Matching Readers to Books: A Reader’s Advisory Exploration

In the library, we see all kinds of readers: those who still haven’t found a book they have fallen in love with, those who read everything in sight, those who need a nudge to try something outside their comfort zone, those who wander around and just can’t choose, and more. Even though one of my favorite things to do is talk individually with students about their interests and connections with reading, the busy library program that we have sometimes gets in the way. My time is pulled between numerous classes I’m teaching and collaborating on projects with, collaborative planning with teachers, keeping our collection up to date and organized, exploring new tech with students, and the list goes on.

This quarter I’m working with 2 different groups of 3rd and 5th graders to explore our reading lives. Some of the students I’m working with have not found a book they connect with enough to finish. Others need a nudge to try something maybe a little more challenging or stretch the breadth of their genre choices.

Prior to meeting with both groups, I tweaked a reading interest survey in Google forms. The questions included:

  • What are you reading now?
  • Would you rather……have fun with friends at recess or go on adventure in the jungle?
  • Who are some of your favorite celebrities (yes Youtubers count)?
  • Would you rather…..cast a spell on an evil creature or battle an army in a war?
  • Who is your favorite superhero?
  • Would you rather…..be scared by a ghost of a girl who drowned in a lake or play a prank on friends?
  • Do you like……just the facts, a far out story, or something in between?
  • What book did you NOT enjoy?
  • What are some of your hobbies?
  • What are some of your favorite movies, shows, or Youtube channels?
  • What are 3 books that you loved?
  • Why do you read? to escape, to be entertained, to learn something new, because you have to, something else
  • What is your preferred length of book? short and sweet, long and detailed, in between short and long, depends on the book
  • If you could visit any time or place, where would you go?
  • What is your favorite series or genre?
  • What else would help me match you with a book?

When students arrived, we had a quick conversation about how you make a decision on whether a book is right for you. Conversations were mixed. Some groups had lots to say. In other groups, I had to share some things that I do for myself to match to a book. We talked about looking at covers, reading the description, using Novelist for reviews, and reading a few pages. One interesting thing that came up was that several students did not like someone telling them what to read. Can you blame them? I want to pick my books too.

This part put me in a bit of a dilemma. I told them that I wanted them to give me some information through a survey so that I could pull a possible stack of books that matched their answers. However, I also let them know that I wasn’t forcing them to read any of the books. If none of the books matched, I would work with them to explore other books until we found something they were actually interested in reading in class.

Next, students answered the survey. Once students left, I went through their answers and pulled out key words from student responses and wrote them onto post-it notes. I used these notes to walk through our chapter book genres and pull stacks of books for each student.  I tried to match the book length that students suggested, but I also mixed in some varying lengths of books too.  Several students mentioned that they wanted at least some illustrations in their chapter books or even that they wanted an illustration on every page. This also gave me a challenge because most chapter books aren’t going to fit this description unless I’m pulling from graphic novels. Again, I tried to meet their requests but also throw in some surprises too.

In general, each student had between 6-8 books to choose from. On day 2, students returned to the library and we reviewed what readers do when they are deciding on a book. Each student took the personalized stack of books and found a private spot in the library to go through the stack. Most started by looking at all of the covers. Most students then picked a few of the books to start reading a few of the first pages. In a few instances, students dismissed most of their stack based on the covers alone. For these students, I sat with them and actually walked through some extra steps with them so they could at least give some of the books a chance. Most of the time, having me read the description or the first page for them was enough to get them started back into their stack.

By the end of the 2nd session, every student found at least one book they were going to read in class during “read to self” time and also outside of school too. Most students had 2-3 books. For those students, I took their post-it and left it on the books they were interested in so they could check them out next time.

Ms. Hicks, 3rd grade teacher, shared with me that one of her students said “This is just like heaven” as she was referring to the opportunity to just sit with a stack of books curated just for her and spend time reading. It’s such a simple concept, but it’s so powerful for students to show them that their interests matter. Reading books they have selected matters. We can’t just put kids in guided reading groups all day long and never give them a chance to select books they want to read. Some students get to 5th grade and despise reading. I can’t blame them when their main experience with reading is sitting in a group reading a book they aren’t interested in that they had no hand in choosing.

Reading skills and strategy groups are important, but they can’t replace the power of hearing a great story read aloud and discussing it or finding a book that connects with your soul and having time just to read it.

This was very time consuming, but every time I do it, I’m reminded and how much interest and choice matter in reading.  My next steps are to check back in with these students in a week to see how the books are going.