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Student Book Talks: An Effective Way to Advertise Books

There is great advertising power in book talks. When you invite students to choose an independent reading book to talk about each month, you improve students' listening capacity and introduce them to myriad books and magazines. A class of 25 students that presents book talks for ten months introduces one other to 250 books. Yes, it's a powerful way for students to motivate and engage one another as readers. Each month, reserve about 30 minutes of two or three consecutive class periods for books talks.
Books talks should take no more than two to three minutes and should focus on high-level thinking, not retelling. It's important for you to model how you plan, take notes for, and practice presenting books talks so you build students' mental model of the process. In my book Differentiating Reading Instruction, you'll find an entire section on book talks in the classroom. If you have the binder (Teaching Reading: A Differentiated Approach), you'll find guidelines for book talking in the section that discusses classroom libraries.
You shouldn't have students complete a project for each book; this discourages and punishes your best readers. However, book talking is short, beneficial to the entire class, and develops students' public speaking skills and self-confidence.
Laura Robb

A Great Professional Book

If you work with at-risk adolescents, then you'll want to read Adolescents on the Edge by Jimmy Santiago Baca and ReLeah Cossett Lent (Heinemann, 2010). Both authors believe passionately in the power of community, of belonging. Lent discusses ways to foster trust and community that all students benefit from, whether they're at-risk or doing well. The book includes Baca's original stories with activities and an interview with Baca that's truly inspiring. Baca ran away from his dysfunctional home early in life and lived on the streets. By nineteen he found himself convicted of possession of heroin and sentenced to five years in prison. Here Baca had to choose between violence and anger and becoming literate. He chose to learn to read and write, and that decision gave him the freedom to gain control over his life and reach out to help others. An inspiring story to share with all students who can come to realize the power that resides in reading deeply and widely.
Laura Robb

Reading YA Books

I've challenged myself to read one young adult novel and three picture books a week during May and June—July and August are for adult books I want to read! My motivation has increased one hundred fold because the first two YA books I finished were just fabulous. The first, by the McKissacks, is THE CLONE CODE (Scholastic, 2010), which parallels slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the yearning for freedom during the Civil War with a futuristic society where clones and cyborgs do not have any rights and sit far below "firsts," human beings. This book will make an exciting read-aloud and is a must-have addition to school and class libraries.
The second YA book I've completed is THE DREAMER by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Scholastic, 2010), illustrated by Peter Sis. A fictionalized story of the childhood of the poet Pablo Neruda, the book itself is poetry in words and illustrations. The story has entered my dreams and my daytime thoughts because of its haunting and simple beauty. Don't miss it.
Now, please share some of your favorite new YA books so we can all benefit from one another's reading.
Laura Robb

Blogging and Book Discussions

This year, I invited seventh-grade students to blog in place of literature circle discussions for a unit on conflict and war. First, their teacher and I met with groups to review the basics of small-group, student-led discussions. Then we invited groups to raise questions about the chunk of their books they had completed--and blog about them. Blogging enabled me to print out their discussions so teachers and students could analyze them and set goals. Blogging also let me into the thinking lives of several students who remained silent during traditional discussions.
I'm hoping teachers will try this and report back on what students learned from the process.
Laura Robb

Book Talks: Getting the Word Out to Students

One of my favorite ways to enlarge students' knowledge of what's out there to read is through book talking. Short and focused, book talks are a way students can explain why they liked or disliked a book. Just think, if you have 25 students and set aside two class periods a month to have students present book talks, by the end of eight months students will have been exposed to 200 different books. It's a great way to advertise reading. You can find lots of information about modeling book talking and sample book talk formats in my Scholastic professional book Differentiating Reading Instruction. Let me and others who read this blog know how book talking works for you.
Laura Robb

The Number of Books in Classroom Libraries

Recently, at a workshop in New York, a literacy coach asked me how many books were ideal for middle school classroom libraries. My answer was 800 to 1000 books on diverse topics, with a range of genres and reading levels. Her district is applying for a grant as well as releasing money for building libraries.
Let me and other teachers know how you stock your classroom libraries. In these tight times, we need all the creative suggestions we can gather.
Laura Robb

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in The Laura Robb Blog are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.