You want your students to read more, but the books aren’t exactly flying off the classroom bookshelves. A book talk may be just the tool you need to engage your students in a new book. A book talk could sell your students on the idea of picking up a new title or author or give them the push they need to find a book they love and convince their peers to read it.
[📷: Top image by mrs._cronk on Instagram.]
What is a book talk?
A book talk is a short presentation about a book with the goal of convincing other people to read it. It’s not a formal book report or review. And, it’s more persuasive than expository—think sales and marketing. In a book talk, the goal is to engage the listeners and present a fun, exciting, and even suspenseful commercial for your book. A book talk could highlight the plot, like this example featuring the book Smile by Raina Telgemeir. It could focus on a character, like this talk on the book Matilda by Roald Dahl. Or, it could recreate a book’s mood to ignite readers’ curiosity. Teach your students how to do book talks by modeling the practice. Then hand the reins to students by assigning them book talks in partners or as presentations.
What are some good book talk examples?
Books talks can take many forms. Here are some of our favorite examples:
- Teacher Mr. Rigney talks about Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
- A student-led book talk about Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- A student-led book talk about Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes. (Note how she takes on the character of Wemberly to sell the book. This student takes on the persona of Percy Jackson for her book talk.)
As you get started, use a book talk template to help students organize their talks.
Choosing a book to talk about
Probably the best way to choose a book for a book talk is to find one that you really like. If students need inspiration to find a book to talk about:
- Provide a box of books that are recommended for their grade level, like this list for 4th grade.
- As you get to know students, slip them a note card with a personalized book recommendation. The personal touch will give them the confidence to know that they can read the book and that it’s a good choice.
- Focus on a theme, like Women’s History Month, by providing a shelf of books inspired by the topic.
- Ensure that students will connect with a book by having them choose a book written in first person with characters that reflect their experiences (check out this list of diverse titles for ideas).
Planning the best book talk
You have a book and know you have to sell it, but students need more guidelines than that. Here are some parameters that will maximize the book talk format:
- Don’t give away the ending (the exception may be for a series or book of short stories where incorporating the ending to one story might excite readers about reading more from that author).
- Similarly, show the book, title, and author at the end of the book talk. Don’t lead with it! That’ll keep the audience engaged and wondering, Have I heard of this book?
- Start with a hook that will get the audience’s attention. This can be verbal, like reading a portion of the story (perhaps a cliffhanger), or nonverbal, like reenacting a major fight scene.
- End with a hook. Leave the audience wanting to know more by creating a cliff-hanger, like authors do at the end of a chapter, and ending with it. A book talk is successful when the audience has questions.
- A book talk should be short. Aim for between one and five minutes, depending on your audience.
- No two book talks should sound the same! Bring your own personality and voice to the book talk and encourage students to do the same.
- Choose a book that has a strong theme that will be of interest to your class. In middle and high school, books about love, humor, magic, friendship, and problems they deal with every day (breakups, family, school, etc.) are likely to resonate.
- Prepare for a book talk while you read by taking notes and placing sticky notes at cliff-hangers, quotes, scenes that surprise you, and parts that you connect with.
- Think about craft: What does the author do to keep you engaged?
- Like any good presentation, don’t memorize it but do have your major points in mind.
- Engage your audience—ask questions, take a poll, have them guess what will happen next. The author kept you on the edge of your seat, get your students on the edge of theirs.
- Practice, practice, practice! (Teacher bonus: Unlike your students, who take your class only once, you can perfect a book talk and give it year after year.)
Book talks = learning and love of reading
So they’re fun and spirited, but there are also real academic benefits to incorporating book talks into your classroom:
- They get kids reading—really reading. When students do a book talk, they have to know the book and know it well. A book talk will fall flat if they haven’t read the book and can’t talk about it.
- They get kids sharing reading with others. Reading can be contagious, and book talks are a great way to spread a love of reading throughout your class, one book at a time.
- They teach note-taking. As students prepare for a book talk, taking notes and using those notes to summarize the story is an important skill they’ll develop.
- They build presentation skills. The process of reading the book, thinking through how to present it, and practicing are good rehearsal for later presentations.
- They build listening skills. When students aren’t presenting, they’re listening. The practice of participating in book talks, listening, and asking questions refines students’ listening skills.
Bringing book talks to the next level
Already do book talks? Here are some ways to kick it up a notch:
- The cardinal rule of book talks is to talk about a book you like, but challenge your students to give a book talk about a book they don’t like. Can they convince people that they actually liked the book?
- Partner book talks: As students get comfortable with book talks, you can pair them up in class or across classes for them to have conversations with peers. As they talk about different books, encourage them to find similarities and differences between what they’re reading.
- Picture-book talks: Challenge older students to hone their presentation skills by having them give a book talk on a picture book.
- Peer review: Create a rubric or checklist (like this one) and have students give each other feedback.
Come and share your book talk ideas in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out 8 ways to amp up book talks.