This year, I’m really trying to think of ways to support students’ reading lives. Recently, Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade collaborator, came to me with an idea. She wondered if I would meet with small groups of students in 3rd grade who needed some suggestions of books to read. These students are all readers but some might be stuck in their reading, abandon many of the books they choose, need a nudge to try something new, etc.
When I recommend books in the library, it’s always a very informal process. I ask what students like, what they’ve read, what they are hoping to find, etc, but I’ve never formally made a list of questions to pull from. I started thinking about Will Walton at Avid Bookshop and how he manages the Avid book subscription program. In this program, someone buys a 6 or 12-month subscription and the recipient gets a new book in the mail specifically tailored to the recipient’s interests. I sent Will a message to see if he had a formal process and learned that he just loves to talk and chats with the person all about things they love. His questions aren’t always specific to reading, so it really got me thinking about quirky questions that I might ask to students that would help me connect them to a book.
I initially started making a list on my own, but then I sent the Google doc to all of the media specialists in our district as well as posted to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
There were many suggestions about book related questions but some interesting thoughts started to emerge. Our list started to grow. (Feel free to add to this document!)
- What do you like to do after school?
- What are some of your favorite movies or television shows?
- What are some of your hobbies?
- What is a book that you couldn’t stand to read? What was it about that book that you didn’t like?
- What kind of music do you listen to?
- Where do you like to eat?
- What kind of games do you enjoy playing?
- Would you rather fly a kite (sit by a river, etc.) on a nice day or go to a big party?
- Who is your favorite superhero?
- Do you have a favorite series? Genre?
- Do you like “just the facts” or “a far out story”?
- What are 3 books you’ve read that you loved?
- Do you like realistic stuff or imaginary stuff?
- Why do you read (to escape, entertainment, learn new things)?
- What is your preferred length of book? (short & sweet, long & detailed, depends on the book)
- If you could visit any place or time in history, where would you go?
- Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)
- When you come to the library, where you usually go first when looking for your next book?
- If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?
- Who are some of your favorite celebrities?
- What is your favorite subject in school?
Then, I took those questions and turned them into a Google form to use with students.
I decided that if 6-8 students came at a time, I could have them start filling out the form while I started having 1-on-1 conversations with them. We settled on a 30 minute session for this survey process. I took over the typing as I talked with them and added to what they had already written or finished the questions they hadn’t gotten to.
I was actually amazed by some of the responses that I got from students and the insight it gave me into ways I might connect them to a book. Some snippets of responses included:
If you could be someone else for a day, who would it be and why?
- Mal from Descendants because she’s pretty and has purple hair. I like what she wears.
- a wolf to howl at the moon
- a cheetah because I want to run fast
Is there anything you would avoid when choosing a book? (bad language, violence, ghosts, death, etc)
- kissing….love story
- main character dies
I looked at all of the results for each student and wrote key words from the answers onto a post-it note for each student.
This helped me walk around the library and pull books into stacks for each student for a second trip to the library. The purpose of the second 30-minute segment was to look at the stack of books that were chosen specifically for each student and really spend some time with them. Students were so eager to get their hands on their stacks that they started asking me for a sneak peek before it was even time. My fear was that students wouldn’t connect with any book, but once again the miraculous happened.
Each student had a strategy. Some spread all the books out and looked at the covers. Some started reading one book and didn’t want to move to another book in the stack. Some flipped over and read the back of each book. Some read the beginning page of each book. What happened is that every student found more than one book in their stack of 7-8 books that they wanted to read and they were genuinely excited about their choices.
We decided that each student would choose the “first read” from the pile and we would create a list of all of the other titles so that we didn’t forget about the “future reads”. For all of the books that weren’t chosen, we just pushed them aside in a big stack. Something else miraculous happened. Students who were coming into the library to check out books saw all of my small group looking at that pile of books and they wanted to check something out from the pile. Several students who always have trouble finding something actually picked something from the pile of leftover books from the small group.
This gave me a lot to think about in terms of how to support various readers. This was a very personalized experience. It was time consuming on my part, but it was a way that I connected with students that’s hard to do when they are rushing in and out to get a book while I’m teaching a class. I won’t to continue to explore this and see how it can be fine tuned.
Our next step is for students to read their books during “read to self” time in the classroom and we will meet again to chat about the books. It will be like a book club. We won’t focus on naming the characters, setting, problem, solution, etc. Instead we’ll talk about connections we had to the characters, what surprised us, what made us laugh, what we think will happen next. It will be “real talk” about books rather than just academic talk. I can’t wait to see how this evolves.
If you have a favorite reader’s advisory question, add it to our doc or leave it in the comments.