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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Word of Mouth Gets Kids Reading

How Can Student Created Book Reviews Promote Reading?

This should be the post where I tell you about Troy High, an intriguing and inventive novel which sets the Trojan War in a modern American high school. But I can't. I haven't read it.

In fact, I haven't even seen Troy High since a student purchased it for our classroom at a Scholastic book fair three weeks ago. Claudia borrowed it and then gave it to Emily, who passed it on to the other Claudia, who will then pass it on to Kiersten. But Angelica promised to bring in her copy for her other classmates to borrow, so there's a chance I might get to read it sometime before June. That is, unless, it begins to circulate among the other two sections of my sixth grade classes. Shana Norris, consider your book a big hit with middle schoolers!

And it's not just a girl thing, either. The boys have been swapping graphic novels like crazy, especially with the upcoming visit of Amulet author Kazu Kibuishi to our school.

The point is, word of mouth "sells" books, especially among middle and high school students. If peer recommendations are such powerful motivators, then we as teachers should take advantage of them, especially if they'll encourage our students to read.

Student Book Review Sites

Below I've described some sites where students can read book reviews by kids their age, and submit theirs as well.

Scholastic's Share What You're Reading site not only provides students with opportunities to read and write reviews, but also features How to Write a Book Review with Rodman Philbrick. Book reviews are separated by genre (classics, nonfiction, myths, fantasy and science fiction, etc.) and also grade level (K-12). Please note, however, that Scholastic quite clearly notes on their submission form that due to the large number of submissions they receive, they cannot publish all reviews.


Spaghetti Book Club has been around for years, and continues to boast a huge collection of student written reviews, alphabetized by title. Students can also locate books by author's name, which they can do, of course, just as easily on Amazon or any online library catalog, but this site then offers other students' perspectives on books by that author. If you choose to participate as a class, you can group your students' reviews together (see a random class), which provides easy reference for students and parents. Please note, however, that Spaghetti Book Club, unlike Share What You're Reading, is a for-pay site which works with schools, providing a curriculum which leads to the publishing of student reviews.

And that's it. I'm stopping there. The fact is, I spent hours checking out sites featuring book reviews by students, and all have at least one constraint that will keep all of your students from sharing reviews.

So let me now share the best option: Create Your Own Book Review Site.

Don't let that idea scare you off. You could easily use a blog, wiki, or a student-oriented social media site to publish student reviews. 
Advantages: these sites are free, these sites are as public or as private as you choose, you control the format and content, and all students get their reviews posted. 
Disadvantages: Just a little bit more work for you.

Creating Your Own Review Sites

I'm a big fan of PBWorks, a wiki provider. My sixty-five Reading/LA students store much of their digital work in a single class wiki which we call our WikiWorkspace. This allows students to easily access their own work from one location, and read and comment upon their classmates' work as well. Visitors can read what's posted, but are prevented from commenting or editing. So far we've got over one thousand pages and images stored there (including Prezis and videos), and yet we've used just this much of our allotted free space:


On a separate wiki called Monsters Inked, we posted stories in which we collaborated with second graders. Both of these examples illustrate the simplicity of the site. Classroom accounts are free, student accounts are password protected, and the teacher sees all. The site allows embedding of many digital formats, so book reviews need not be static, text-only affairs. Students could easily choose to create book reviews in Photo Story or video format, both of which can be embedded here. (For Photo Story inspiration, check out Mark Geary's article on that topic).

Wikispaces is another wiki provider which I've used in collaboration with other educators, but never in my own classroom. This sample review page shows how a template might be created for a book review which incorporates multimedia.

The following video shows you the collaborative nature of any wiki, regardless of the provider.


Edmodo is a closed, social media site for students. I've used that as well, and highly recommend it. You can read what I had to say about Edmodo at my Teaching that Sticks site, both before and after implementing. This site could easily accommodate student book reviews, and offer peers the opportunity to comment as well.


My class has recently used Collaborize Classroom. Collaborize allows students more opportunity to create original content than Edmodo. Students can post book reviews which include opportunities for peers to vote, suggest and vote, or simply comment. I've also blogged in the past how Collaborize can help teachers fuel classroom discussions. The video below provides a basic overview of the site's features.


Let it be known, my class hasn't created book reviews. Yet. But like reading Troy High, it's something on my To Do List, and something I think I'll enjoy. (Shana Norris, if you're reading this, my students request that you please write a follow-up soon!).

What are your experiences with creating student book reviews? What application or program would you recommend? How are completed projects shared with peers? And most importantly, what else are you doing in and out of your classroom to take advantage of the power of word of mouth to get students reading?

7 comments:

DJL said...

Holy schnikies, Keith, that's awesome that Kazu Kibuishi's visiting your school! Talk about lucky students! :) Being a librarian, I am in complete support of anything that gets grades 6 through 12 to read. That always seems to be an area that falls through the cracks at the library, and we do our best to prevent that from happening. But often it helps to just let the recommendations flow from their peers.

Granted, I think it does help having some librarians who enjoy YA Literature and graphic novels, but at the same time a lot of interest in these books is passed along via the student grapevine. :) I might tell one of our teen patrons they might like King of Thorn if they're into dystopian science-fiction graphic novels, but if they hear about it from a peer, they might be more likely to check it out.

Hopefully you'll get to read Troy High someday, and I hope you enjoy it as much as your students.

~DJL

Keith Schoch said...

You're right about the peer recommendations, and it cuts both ways. I told one girl she'd love Witch of Blackbird Pond, but she didn't think she'd like it since a cousin hadn't cared for it. Two years later she sheepishly came back and said she loved it!

I've learned (ever since Harry Potter) to also listen to students when they recommend books to me!

kathy@bookskidslike.com said...

Great information post! I checked out Scholastic and Spaghetti...they have been saved to my favorites!! When I taught HS English, I would often start book discussions with students by asking, "What are you reading?" I loved when a lively discussion ensued.

Keith Schoch said...

By big problem with that approach (and I guess it's a "good problem") is that when one student really talks a book up, EVERYBODY else wants to read it, and then you're scrambling to find lots of copies before interest wanes. The popularity of titles definitely ebbs and flows, so you never know what will be hot next.

Shana Ray said...

That DEFINITELY sounds like a great problem to have! Students getting excited to read what their peers recommend versus having a teacher tell them they have to read it. :)

Thanks once again Keith for showing your Collaborize love!

+Shana (aka @Collaborize + @ShanaatDS)

Keith Schoch said...

I just wish that every "clique" at school had a literary advocate; there are simply too many groups who don't count reading in their top list of priorities.

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