Video book talks

A multi-purpose activity

In my workshop classroom, independent reading is a non-negotiable. It is a sacred time. If I want my students to become better readers and truly develop a love of reading, I have to give them time to actually read.

As the year progresses, some students start to fizzle out a bit in their enthusiasm for independent reading. Especially students for whom reading has never been enjoyable or never been a habit, it can become difficult to stick with it day in and day out.

I try to do a lot of different activities to introduce my students to the books in my library. I do 1-2 book talks (nearly) every day, presenting books of different reading levels, genres, and lengths. If it’s a book I’ve read, I share about my experience reading it and tell a bit about the plot to get students interested. If I haven’t read it, I will read the back cover or pick a page to read aloud.

I also have students talk to each other about the books they are reading from time to time. We occasionally do a book tasting or book pass, and of course I help individual students find books they might like all the time.

Of all of these, it seems students are most interested in the books their classmates tell them about. When I ask students to partner up and “sell” their books, they often get really animated. Students often add their partner’s book to their “To read next” list, which is a huge success. When they have a good list of titles they’re interested in, they have a much easier time selecting a new book when they finish one.

With this in mind, and knowing I had speaking/presentation standards to work on, I decided to have my students create video book talks on Flipgrid.

I started by creating a planning sheet that students could use to prepare their book talk. On the back, I typed up my own example so students would have a guide as to length and detail. (Mine was probably a little *too* detailed, but you know most students are going to do less, not more, so that’s okay.)

Students worked in class to prepare their book talk presentations, and had the option to record their videos in the hallway during class or at home after school. Most students chose to record at home, where they could change out of their uniforms, make sure they looked their best, and just feel more relaxed. (Side note: I had to ask at least 5 students to please change their smoke alarm batteries after watching their videos and listening to the low battery chirp over and over. I feel like this was an added benefit.)

We created and shared our video book talks on Flipgrid. Students need to download the app on their phones or use a computer to record and upload their videos. Once uploaded, any member of the grid (for my purposes, any member of the class section) can view their video. Students can also record a video response to their classmates. None of mine actually did, but it could be something you require – as in, watch 3 video book talks and post a video response to one of them.

Example Video Book Talks

I might as well admit it now: many of my students hated the vulnerability of this project. And honestly, I was shocked: how could these students, the Snapchat generation, be too embarrassed to record a 2-minute video of themselves and share it on Flipgrid? It took me a while to recognize that the videos would be shared outside of their friend groups and social media circles, so that added a layer of discomfort. However, when I sent out a Remind message, at 9:15 pm, asking if any of my students would let me share their videos with you all, I had 5 responses in mere minutes saying I could share theirs.

For the most part, I told my students that they needed to complete the videos and share them with the class on Flipgrid. However, I made exceptions for students with a variety of circumstances, such as:

  • a few students who struggle with speaking Spanish in front of their classmates because they are embarrassed by their pronunciation
  • a student who is extremely shy and anxious and was essentially paralyzed with fear at the idea of it
  • a student dealing with personal issues with several classmates who was worried about screenshots being taken and used to tease/bully her

All of these students were still required to record a video, but rather than upload it to Flipgrid, I had them show me their video in person and then delete it. I didn’t want them to feel terribly uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to “punish” them with a zero for not doing it, but I did want them to practice the skill of recording a presentation. This seemed like a good compromise, and the students were grateful for this accommodation.

Overall, I have really enjoyed this project. I am now using a video book talk in class each day. It’s been a fun way to introduce new books to my students, and was a great way to get them to practice speaking without having to spend days listening to presentations. I will probably have them do another video later in the year. Hopefully they are more comfortable with it by then!

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