a spin on book reports, which are usually grounded in a summary report. Book reviews require higher-order thinking/application and assume a solid knowledge and understanding of the book. Through the use of ongoing conferences, we don't need to use a book report for assessing understanding.
Step 1: With the Space Odyssey music playing in the background, announce to your class that you have reached the final "frontier" of review writing — the most important review writing of them all, the review study that is becoming popular online, the one they will need to know well for their remaining years on planet Earth — dramatic pause — book reviews. If your students groan, this would be a good time to explain the difference between a book review and a book report.
Step 2: Announce that you have saved the best for last, as your students' writing will reach new levels and go where no other students' writing had gone before 1994: the internet.
Step 3: Start a conversation with your class on the importance of book review writing. Let this develop into the evolving importance of using technology to promote ideas, such as book selections. Ask students if they have ever read an online book review before. Have students share their experiences with doing so and share your own.
Step 4: On a blank piece of chart paper, write the following question: What makes a good book review? Allow time for students to discuss and post their thoughts.
Step 5: Pass out the Book Review Writing Tips Checklist printable. Compare the class thoughts with the printed review tips. What was missing? Use this information for an area of focus with instruction.
Step 6: You will want to follow this up with a class visit to the Write a Book Review With Rodman Philbrick: A Writing With Writers Activity. This is a fantastic resource and should not be overlooked. Author Rodman Philbrick leads writers through a thorough step-by-step look at book review writing.
Step 7: Another fantastic resource is Scholastic's video booktalk collection. What's especially nice about the reviews is that they are about popular books, short, and well written. Take time to show off this resource with students and invite them to visit the site at home if they would like some new book suggestions.
Step 8: Ask students to turn to a partner to share some of the things they have learned so far about book review writing. Listen in as students are talking and use this time to record what you are hearing and not hearing from the students.
Step 9: Have students return to their desks and complete a written reflection.
Part 2: Review of Reviews — One Small Step for Books, One Giant Leap for Readers and Writers of All Kinds
Assessment Note: This portion assumes that your students are completing weekly written reflections on what is being read in class and at home. Each of my students use the Reader's Notebook by Fountas and Pinnell to record their reflections.
Look closely at your students' selection of book reviews and responses. Sometimes poor writing is an indicator of a lack of understanding. Take this opportunity to consider meeting with students individually to help select books of high interest and readability. You may need to give an informal running record if a student seems to be lacking comprehension of the book they are reviewing.
Step 1: Hand out the Sample Student-Friendly Book Reviews printable and share the resource links. The printable offered here came from Goodreads and Book Loons. On Goodreads, I was able to find multiple reviews from registered visitors, as well as professional book reviews.
Step 2: Focus on multiple review listings for one particular book. Compare and contrast two reviews that provide different opinions. How are they alike? How are they different? Use this information to review the reviews. Review more reviews to see if there is a pattern (e.g. Do they provide a summary? Any spoilers?).
Step 3: Continue reading book reviews for writing assistance. Incorporate saved book reviews written by former students, if available. Post the patterns noticed by the class on chart paper (e.g. describes setting, has a central character, conflict, etc.). Utilize the Plot Diagram printable if desired.
Step 4: Ask students to pull out their personal book responses and reviews. Ask students to read their own work with the eye of a reviewer. What do they notice? Have students record their notes on a separate sheet of paper.
Step 5: Have students select one personal book response to share with a partner. Have the partner take the separate sheet of paper and record their observations as well. If you are concerned that some of your students will be too critical, try implementing the two stars, one wish method. For every item you recommend for revision, you provide two things that they are doing well.
Step 6: Inform students that they will be reflecting critically on their own book review/response writing before writing a review that demonstrates their very best writing capabilities.
Part 3: Writing for the Web and Beyond — Blast Off!
Assessment Note: Although I stress being mindful of writing conventions for the audience, I don't expect my students to master skills not addressed yet in the school year or that are developmentally inappropriate. If a student, for example, uses a compound sentence in their writing but forgets to place the comma, that's okay. You may determine during a conference that this is the one skill you would like to address with the student and make the corrections, but I am not advocating error-free writing for publishing. We use a "this is my best" approach for assessing where a student is during the school year.
