Quick Tip Tuesday: Buzz About Books

April 20th, 2010

“Buzz About Books” is just one of the many classroom activities Steven Layne discusses in his new book, Igniting a Passion for Reading: Successful Strategies for Building Lifetime Readers. Steven says that activties like “Buzz About Books” allow the kind of free-flowing, vibrant discussion to take place that truly gets students excited about books and reading. It also helps teachers get a good picture of what their students are reading outside of the classroom.

The best decision I ever made was to stop trying to grade or assess these types of discussions with my students. As you have read in the earlier chapters, I advocate putting a lot of things in place to help match “the right reader with the right book” (Lesesne 2003). One way to all but guarantee stronger discussions about independent reading choices is by doing everything we can to get kids the right books in the first place.

I realize there can be some confusion when I begin talking about book discussions because some readers will wonder if I am talking about books used for literature circle discussions, novels selected for whole-class book study and discussion, and so on. Let me be clear. In this particular chapter, I am focusing on students’ independent reading selections; in other words, everyone in the class is quite possibly reading something different — something that has been self-selected. I might have any number of things happening in my classroom, but there has always been an expectation that, in addition to our major unit of study, kids are doing some independent reading at home (not every night necessarily) and in school (with time I provide). It’s important to me to honor the text they are reading independently, and some time scheduled for book discussions without the trappings of assessment has worked brilliantly. I decided long ago to call these book-discussion sessions “Buzz About Books.”

As with most everything discussed in this book, readers can alter my suggestions to suit a particular building, grade level, time frame, and so forth. I tend to assign students to discussion groups at the very beginning of the year, so there is some degree of incentive for kids to keep moving forward in their books. If students are in groups with their best friends, they can cover for one another more easily than will happen otherwise. Failure to be engaged in independent reading is not typical when kids are being matched with the right books; however, the reality of discussing what’s happening in your story with peers who aren’t necessarily your best friends can keep some kids motivated to move forward in their books simply because having nothing to say in their discussion group makes them uncomfortable. As the year progresses and kids get hooked by the reading bug, I often begin letting them create their own discussion groups.

When kids gather together in their groups, the meeting time is generally about fifteen minutes. Groups are sized at four, ideally; I go to five rather than three so that when there are absences the group can still have enough members to feel functional. My objective as the teacher is to join a group and remain with them for the entire discussion session — moving to a new group next time. At the beginning of the year, I often will circulate in an effort to be sure groups are getting off to a great start. Within a couple of weeks, though, I am certain to be a full-fledged participant in the process, which means I don’t simply sit in with groups and observe or listen; I participate.

The most miraculous thing I have done to make these groups functional is to supply a focus item for them to discuss when they meet. They know that they can spiral their discussion off in any direction — ask one another questions or whatever — but having a focused topic with which to open the discussion helps everyone become more active participants. Figures 6.1 and 6.2 provide a complete list of the topics I have developed for these book discussions. For younger readers, topics can be adapted as necessary from my “Buzz About Books!” discussion starters

Teachers working with older readers can select from the large number of samples I have provided (Figure 6.2) without much need for alteration and reuse many of these throughout the course of the year. Each focus topic is broad enough that it can be easily discussed, despite the fact that every student is likely reading a totally different book. When a group meets, they can move in any order. I leave all of that up to them. Each student in turn will show the group the book he or she is reading so group members can begin to become familiar with the cover. The student will then identify the title, the author, and the page number he or she is currently on and rate the book from one to five stars thus far. Once this brief information has been provided, the student will address the focus topic with regard to the book he or she is reading.

Occasionally, I will have students freewrite about a focus topic for a few minutes. I may then have them share their writing in groups orally or turn it into a carousel, with everyone’s piece moving around the groups for silent reading. At other times, I ask for volunteers to read orally for the class. I have been known to collect the writing at times and just read through everyone’s piece to see how things are coming.

Entry Filed under: Quick Tip Tuesday,Reading

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