Fix-It: Five Ways to Fix the Book Report


The second in the "Fix-It" series. The idea is to take the bad ideas and practices in education and somehow salvage them. Today's topic is the often-dread book report.

When I was a kid, I hated book reports. Most of the time, I had to summarize information without ever analyzing it. It felt like it was a compliance trick, a "prove that you did this" activity when what I really wanted to do was talk about the book with my friends and my teacher. For me, the book report got in the way of the love of reading. It was like getting a large piece of cake and then being told I had to eat it with chop sticks.

Okay, not the best metaphor.

As a teacher, I have re-tooled the book report into something a little different. It's the same idea: show me what you read and why it matters. However, it's a slightly different angle. I've tried to infuse the book report with critical thinking, collaboration and creativity. Here are a few things that have worked:
  1. Create book discussion groups throughout the course of the book. This can be a chance for students to cite text evidence (tied into the Common Core) in answering questions that require students to analyze the book. This is also a great chance for students to develop their own questions in leading group discussions. Google Docs, Today's Meet and Book Blogs are some online spaces that have worked well for me in getting kids to delve deeply into discourse.  
  2. Concept maps: Students keep a concept map with the elements of literature and then discuss the connections between concepts. Questions might include: How did the setting shape the character? How did the character's action propel the plot forward? How did the events change
  3. Multimedia reviews: Allow students to make short video previews (similar to movie previews) promoting a novel. Let them record a book podcast.  
  4. Book blog: Literature can speak powerfully into people's lives. I know that sounds "fluffy" in a world of Common Core Career Readiness. However, students fall in love with reading when they connect it to their world. A book blog can be a great space for students to think through what they are reading. This can also be a place where they can be creative and "hack" a book (think fan fiction). Students can create mock interviews with characters or re-write scenes. 
  5. Write a review for GoodReads or Amazon. Allow students to engage with an audience. Instead of simply asking students to summarize the theme, character development and plot, ask students to evaluate the effectiveness of the language, the plausibility of the plot or the truth of the theme. Let them write about whether the characters were truly round.