Book Talk Videos Let Peers Encourage Peers
Kristen Day became a middle school Librarian/Media Specialist in New Braunfels, Texas after 15 years of teaching English and Reading in the middle grades.
This school year I’ve been recording informal video book talks with three 6th grade girls who serve as (lively) participants on a discussion panel we post on YouTube. Not only are we having a good time – we’re having a good effect.
After only 7 episodes, I have already seen the positive impact. For example, after watching Episode #3 about the book Starfish by Lisa Fipps, two students I’d never seen in the library checked out the two copies I have.
And Episode #2, featuring the novel Ground Zero by Alan Gratz, seems to have inspired our whole campus – it’s now one of the most circulated books in our school library. In fact, Alan Gratz titles are 3 of our top 10 most-asked-for titles.
Why record book talks?
Recording student-led book talk videos is one of many ways to reach reluctant readers on a middle school campus. And the more ways, the better! A combination of video, music, graphics, peer discussion, and word-of-mouth recommendations served as my set of go-to strategies for reading encouragement during 15 years of teaching.
Now that I’m a middle school librarian, I need to reach the whole campus, and our book talk videos (which can bring all those strategies together) are helping me accomplish this.
Why and how did I choose these students?
This is my first year at my current middle school campus, so I didn’t know any of the students or the campus culture. To search out the reading community, I started a book club. The three students in the videos are among the club’s 6th grade members.
They are each other’s reading partners within the club, and they coined themselves “EGG,” based on the first initials of their names (Emma, Grace and, well, Grace). One day after we finished reading one of our books, the EGG girls independently remained to discuss it.
They talked about details, character development, the author’s craft and the emotions they felt. As I was listening, I thought to myself, “I wish the entire campus could witness peer discussions like this.” After speaking with their parents for permission, I shared the concept with the girls. They embraced it immediately.
I titled it the “EGG’D Series” to include the initial of my last name. We recorded our first book talk the very next day.
If you want to find students for this type of project, I would observe the students and consult your campus librarian because they will be aware of who is truly reading. In class or in book clubs, read to the students and let them discuss what they’ve heard. Choose a few who are highly verbal, thoughtful and enthusiastic readers.
They don’t have to be friends. Friendships develop when they interact about a book together. And if you find yourself with an abundance of good discussers, you can create more trios and rotate. I do recommend groups of three, though.
How do we prepare for the book talks?
For the first book talk, the girls didn’t have anything to do with the preparation. Although Grace #1, as we call her, surprised us by adding our now catchphrase – “And you just got egged!” – at the end of the first recording.
The next day the girls came in with a bunch of ideas. As sixth graders can do, they overdid it. The reading list they made for future recordings was extensive. This created the opportunity for planning a schedule though. They wanted to include “guest stars” and had ideas of fun segments, too.
Developing the talking points. We will talk about a book we all finished, then pen the questions they feel are the most important to ask. We limit it to 4 questions in addition to the summary and the rating. (I forgot to include a summary in Episode #1… big mistake.)
Low-key prep. The girls always practice their answers but not too much because we want the answers to sound like a free-flowing conversation. Often the girls will decide who has the more insightful answer to a question and ask me to focus on her in editing. (Yes – we do editing. Essential!)
Book choice. The girls choose the books with some guidance from me. We want to include non-fiction as well as most fiction genres… but not horror and suspense. (They’re courageous, but prone to nightmares.)
Finding guests. Book talk guests are easy to find (librarians are perfectly positioned to pull this off). The students and teachers who love to read approach me every day describing books they have enjoyed. Our first guest was another 6th grade girl. She’s an avid reader and will consistently tell me what she thinks about a book when she returns it. When I asked her to join us, she didn’t hesitate and was really excited.
What do I use to record and edit the videos?
I know options of elevated technology equipment are available, but if you’re in a public school library, you know the budget is limited. So I decided to uphold the keep it simple rule.
I use the Photo Booth software available in my Mac laptop which helps me to keep the recording simple. We started with a USB microphone, but the sound was too fuzzy, so I purchased the HyperX Quadcast microphone. I use Canva for editing the videos which includes adding the graphics, sounds and text. I use YouTube to share because it is the easiest and the largest video sharing format and most everyone knows how to navigate it.
As we continue, I will probably acquire different equipment, but for now, I think it’s working. Tech aside, the point is to get students reading by sharing what we enjoy about books.
What do I do with the videos?
After uploading the EGG’D Series episodes on my YouTube channel, I put them on my library website. Then I create an EdPuzzle out of each video as well. I put them in my Library Google Classroom and give out prizes to students who complete the questions.
Also, I send the video links to the teachers on our campus. If they use them, they show them during the study hall period. Teacher support is slowly growing because students are asking to see the videos. One teacher even turned it into a WebQuest assignment!
Beyond campus, I have shared it on our school social media sites and my own Twitter which is library and reading focused. Families struggle with finding books for their children, so they may be inspired by one of our videos.
The biggest challenge and the biggest surprise
Sound has been more of a problem than I anticipated. I happen to be the librarian of an open-concept library, meaning no walls or enclosed spaces. The library is surrounded by hallways with a large acoustic theater directly behind my office and circulation desk. A quiet space doesn’t exist. I purchased a better quality microphone, and there was an improvement, but we’re still working on it. Even though the sound for the videos continues to be an issue, I think we are still able to communicate the content well.
The biggest surprise has been the courage of the girls. I was certain I’d have to fight with them to accept the way they look or sound. But, as you can see, it’s as if all of the pressure has escaped them. Right now, they want to continue throughout their entire middle school years. Time will only tell how far we can take this.
Oh! And one thing that definitely was not a surprise. It’s middle school – you need plenty of snacks!
As we continue, the EGG girls and I plan to include more guest stars and want to record in other local libraries. We would also really like to interview an author. We have future episodes planned where we talk about our favorite childhood books, which I think can lead us to visiting elementary school libraries. We also want to create episodes where we are narrating but using animated characters or pictures.
Ultimately, book talk videos recorded by peers are beneficial especially if we want to inspire the middle grade reluctant readers. They need to witness a few of their peers having fun with books because it does nurture the idea that reading is worth a try.
By sharing these book talk videos and editing them with fun segments, sound effects and graphics, I’m able to appeal to more potential readers across the middle school campus and nurture our reading community.
Kristen Day is a Librarian/Media Specialist at a public middle school campus in New Braunfels, Texas. After 15 years of teaching English and Reading in the middle grades, she decided to return to school and obtain a master’s degree in Library Science and Educational Technology graduating in 2020. After one year with an elementary school, Ms. Day returned to a middle school campus environment as the librarian. Her focus is building a reading culture.