Books talks are a great way to invigorate reading in your classroom. Students enjoy talking about the books they’re reading, and this can create a reading “buzz” in your class.
Here are the steps to creating successful book talks with your students:
What are book talks?
Before you launch into them, what are they?
Book talks are short speeches that students give to tell about a book they’ve read. The goal is to share books with classmates, explain why the book is a “must read” — and not include spoilers.
Why book talks work
I am a huge fan of book talks for middle schoolers.
- They are a great way to get your students comfortable with public speaking.
- Students are more likely to read a book a peer recommends.
- Automatically addresses the speaking and listening skills, which are so often difficult to squeeze into our lessons.
- They are quick and easy to assess — meaning less grading!
- If you are running a reading challenge, book talks help students find their next great read!
One of the most exciting benefits:
They get students excited to read a book! A title can become a “best-seller” in your classroom when students give strong book talks.
I have my students present book talks once a month. It’s a great way to start class, get students comfortable with public speaking, and get my students new titles to try.
Teach your students how to give a book talk
First: Set your Standards
Before you set your students to work on book talks, think about your teaching objectives.
Look through both your reading and speaking/listening objectives (teaching standards).
You’ll probably have objective like:
- presenting claims and opinions
- including multimedia components
- adapting speech to a variety of tasks and contexts
- identifying main idea or themes
- using description and examples.
That’s the beautiful thing about book clubs — they help you teach so many standards!
Next: Gather your Materials
What you’ll want to include:
- a rubric
- what you expect students to create
- analysis questions
- tips for success
(If you want all of these items ready to use, check out this book talk lesson resource.)
Once you’ve gathered these materials and share them with your students, review and discuss. Make sure your students are clear on what your expectations are.
This step is soooo important: Model it
Show students exactly what you’d like their talks to look like by giving your own book talk. Be sure to pick a book that your students would be interested in. A dystopia title is sure to capture their interest!
Have students use the rubric to assess your book talk.
Hot tip: model a really bad book talk. This is fun! Just ham it up by doing everything wrong.
Provide your students with the rubric you’ll be using to grade their book talks. Then, give your own doing everything wrong. That means looking around the room or at the floor, mumbling, forgetting the book, or telling the ending.
You can use a common fairy tale (“Little Red Riding Hood” is always a good one), so students are familiar with the story. Be sure to give away the ending with a spoiler.
Why this works:
Students usually love this and enjoy grading the teacher for a change! Plus it provides students with an opportunity to discuss finer points of delivering a talk like eye contact, voice volume, and the energy level of the speaker.
Your students will love finding all the things you do wrong, but guess what? While they are, they are using the rubric — and considering what it means.
If you ever struggle with getting your students to actually look at (let alone use) the rubric, 👆🏼this tip is gold!
Just be sure to:
Debrief afterwards and have students come up with a list of constructive comments to help the speaker give a better book talk the next time.
Be sure to ask students, “What should I have done differently?”
Now, give a better book talk and have your students score you again. Of course, they’re unlikely to give you a perfect score, but you will be showing them how they can make their own talks better.
Too scared to model it? You can find examples of book talks online, but I assure you, giving one is easy.
Now — schedule them
Once you’ve modeled what you want your students to do, you can schedule book talk. Or better yet, let them sign up themselves.
Don’t do this, though:
Don’t over schedule the talks. Day after day of wall-to-wall book talks can be deadly boring!
Plan two or three book talks a day. You can provide students with a calendar (I have one here) to use as a sign up form.
These are a great way to start class or provide a break halfway through.
More book talk ideas and tips
Model it again! When you model them — even every month — you provide students with an example of book talks and what students can and should do to “sell” their book.
This is also a great way for you to introduce new titles to your students. Sharing “fresh” books in your classroom library can inspire them to pick up the new book.
How often should we have book talks?
I like the idea of monthly book talks because it keeps the energy of independent reading going.
However, you may want to start slowly. Having a book talk each quarter is a great way to start. You can increase to more often as you feel comfortable.
Be sure to plan ahead so you can block out time in your schedule.
Tools to use
It’s important that you provide your students with clear guidelines. Create a simple book talk rubric that you can use for grading and that your students can use to practice their talks.
I provide extra points for students who practice in front of a parent. The parent can sign the rubric. (You can find a rubric in this resource.)
How long should they last?
Some students can talk for ten minutes — others struggle to speak for three! Provide your students with a time limit. No longer than five minutes seems reasonable to me.
