Books Talks and Literacy in the History Classroom


Last year I saw Douglas Fisher at a PLC conference and one of the things he talked about was how easily we can increase student literacy and reading engagement just by sharing our own love of books. Now, it's been a while since I saw Doug speak so I might not remember his message exactly but I do know what seeing him speak inspired me to do and what an incredibly positive impact it has had on my classroom culture.

Fishers talk inspired me to take 5 minutes a week to tell my students about a book or article I had read and enjoyed. So each week, I start one class with "Oh my goodness guys, I just read _____ and I want to tell you about it!" Then I give them a really brief summary of what it was about and what it reminded me of. If it's a book I try and have a copy in the front of the room for students to look at and if it's an article I send the link to them on Remind later that day. Last year when I started this, I found students staying after school to ask me book recommendations. This had never happened before. I am a history teacher and students were spending their own time to ask me what book they should read next. Right then I realized that this insanely simple thing was making magic happen in my classroom.

This year, I started a small library of books in my classroom with a QR code students can scan to check the books out. Now when I do book talks I try to also mention what books I have in class that it is similar to because usually, someone is ready to check the book out by the end of my book talk. I have to ask students to wait until the end of the day so I can share the title with all my classes. I've loved doing this, students come in and ask me if I've read certain titles, they tell me what they are reading that they love and what they are reading that they hate. When they were all reading Count of Monte Cristo for class and I admitted that it was my favorite book when I was a kid we all had a discussion about weird books we love that no one else does (don't worry ELA teachers, most admitted to loving Count of Monte Cristo by the end.)

Does this mean I lose five minutes of history instruction per week? Absolutely. But I have kids who come in each week looking for new books on my bookshelf. I have kids asking me which books are similar to TV shows they like. We have a community around books that never existed before.

Do I still have students who claim to hate reading? Absolutely. But I am not forcing them to read the books I tell them I love, I am simply letting them know these worlds exist and are options for them. And the surprising thing is my "book haters" usually listen just as attentively and ask as many questions as my bookworms.

The problem is, I need more books. It is a really good problem to have but it is the problem I currently face so for the first time ever I am going to end this blog post with a link to a DonorsChoose page. I know if you are reading this you are probably a teacher who is already spending a ton of your own money on your classroom because let's face it, that is the reality of being a teacher these days but if you happen to have $10 to donate that would give me one more book for my students to read and enjoy.

If you are a teacher, I encourage you to try it. If you don't have a book obsession like I do, share an interesting news article you read, try comic books you love, or maybe pick a website like Biography.com and tell them each week about a new person you learned about. What I love about book talks is my students see me actively engaged in reading beyond the classroom and we have a place to talk about and normalize that culture for them which makes them more likely to engage in reading.

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