Last November, I wrote about one of my favorite library collaborations: Speed Dating with Nonfiction Books. A few weeks ago, it was time for this year’s 11th-grade ELA students to participate. Taking what I learned from the past two speed dating iterations, I tweaked the lesson slightly. After another day of watching students immersed in books, I am hopeful that I created an improved activity that sparked the interest of students and motivated them to view reading as an enjoyable pastime.
A quick recap of the lesson: After asking the students an introductory question, I give brief book talks of 10 nonfiction titles, while displaying the book covers and the first sentences on the Smart Board. Once I’m done with the talks, each group spends two minutes at a table, where they read summaries of the books, look through the pages, and write the central idea on a graphic organizer. When the timer goes off, they move to the next table and repeat the process. At the end of the period, students choose their top three choices.
Here are the changes I made to the lesson this year:
- Book Selection: For the past two years I’ve tried to include books that spanned diverse topics. In doing this, however, I sometimes included works that were too dense or overwhelming for students. This year, I made sure that each of the 10 books could be considered a “page turner,” one that would not add to their existing academic-related stress.
- Dating Tables: In previous years, I asked teachers to divide their classes into groups. Often, tables had three or four students at them. This year, because of smaller class sizes, each of the ten tables had only two students. This arrangement was more conducive to “dating.” There were no extraneous conversations and students appeared more focused on their tasks. (Next year, if classes are larger again, I’ll add extra books/tables or double up on some books in order to keep the numbers at two per table.
- Bias in Book Talks: I did my best this year to keep my personal opinions out of my book talks. Having read all ten of the books in the project, I naturally have those that I favor. Last year, I found that the students easily picked up on this and disproportionately chose books that were on the top of my list. In my latest lesson, I tried to convey something exciting about each book. (I need to work on this further: I couldn’t help mentioning a section in Erin Chack’s book that made me cry from laughing so hard–this turned out to be one of the students’ most selected books.)
- Timing: Last year I struggled with the timing; by the end of the class periods, I was rushing to have students visit each table. This year, I was aware of the time right from the beginning. As it got closer to the end of the period, I was able to make quick decisions to shorten the sessions to one and a half minutes, or one minute if it got even tighter. Another key to improving the flow: I used the timer on my phone instead of displaying one on the Smart Board. As a result, I was able to walk around the room and restart the timer quickly.
- Aim and Closure Questions: Though I ask a valuable introductory question (“What can you learn from reading a book about a topic you’ve never explored?”), I only posed it to them briefly this time around, and then launched right into the book talks. This immediately livened the vibe in the room. Similarly, I decided to allow the students to contemplate the closure questions (“What attracted you to the titles that you selected?” “What do you hope to learn from your top-choice book?”) on their own time. This way, they were able to spend more time browsing the books and discussing them with their partner.
As with every lesson I create, I learn something new each time I teach it. Though I am thrilled with the way this year’s speed dating with nonfiction books lessons turned out, I will continue to analyze the process and assess students’ reactions and resulting reading experiences so that I can keep working toward raising teens’ reading motivation.
List of Speed Dating Books (click on the titles for my Goodreads reviews)
- You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
- This Is Really Happening by Erin Chack
- All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
- One Day We’ll All Be Gone and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul
- The Girl With Seven Names: Escape from North Korea by Hyeonseo Lee
- Coming Clean by Kimberly Rae Miller
- Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
- Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro
- Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
- The Girl Who Smiled Beads: A Story of War and What Comes After by Clemantine Wamariya and Elizabeth Weil
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is a library media specialist at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal and Woodbury Magazine. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, the beach, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.