As this destructive Coronavirus wreaks havoc on our world, books remain vessels through which we can escape the mayhem. Many of our schools will remain closed in the coming weeks, and some of us will be called on to provide remote digital support for students and teachers. We can also use this time (when we’re not reading) to plan lessons, create innovative ways to increase student reading motivation, and reflect on our recent practices. As librarians of the 21st century, we take on so many more roles than traditional librarians. I enjoy all the aspects of my job, including teaching students and teachers about digital databases, coding, Google tools, and other technological applications. When I get the chance, though, I love getting back to the foundation of all libraries—books.
For the past two years, I’ve worked with English teachers on a Speed Dating with Books project for the 11th graders. It’s been a huge success. This year, some of the same English teachers asked me to help them come up with independent reading titles for their 10th graders. I curated a list of diverse novels, put together a slide presentation, and gave the students brief book talks. Their teachers and I guided them as they participated in small group literary circles, where they discussed their thoughts about the books.
Here is an overview of the lesson:
- The students sit at predetermined groups of four at the library tables.
- Using a Google slides presentation, I enthusiastically introduce the books, assuring students that these titles will be nothing like the material they are required to read for school (although I make it a point to stress that what they read for English class is valuable and necessary!).
- I have them mark their initial reaction to each book by putting a plus or minus in the appropriate column of the handout they received.
- For each title, I display a slide that shows the first sentence or two of the book. I read these to them so they can see that the language is catchy and contemporary, and then go on to tell them about the book’s plot, themes and style.
- When I’m done doing the book talks, I instruct the students to have one group member read the summary aloud (these are in plastic displays on each table); examine the cover and content of the book; discuss and record the central ideas; and move around the library to examine the other books.
- Students write their individual choices on the worksheets, and, if time permits, answer two closing questions related to their selection process.
Because the English teachers recognized that their 10th-grade students needed more guidance than the 11th graders, they requested that I keep the list short and wanted me to include a specific graphic novel, Maus II, for some of their reluctant readers who previously showed interest in Maus I. We also decided to have a more casual literature circle structure than the one during our Speed Dating lesson, allowing them to walk around the library tables exploring the books at their own pace. As I have found during other literature lessons, I noticed that almost all of the students were surprised to learn how many different types of books are available to them. They left the library seeming genuinely excited about their choices.
Not only does promoting reading material outside of academic subject curriculums help produce empathetic, worldly citizens, but it’s also a useful way to inform students about one of the many benefits of the act of reading: stress relief. According to a 2009 University of Sussex study conducted by neuropsychologist David Lewis, as little as six minutes of reading can slow down the heart rate and improve health (Akinchina). Even if you can’t put this lesson into play at the moment, reading and suggesting these books to others can help reduce stress levels as we navigate the uncertainty around us. Hopefully soon we’ll be back to face-to-face learning, but until then, best wishes for healthy, safe, and relaxing reading.
Akinchina, Alexandra. 2019. “Can Reading Reduce Stress?” World Literacy Foundation, worldliteracyfoundation.org/reading-reduces-stress.
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.
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