Digital Book Talks in Middle Grades Science
By Katie Caprino and Alyssa Marzili
Book talks are common in English Language Arts classrooms and libraries. But what about in the middle grades science classroom?
In this post we – a literacy teacher educator and a future teacher – consider the qualities of a good book talk and why they are useful in science studies. We also share some contemporary middle grades titles that integrate science topics and offer five tips for integrating digital book talks into middle grades science.
What Is a Book Talk?
A student book talk is like a movie trailer for a book. It previews the major points of the book without giving away the plot entirely and highlights what the reader did and did not like. The goal of book talks is to encourage others to read the book. They are typically short, lasting a few minutes, and can be done face-to-face or digitally on tools like YouTube or Flipgrid. In this article we focus specifically on digital book talks.
Why Do Book Talks in the Middle Grades?
Having students read middle grades books that incorporate science content helps build students’ literacy skills, and, more specifically, science literacy. For example, students can develop knowledge of scientific vocabulary. And if students read fiction texts that feature science content, they are being exposed to genres not usually read in science class – and perhaps books not typically read in English Language Arts either.
The more genres students are exposed to, the more likely they will find books they enjoy reading. Having students give book talks on the texts they read will help them have a purpose for reading, develop ways to share texts with fellow readers, and view science and literacy in ways they had not seen before.
Where to Find Great Science Trade Books
Before asking students to compose digital book talks, you can help them find great reads. We recommend several sources. The National Science Teaching Association publishes an annual list of outstanding science trade books. Goodreads features a variety of lists by user contributors, with brief summaries, ratings and additional analytical details. Reading Rockets’ Book Finder also lets you search for books by reader’s age, reading level, genre, format, and topic.
Local bookshops and larger book sellers, such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon, are also great sources (and often have science books discounted). And do not forget about your school or local public librarian! (Also see the article 5 Kinds of Nonfiction here at MiddleWeb.)
Here are seven books Alyssa recommends that have good book talk potential.
This table shares a bit more about these contemporary middle grades texts.
Engaging Students in Digital Book Talks
Here are five tips for having students engage in digital book talks in your classroom.
● Decide on the areas you want students to address. We recommend having students include the following in their book talk: title, author, brief summary, critique (likes / dislikes), and science topics found in the text. They might highlight an amazing fact they learned.
● Here is an example of a digital book talk created by Elizabethtown College education graduate Angela Carcella:
● Have students create a rough draft of their book talk and practice before filming. Book talks do not need to be read or memorized. In fact, we think that could cause the book talks to come off as inauthentic. However, a little practice will help students be prepared.
● Allow students to select their filming tool. Students can create book talks on a variety of tools. YouTube works, as does Flipgrid. We do recommend a tool that has a sharing option.
● Allow time for filming. We recommend allowing students to film their book talks during class time. This will allow them to use you and their classmates as a resource.
Invite students to comment on others’ book talks. Have students post their book talks and permit classmates to comment on others’ book talks. This sharing emphasizes the social nature of literacy, and we all know that students’ recommendations go much further than a teacher’s or librarian’s recommendation ever would!
We look forward to hearing how you incorporate digital book talks in your classroom!
The authors would like to thank the Mellon Foundation for its support in developing the content of this blog post.
Katie Caprino is an Assistant Professor of PK-12 New Literacies at Elizabethtown College. She taught middle and high school English in Virginia and North Carolina. She holds a BA from the University of Virginia, a MA from the College of William and Mary, a MA from Old Dominion University, and a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Katie researches and presents on children’s, middle grades, and young adult literature; the teaching of writing; and incorporating technology into the literacy classroom. You can follow her on Twitter @KCapLiteracy and visit her book blog.
Alyssa Marzili is a senior Early Childhood Education major at Elizabethtown College with a minor in English Professional Writing. Presently, she is the Editor-in-Chief of The Etownian, and the lead writing tutor. In her free time, she writes fictional books, mostly middle-level and young adult.