Then, use a timer! I usually sit in the back of the room where I can signal to the student if the time is almost up.
Why is this important?
When students have a limited amount of time, they will need to get to the heart of their talk. They can’t ramble on aimlessly (well, yes…they can, but that’s another conversation!)
Creating visuals for Book Talks
You may want students to create a slide show to accompany their book talks. Slides can help keep the audience engaged.
In theory, slides are great…
until they read from their slides!
This is a pet-peeve of mine! I always say, “I can read…so why are you reading it to me?!”
This is another great “wrong way” to model. If you’ve ever been to a presentation where someone reads the PowerPoint slides, you know how BORING it is!!
A few, visually appealing slides that pique the audience’s interest are better than a speech full of written out slides.
Why this is important
Your students will surely be asked to make presentations in their lives! This is an “authentic” learning opportunity. Provide students with a variety of slides that are effective and ineffective. The spinning words or swoosh sound isn’t as important as the content!
Of course, if your students aren’t ready to create a digital visual aid, they can create a poster.
Engage the whole class
We know how easy it is for students to zone out if a peer is giving a speech. You can encourage your class to actively listen while their peers give talks. They can use a simple feedback sheet, which will help them pay attention.
Keep the students in the audience accountable!
Hint: This is another great modeling activity! What does it look like to be an attentive, respectful audience? What does do YOU want your audience to look like when you are giving your book talk?
Improving student skills
Students will get bored if each month is the same. They’ll get stuck in a book talk rut! That is sometimes the disadvantage to using a book talk template. However, you can add variety by including monthly challenges or increasing requirements.
For example, you may want to start out by allowing students to use note cards, but later require they memorize their talks. Other ideas for book talks include: monthly genre, require a prop, wear a costume, act out a scene, create a book trailer, make a commercial, or create a readers’ theater scene.
And don’t forget:
Continue to model what you want your students to do. Provide them with the rubric every so often and allow them to grade you! You teach middle school, so you already have a thick skin, I know it!
If you notice students slipping into habits (like not making eye contact), you can model a “bad book talk” again so they can see what it looks like.
Keep it fresh
Students can also get stuck in a genre rut. You can challenge them to read a variety of genres by using a theme for the month.
Students can read historical fiction, nonfiction, a classic, or a book in a series. You can also challenge students to give a book talk that focuses on a memorable character or unusual setting.
Create a sharing/graffiti wall. Post a big piece of butcher paper in your classroom and entitle it “Read it!” Students can share titles on the wall.
Frequently asked questions…
What about duplicate titles?
When students are signing up for their book talks, I usually follow the policy of “no repeats” for the month. So, it’s first come, first choice — and this often encourages students to sign up quickly!
Should students memorize their book talks?
I usually start the year by letting students use note cards, and then wean them off of them in a few months. This actually encourages students to practice their talk more!
For some students, you’ll want to give them specific guidelines and show them how to write a book talk. Other students will be able to use a book survey or notes to “frame” their talk.
How should students sign up?
As soon as students have completed a book talk, they can sign up for the next month’s talk.
This does a few things — the students who sign up to give their talk first are rewarded for going first! We know how hard that is! I also tell students that I’ll be pickier as the talks go on since the students will have had (technically anyway!) longer to practice.
Aren’t you just constantly doing book talks?
No. If you have a class of 30 students and you have three book talks a day, you’ll get through the class of 30 in two weeks. So you can have a book talk a month if you want.
But how much class time is this going to take?
We have sooo much to teach every day. In reality, three book talks will take between ten and fifteen minutes of class time –depending on how long students talk.
It’s important to have slides ready to go (that’s why I require them in advance) and keep class discussion short.
If the amount of time this will take is worrying you, I still encourage you to try to fit this in once a grading period. Your students will learn so much by giving multiple talks.
How do you grade?
The beauty of book talks is that you can grade them very quickly! I sit at the back of the classroom with the rubric (signed student rubric if the student practiced with a parent) and score as the student gives the talk.
I also collect the prewriting or outline that is required.
A book talk, which requires reading, summarizing, outlining, speaking, pacing, and distinguishing between important and unimportant events, is a summative assessment.
Ditch the Book Report!
I find that book talks are more fun for students (and me) than traditional book reports. They give students the chance to practice their speaking skills, and older students enjoy using slides to create visual notes for their talks. I can grade the talks immediately, so students get quick feedback.
Ready to give book talks a try? You can find forms, rubrics, guidelines, and book club templates in this ready-to-use resource.
Happiness (and reading) always,