DON'T display ugly, worn out books.
You've seen these books before. They're like that old blankie or stuffed wubby your kids had when they were three years old. Worn out books are technically still readable, but their popularity with students has left them looking quite "loved on." The pages are about to fall out. The front cover is frayed, torn, or soft around the edges. The spine is broken so hard that the book always opens directly to p. 156. There's some mystery goo on the back cover. You know, loved on.
I know not every library budget is able to support the repurchasing of books that are worn out. But if your library can afford it, order some new copies of those favorites. They are obviously popular!
I would also argue that if the books are currently popular, you probably should not booktalk them unless it is to introduce a readalike. For example, Kristin Cashore's Graceling is super-popular in my library. I don't need to waste valuable time booktalking it specifically since it's already popular. Instead, I would use it to compare with newer books like Poison's Kiss (Shields) or lesser-known titles like Cruel Beauty (Hodge).
DON'T booktalk the same way every time.
There's so much more to booktalking than just holding up a book and telling students about it. In my previous three Booktalking Tips posts, I outlined 31 different ways to jazz up your booktalks. I talked about using movie clips or music to introduce a theme, using poignant quotes, reading-aloud short passages, silent booktalks, and a whole host of other tips to make your booktalks the most interesting they can be.
Using movie clips is fantastic and students love it. But if you only use movie clips, you're booktalks will become predictable. Shake it up! Vary your style each week and keep the kids on their toes.
Another way to keep it fresh? Change your location! I’m excited to do a big booktalk for an entire grade level in our school's theater tomorrow afternoon. I'll have a microphone in my hand, surround sound at my disposal, and a HUGE screen behind me. This is the first time I've done a large-scale booktalk on a big stage, so I am super-excited about this one!
DON'T booktalk the same few genres.
This one kind of goes with my tip about only booktalking books you've read. I've heard many librarians advise others to "booktalk only books you've actually read." While this was my rule of thumb for my first year or so in the library, I quickly found that since I read mainly fantasy and science fiction, that's what my students heard about most of the time. What about my sports readers? What about my historical fiction readers? I didn't really read these books so much, and I rarely talked about them. My attempts to read more widely were great, but I can only read so fast. Yes, I've read a LOT of books in my life, but I'm still only reading about one new title a week during the school year. Keeping the booktalking to titles I've read limits the books (and the genres) my students are exposed to.
For the same reason, I do not do single-genre booktalks. If a class is currently studying a survival novel like Call of the Wild, I would booktalk similar genres like adventure and animal fantasy as well.
DON'T chew gum, suck on candy, or--gasp!--eat when you booktalk.
I've attended lots of different presentations at a Texas Library Association Annual Conference. I've seen presentations that were useful, illuminating, entertaining, humorous, serious, energetic, and boring. But nothing compares to the time I went to an author panel a few years ago, and one of the authors was smacking her gum while she and the other authors were talking. I could even see the purple wad of gum in her mouth. Eww.
No, I am not anti-gum. I chew gum, too, though not very often. I think chewing gum during presentations probably happens because the gum-chewer doesn't think about whether or not they have gum or if others notice their gum. A word to the wise: people notice. If you are presenting anything to a group of people, please try to remember to spit out your gum. This also goes for candy, peanuts, Hershey's Kisses, grapes, and that birthday cake from the staff lounge.
Unless you have a physical limitation, DON'T stand (or sit) in one spot the whole time.
This is Classroom Management 101. Students are far more attentive when their teachers circulate the room, making eye contact, paying attention to their students' facial expressions, and using students' names. If you wear a pedometer, challenge yourself to get 1000 extra steps on booktalking days!
If you need to be near your computer to advance slides, push play, etc., just invest in a good presentation clicker. I bought this one from Logitech, and six years later, it still works like a dream. I only need to change the AAA battery once or twice a year. It has a nice long range, and it was worth every penny I spent on it.
DON'T show pixelated, poor quality book trailers or movie clips.
Just don't. No one wants to watch that. If it's pixelated or poor quality, either find a different one or don't use it at all.
DON'T forget about visuals.