Step 1: Remind students of the importance of revision and editing when publishing for an audience. Share an example of how a student piece (from another year) made it difficult to read and keep interest. Discuss how thoughtful consideration of conventions is a courtesy for readers and imperative for larger audiences. Set guidelines on convention standards for your group and assist your students with spelling strategies such as circle and return, using a no excuse list for checking, and consulting their spelling dictionary.
Step 2: Pass out the Setting the Stage printable to each student, as well as copies of the Book Review Rubric printable. Another excellent online rubric that you can complete and print quickly is the Writing With Writers Book Review Rubric.
Step 3: Using the Setting the Stage printable, have students imagine the opening to a great movie. Remind students that a great beginning grabs the reader's attention and makes them want to read more. Hold a discussion on how writers set the stage by jumping into a scene of a story, describing what they see, or going straight to the action. Take a minute to look back at student movie reviews. Just look at the first sentence or two of the reviews students have written.
Step 4: Have students take time to create their book review introduction using the Setting the Stage printable.
Step 5: Have students exchange book review introductions with partners for review and suggestions.
Step 6: Review the rubric that will be used for assessment and ask students to give their best. Again remind students that this writing is geared for a large audience and deserves the care of revision and editing.
Step 7: When students have completed their book review, give them the option to visit Scholastic's Share What You're Reading online book reviews written by students and follow the directions for posting their book review online.
Step 8: Collect students' final book reviews and place them in a class magazine with the food and movie reviews from the first two lessons. Have students work together to create a fun cover for the magazine (see the We Recommend... Example Class Magazine Cover).
Supporting All Learners
Writing a book review allows students the support of writing about a book that meets their individual needs. From your students that are reading far above grade level to those who are not quite there yet, each child is able to write about a book that interests them as a reader and writer.
- Invite students to start sharing their reviews for your reading community. I have students use the Template for Student Book Recommendations printable that follows the pattern of a popular bookstore. Post these recommendations, with the book, in your classroom.
- With the help of a green screen, create a book review in the fashion of Reading Rainbow. You can import a picture of the book for the background.
- See if you can pair up with a local bookstore to provide an area for displaying books with your students' reviews.
- Support reading reviews year-long by responding back in writing. This could simply be a post-it note placed in your students' reading logs.
- Encourage students to place small notes of recommendation on or inside the sleeves of a book in the classroom. Students enjoy the nice surprise of an impromptu book review a la post-it note.
The most important home connection you can make this year is helping students read deeply in and out of school. Help provide the resources as well as tips to creating a comfortable reading environment at home. When students authentically enjoy reading, they will want to share the good things that they are reading with others.
- For posting book reviews online, consider waiting until you have a scheduled visit to your technology lab. You can work with your coordinator to help work get published quickly and efficiently.
- For book report writing, I recommend incorporating other options that supports multiple intelligence research. This includes options such as acting out a scene in a book or creating a comic strip to demonstrate an event in the story.
- Provide flexibility in your schedule. If your students take the interest somewhere not planned, be open to shifting reviews.
- Does the writing sound authentic or like an assignment?
- What types of books are your students selecting for reviews? Use one-on-one conferences to evaluate book selections if they seem too easy or hard.
- Compare your notes from the first lesson on food reviews. How has the writing improved? What still needs to be focused on? This is a qualitative form of pre-test and post-test assessment.
Considering that we ask our students to respond to and reflect upon what they are reading on a weekly basis, all year long, I feel we need to provide the time and resources to show students what good review writing looks like, feels like, and sounds like ("If it sounds good, it is good!"). So when it comes to assessing students and this study, you are setting the stage for a year-long study and progression of assessment.
I recommend the continued use of individual conferences, small group discussions and talk, book talks, use of rubrics, and increased level of responsibility on conventions as the year progresses. Small, workable steps will aid in creating a steady progress for each of your students this year.
- Students read a wide range of print to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world.
- Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print.
- Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.