Digital Speed Dating with Books

One of my favorite yearly library lessons is 11th-grade Nonfiction Book Speed Dating. Watching students actively walk around the library from table to table exploring books always makes me smile. Motivating teens to read is a challenging aspect of my job as a high school librarian. It’s a gift to have a platform for 40 minutes during which I can introduce them to books that will engage them and reignite, or spark for the first time, an interest in reading. This year, with all library classes being virtual, I had to transfer this highly interactive lesson into the limited space of Zoom. As we’ve learned in the past eight months, we can do things we never thought possible. Zooming into English classes, I was able to execute a successful digital speed dating with books.

Upon entering the English teacher’s Zoom class, which consisted of students learning remotely at home and those sitting in the physical classroom, I asked the students to contemplate the question, “What can you learn from reading a book about a topic you’ve never explored?” Though in the past I’ve been able to elicit answers from students sitting in front of me, I’ve learned not to mess with the all-mute feature on Zoom so I had them think about it without calling out answers. Then, after instructing them to open up reading charts that had been posted along with all other materials on their teacher’s Canvas page, I began giving brief book talks while sharing my screen to show them my Google Slides presentation displaying the featured books. As they listened, they put a + or – sign next to each book, notating a positive or negative initial reaction to each.

When I was done introducing the books, I gave them a quick overview of our school’s latest acquisition, the Sora app, through which they can borrow any of the 10 book choices for this project. Because we were only able to buy a one-time user checkout model for each book, I showed the students how to borrow a book and return it after each session to make it available to other students. This app is perfect for those who are not able to get a physical or digital copy of the book on their own.

Finally it was time for the speed dating. Instead of walking around to different tables where in the past there would be a copies of the books and summaries in display stands, they opened up different tabs on their computers: one with book excerpts, and one with their charts. As I shared the first two pages and a photo of the book on my screen, they had two minutes to read as much as they could from the excerpts and to write a one line main idea of the book. When I changed the screen to the excerpt from the next book, they repeated the steps. As the end of the period neared, I cut the sampling time down to one and a half minutes, and then one minute for the last two books.

When the bell rang, the students seemed excited about the many titles that had been presented to them. As I watched their faces disappear from the Zoom screen, I felt satisfied that though it wasn’t ideal, my lesson introduced them to 10 intriguing new books.

Books for the Independent Reading Project:

Spirit Run by Noe Alvarez

The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom

This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

The Magical Language of Others by E.J. Koh

Maid by Stephanie Land

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

The Bold World by Jodie Patterson

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance


Author: Karin Greenberg

Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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2 replies

  1. I am starting virtually all first quarter on Tuesday and getting actual books into the hands of my h grade students has been at the forefront of my mind. With the help of our incredible librarians, we have a twice a week pick up system set up after kids have requested books, but I wondered; how can I book talk a lot of books quickly like I normally would in our classroom so that kids can start reading?

  2. @Анжелика The way I am able to book talk a lot of books quickly is by preparing a short pitch for the book, highlighting the angles that will draw students in and then moving on to the next book. This has worked well in the Zoom classes I’ve been teaching but another great way to do this is to make videos of the book talks and add them to whatever learning management system your school uses (such as Canvas) and also to the school library website. This way, the teachers and students can access your book talks at their convenience.

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