Thursday, July 20, 2017

Speed Dating to Find Your {Book} Match

I've got books on the brain.

During the second week of class, when not everyone in our tenth grade English class knows each other well, I surprise students with speed dating. Speed dating books, that is.  The students walk into our classroom to find the desks grouped into tables, covered with tablecloths, and decorated with centerpieces featuring flowers, candles (LED candles), "menus," and a large stack of books. This is our speed-dating day to find our {book} match. Not only do students get to know one another better through this activity, but they also learn more about specific genres found in our classroom library and select their first independent reading texts. At the close of the semester, this activity was rated by students as one of their favorites, so I thought I would share how I set up this activity with my high school students in case others want to give it a try with their students this fall.

One of the first questions that I've got from other teachers about this activity has to do with the books themselves. How did I select my genres? Where did I get all my books?  So let's start with the most important aspect of this whole activity - the books. Looking at my classroom library and what my students have been gravitating toward the past few years, I established "menus" for each table featuring a different genre.  I have seven tables around my room, each featuring a different genre - realistic fiction, historical fiction, dystopian novels, poetry, graphic novels, self-help, and creative nonfiction. The "menu" gives a brief description of the genre, which the students will record on their handout in addition to taking their own notes about the genre based on what they notice about the commonalities found in the books at their selected table. But where did I get all these books in the first place?

It can be difficult and extremely expensive to stock your classroom library with high-interest YA novels. New books are expensive.  So, here's where I've picked up many of mine.  First, hit your thrift stores.  During August, the local thrift store near my home used to have $1 bag days.  You pay $1 for a paper bag and stuff it with as much as you could. I would show up the first day of the sale and pick through all their books. During the summer months, it is easy to pick up inexpensive books at thrift stores, yard sales, and block sales. This was how my library got its start.

Later, one of my former students became the teen librarian at our township library. And Shelly hooked me up!  Librarians go through their collections two or more times a year, and if a book hasn't been checked out for an extensive period of time, that book needs to go in order to make room for new titles.  Shelly, my local hook-up, would call me up any time she had collected five or more boxes of books.  She'd let me pull any titles I wanted and the rest the library would sell.  Your local librarian is not only a fantastic resource for helping you learn about emerging authors and new titles, your librarian might also be able to help you stock your library! Invite them into your classroom to give a book talk to your students. Get to know your local librarians!

My most recent discovery is FirstBooks. If you are a teacher or librarian in a high poverty district as I am, you likely qualify for deep discounts on books through FirstBooks. It will take you between 10-15 minutes to complete your application, and if you qualify, you can order individual titles or titles in bulk. My first order is arriving this week. I ordered 13 books - everything from The Book Thief to I'll Give You the Sun, Lily and Duncan to An Ember in the Ashes - for just under $60.  And through their bulk book program, you can get a bulk order of one title for FREE!  You just pay for shipping.   Right now you can get a carton of 24 copies or The Maze Runner for $8.40!  

So, now that you've got all sorts of books and genres in your classroom library, what else are you going to need to set-up your Speed Dating Books activity?  I purchased a few rotating picture frames from Ikea to use on each table as the "menu" holder to display the genre found at that table.  If you are near an Ikea, the Tolsby picture frames comes in packs of 2 for just $.99. Then, I created a "menu" (I print out two so that I can display them on each side of the frame) for each genre using Canva.  Here are my menu cards.

Then, to add ambiance, I picked up a pack plastic table clothes, some small LED candles, pulled a few candle holders from around my house, used a JoAnn Fabrics coupon (and my teacher discount) to get a bunch of fake flowers, some Hershey Kisses sprinkled on each table (get it? Kisses? Dating?) and viola! You have a restaurant-style setting for your classroom, perfect for your speed daters!

The room is set up, your books are carefully displayed, now what?  As students walked into my room, I handed them a Speed Dating Scorecard. I let my students self select the tables they moved to first, but you could easily copy the scorecard sheet on different colors of paper to establish groups. If you need six groups, copy the scorecard onto six different colors of paper. Students find those with the same colored sheets to become a group.  I let my students self-select their first table, and then they moved as a group to the next table.

On my projection screen, I show a classroom timer.  Students have about five minutes to record notes about the genre at their table by looking at the "menu" cards and by perusing through the books and talking with their group members.  In that time, they need to select one book on the table to "date."  Then, I start the timer.  Students have five minutes to flip through and read some sections of the book to figure out if they would like to "date" it further.  At the close of five minutes when the timer goes off, students complete the ranking section and notes for their "date."

By the close of class, students will have delved into five genres and "dated" five books. In the following class days, I go over our independent book reading, how we log our pages, and how we will be completing book talks, all inspired by Penny Kittle's book Book Love. We return to our Speed Dating handout throughout the semester when we are looking for our next book to read.

If you do a similar activity with your students, I would love to learn from you! What works for you? How do you inspire independent reading in your classroom?

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