Book Speed Dating: How I Did It and Why I’ll Do It Again

Oh, this lesson is awesome! I’ve wanted to try it out for awhile now, and I finally went for it last week. I wanted to use a smaller “test” group before trying this with a class of 35 eighth graders, so I tried it with our resource reading classes first. These classes are designed for struggling readers and generally have fewer than ten students. Because of the nature of the class, the students do not tend to be readers, nor are they generally intrinsically-motivated to read.

It went SO. WELL. I had the best results with the eighth grade class, who better understood all my dating jokes (“sometimes you have to kiss some frogs”, “sometimes you have to throw that fish back in”, “if at first you don’t succeed”, etc.). They really enjoyed this lesson, and my eighth grade library assistants, who saw the speed dating as they worked in the library, all asked me to do this with their classes, too.

So here is what I did:

Prep: Decide how you want the tables set up. I had 9 tables with 4 chairs at each table. Each table was a different genre. For the reading resource classes, I chose high-interest genres such as horror, humor, manga, nonfiction, survival, romance, sports, and realistic fiction. I put 10-15 books on each table to represent that genre. Each table had a sign labeling the genre. I also set up a PowerPoint with the directions for the minutes.

Action: Students sat at any table. As they came in, they noticed the signs and books, and I could already tell they were picking their genres, even though I hadn’t said a word about what we were doing. I just told them to sit anywhere and that we would be moving soon enough.

I went through the PowerPoint slides, introducing speed dating and how it relates to our book speed dating activity. We went over the directions thoroughly, and I made absolutely certain everyone knew what to do.

Time to start! When going over directions with the students, I talked about dating etiquette, which the students loved. Here’s how it went:

  • First minute–Choose a table. Start looking through the books in the stack.
  • Second minute–To me, this “first impression” period is the most important factor in whether a student will actually start to read a particular book. Take time to look through the books at your table.

    To relate it to the dating concept, I called this “first impression time.” Students were to look at the front and back cover, the condition of the book, read the blurb, open the book and look at white space, illustrations, font size. They were not to start reading at this time. I believe too many students, particularly reluctant readers, just choose a book based on the cover or on nothing at all. I want them to think about what makes them want to read a particular book. Even as a successful reader, I personally never commit to a book without looking at the font size, white space, and the blurb.

    We also talked about how sometimes, your “date” looks really great, but when he/she starts talking, you realize she has bad breath or he can’t string together a complete sentence without cursing. As with first dates, we must delve beyond a book’s front cover.

  • Minutes 3-5–Start reading the book. If it has short stories or is nonfiction, you can start at any point that interests you. If it is fiction or otherwise necessary, start with the first chapter. This should be completely silent, and I also compared that to a first date. You have only three minutes to “get to know” this book and see if you want a second date. If you are talking, you are being rude to your date and the dates going on around you. Also, do not switch out your book date before the three minutes is up. This would be the equivalent of talking to another potential date when you’ve barely gotten to know the date you are on! If you want to meet someone else’s date, wait until your date is over first. It’s three minutes, not a lifetime! The classes I did this with were excellent at reading quietly, even though they tended to be struggling readers!
  • Minute 5–If you like your book date, keep it with you. You are still going to explore the other books and can always “throw that fish back in” if a better book comes along. Or, you can just check out both of them!
  • Switch tables!–I allowed my students to choose any table they wanted, but they could not stay at one table for more than two rotations.

Tweak: How did it go? Was there a particular table that never got used? Was there a table that was full every time? Did the timing work for the class? Did they have enough time, or not enough? For my classes, I added a second nonfiction table since it was full every time. The romance section was particularly popular, even with the boys, so I added some “non-pink” romances to that table for the boys.

I am excited to add a fun twist for when I do this lesson again. After all the “dating” has finished, each student will choose a playing card from the middle of the tables. Students who got a heart or a diamond (red card) get a “kiss” at the end of their date (Hershey’s kiss). Students with a spade or club (black card) get a “sour face” at the end of their book date (a warhead candy). They can redeem the cards at the checkout counter.

So overall, this lesson was a great success. Many of the books got checked out, and the students were really engaged and enjoyed it. Next time, we’ll get to squeeze in more rotations since I won’t have to take time explaining how it works. Best of all, they were introduced to LOTS of new books and genres!

Additional resources:
Printable Speed Dating notes sheet (free from Librarian Vickie at TPT)

Other ways to speed date with books:

“Book Speed Dating”–The Mighty Little Librarian— This one is very similar to mine, except in this one, the students stay put and move the boxes of books.
“RIYL Book Activities”— On Wikispaces. This one gives alternatives to calling it “Speed Dating” and provides links to book speed dating-related printables.
“Building Our To-Read Lists: Book Speed Dating” by SharpRead— Same concept with younger students. Simply stated with plenty of photos!

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    • @Snyder–I do, but it is on my school computer. I plan to post it when/if we ever return from this Ice-pocalypse!

    • Catherine, it has been posted above. Please email me if you need a digital copy to edit.

  • hi – thanks for sharing all your experience so generously. I went back to look at this post as I haven't done it for a while, and I wondered how much time overall you had, and how many chances they had at the different tables?
    Thanks again from Johannesburg!

    • Hi, Julia,
      In my previous school, I had my students for about 40 minutes, so we did this activity for about 30. Each rotation was 5 minutes, so they would have gotten to "date" approximately 6 books.

      In my current school, I have my students for a full hour. I modified this up a bit recently and did a musical chairs activity, where the students had 3 minutes with the book. The musical chairs made it move more quickly, and they got to experience lots of books–maybe as many as 12-15. I didn't have them write anything down when we did musical chairs; we just rotated. I put a stack of about 5 books under each chair so if they ended up on the same chair again, they could choose to pick something new or keep reading the one they tried the first time they landed there.

  • Hello there. I am teaching high school juniors this year and was wanting to do something similar with them. Do you think this would be an effective activity? I am really wanting to promote choice reading this year.

    • I’ve not done it with HS juniors, but I think they would like it. Some may grumble at the moving around part, especially if you have them first or second period. But that wouldn’t stop me from trying it with them anyway–movement is a good thing!


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