Humans like pictures. They get our attention. They help us remember. If you are using presentation software like PowerPoint or Prezi, make sure most (or better yet, all) of your slides have some sort of graphic element. Also, make sure the text you use is simple and in a clear, large font that can be seen clearly from the back of the room.
If you are using music, show the lyrics on the screen or give the students a copy. Lots of YouTube videos include the lyrics to popular songs.
If you are doing a read-aloud, give students a Xerox copy of the portion you are reading aloud so they can follow along. For picture books, show the pictures and point out interesting happenings in the illustrations.
DON'T allow unnecessary distractions.
Distractions are everywhere and constant. You can't always control them, but there are usually ways you can minimize them. For example, I have no control over the construction going outside across the street, but I can close my blinds. I can't repair that squeaky ceiling fan myself, but I can turn it off until it is fixed. I can't help that the hallway is noisy after sixth grade lunch ends, but I can close the door or plan for a discussion or checkout during that time.
Another huge distraction that I can control is papers, backpacks, and computers at the library tables. I am extremely vigilant about paper-shuffling and backpack-digging because I personally cannot focus on what I'm saying when students are playing with their papers, zipping and unzipping backpacks or purses, or even just whispering. It distracts me so much that I lose track of my sentences and start to stumble over my words.
Please also keep in mind that even though paper-shuffling may not bother you, it still distracts other students. There is really nothing students need to be digging for during a booktalk. If they need paper or supplies for my activity, I provide that. They are expected to leave everything else in the classroom, their locker, a library cubby, or under their chair.
My current school is BYOD, and I start every booktalk with a "screens down" reminder. This means that laptops, tablets, phones, and whatever other screens my students have with them are fully closed or put away. Even on days we are using devices (and there are many of those days), we always start out with "screens down" until it's time to use them.
DON'T ignore your audience.
Do your students look bored? Are they responding when you ask questions? Are they texting under the table or working on their math homework instead of listening?
At least half of presenting anything is watching your audience and adjusting your presentation style as needed.
Walk around the room and stand near someone who seems to be drifting off. Often, just your presence nearby is enough to perk them up.
If they look bored often, brainstorm ways you can get them moving. You would obviously want to do this before you present, but here are a few ideas:
- Describe a dilemma a character faces in a book you are talking, and give the students a few minutes at their tables to discuss possible solutions.
- Give students a few minutes at the tables to talk about books they are reading, want to read, or have read and loved. Then give them time to share a few of them with the group.
- Hand out "Want to Read" sheets at the beginning. Students can use these to write down any books that sound interesting to them. Provide pencils so no one has to go digging for something to write with.
- Pass the books around as you talk about them.
- Start each book with a trivia question about a topic relevant to the book.
- Give students choices about which book you will talk next. Show two book covers, and let them pick which one gets a talk. Repeat.
- Play a "Guess which book" game where you give a short summary, and students have to guess which front cover goes with the summary you gave.
If you see that your students are frequently bored during your booktalks, please try to do SOMETHING to get their attention. If they think you are boring, they may think the books are boring, too.
DON'T run off!
This one is for classroom teachers who stay with their classes in the library (or at least, are supposed to).
Teachers, you are so incredibly vital during library time. Please, don’t run off! Don’t grade papers. Don’t check email. Don’t chit-chat with another teacher in the corner. When you participate in the booktalks, the students are more engaged. You will probably find connections to classroom concepts during the booktalk, especially if you and your librarian have discussed classroom happenings.
I have seen so many teaching styles in my years as a secondary librarian, and I can tell you that the classes that are the most engaged in library time are, without exception, the classes where the teacher listens actively to whatever we are discussing and jumps in to add commentary where needed. There truly are not enough of these teachers; far too many teachers squander this valuable opportunity to connect classroom learning with the library.
You are the leader of your classroom. If you aren’t interested enough to pay attention during library time, your students won’t be so interested, either.
So that's a wrap on my "Jazz Up Your Booktalks" series. Again, I apologize if my tone here sounds preachy or if my Don'ts are far too obvious--I acknowledge that and hope you got something out of the Don'ts anyway. The good news is that tomorrow is Friday, and I am pumped for my on-stage booktalk! Wish me luck!