7 Opportunities for book blether and making recommendations
Informal book talk opportunities abound, from low key conversations, to more structured book activities such as book blankets (as discussed in Session 4), ‘big up your book’, reading cafes and many more. ‘Bigging up’ a book is in effect focused book PR, with young people speaking persuasively to the class or in groups about a chosen book in such a manner that it tempts the listeners to want to read it.
The key purpose of such activities is not simply as book related ‘fun’ time-fillers, but as deliberately shaped opportunities to introduce children to a wide range of texts, to enhance their confidence in talking about texts, and to express and exchange their opinions. Teachers can join in the conversations as readers to stretch their own and the children’s thinking through their engagement and text recommendations.
Even experienced readers find it hard to decide what to read next. Recommendations to help children find books that link to their individual interests and nurture their enthusiasm are key. The potential benefits that reading offers will only be enabled if the book resonates with the young reader, so as Session 4 highlighted teacher knowledge is critical. If this is thoughtfully used, reciprocal reader recommendations will develop.
As a teacher you might make recommendations by giving a brief introduction to three or four texts, reading aloud extracts or making connections to other texts, all of which lead to book sign up charts and time in groups for children to discuss what sounds tempting. This will in turn trigger more conversations between readers who have read the same text, which will generate a growing sense of a ‘book buzz’ in the classroom.
- To create a Reading for Pleasure culture in the classroom.
- To promote a ‘book buzz’ with children sharing and recommending stories and books to each other.
- To encourage children to read a wider range of books.
Read Casey Lynchey’s case study about creating a Book Buzz with 8–10-year-olds.
With younger children, research indicates that following on from weekly teacher book talks and recommendations, book shopping became common practice in a class of 6-7-year-olds (Moses and Kelly, 2018). This involved children, each week, sharing their favourite book from the previous week with a partner and then browsing labelled classroom baskets and selecting six books to read. The combination of teacher and peer book talk, alongside reading aloud, teacher conferencing and independent reading, contributed to the gradual shift from ‘off task, frustration or reading resistant behaviours’ to markedly more positive reader identities (Moses and Kelly, 2018, p. 317).
Peer recommendations shelf
To help offer agency to child readers, a peer recommendations shelf can also be established. This provides opportunities for less-assured children’s choices to be given equal status and triggers book talk between friends. When developed and then modelled by Jon Biddle in his class, he found it triggered borrowing, widened children’s choices and helped strengthen the class’ reading identity (2019).
Read Jon Biddle’s case study with 9–11-year-olds about creating a peer recommendation shelf.
Personal reflection 2
Think back through the three examples of practice: book buzz, book shopping and peer recommendations shelf. Think about what these have in common.
- To what extent were they Learner led, Informal, Social and with Texts that tempt (LIST)?
- How tightly were the teachers holding the reading reins?
All three examples were underpinned by the pedagogy checklist, albeit in some cases unconsciously. The teachers involved gave considerable agency and autonomy to the children, allowing them to shop for their own book choices and recommend their choices to each other, for instance.
These activities were low key and informal in nature, none were assessed. The children all had the opportunity to shape them in their own way, connecting to friends and other readers in a sociable manner as they signed up for new books and chatted conversationally about their chosen or recommended texts.
Despite the autonomy given, the children’s teachers guided the activities and offered considerable support in terms of the book baskets, related read-aloud and book promotion and the range of texts available.
For more practical classroom strategies to refine and shape book talk and recommendations visit The Open University’s Reading for Pleasure website.