Today I want to teach you about a simple way to get to know your readers AND to sell books! I call this the Book Carousel.
The goals of the Book Carousel are to get books into kids’ hands and to learn about your readers. As your students participate, you are watching and taking mental notes. Pay attention to which kid chooses the first book they encounter, and then follow up. Did they choose that book because it’s a good fit book for them? Or because they just wanted to get the activity over and done with? Or because they have no idea how to find a good fit book? The next day, follow up with those students and ask them if they are enjoying the book or abandoning it. Then, ask them why. Be curious about your readers, and never judgmental.
Other students will walk around and around and around, and never choose a book. Again, pay attention to that. You will learn the most about your outliers. If a student can’t commit to a book after 4-5 rounds, stop the music and have a chat. What is making this hard for them? How can you help? Ten minutes with this activity will give you LOTS of insights into your readers, and help you plan for instruction and match kids to books. Here’s how.
- Begin by choosing a few more books than you have readers. If I have 25 students, I generally choose about 30 books. Make sure you choose a wide variety of genre, reading level and length. Include non-fiction!
- Lay them in a large circle on the floor. This is the Carousel. Space the books a few inches apart.
- Get some music ready! (I usually stream Disney songs from Amazon Prime Music. I know they are clean!)
4. That is all you have to prep! I often use this as a transition, but it works well pretty much anytime you have 10 minutes. Ask the kids to stand in a circle around the books (you see that I put the books facing outward so that they can easily read the title and see the cover. BUT, they don’t get to touch the books YET!
5. Tell the kids this is a bit like Musical Chairs. When the music starts, they will rotate in a circle. When the music stops, they will grab a book next to them and spend one minute with it. Remind them that good readers look at the title and the cover, and also read the blurb on the back and open the book. In their one minute, they should take a thorough look and ask themselves this important question, “Is this a Good Fit book for me?” You have the freedom to define Good Fit in the way that works best for you. Some teachers ask kids to give themselves the five-finger test or check a reading level. I do not. I define a Good Fit book as one the the student feels interested in reading. That’s it. Once I read Shanahan’s research on reading levels, and I met Amy (who I will tell you about another day!), I knew that I needed to move away from reading levels. But, you may have other district expectations or ideas, and that is OK!
After students spent one minute with a book, they have a decision to make. Is this the book for me?That’s it!
6. If the student decides that this a Good Fit book for them, they take the book, go to their seat and start to read. When they finish the book, they are responsible for returning it to its spot in the Book Nook. If the student decides a book is NOT for them, they carefully place it back in the circle. When the music begins again, they rotate to a new spot, peruse a new book, and hopefully find a Good Fit!
Generally, a few kids choose books on the first round. As I mentioned previously, these are kids to be curious about. Why did they choose a book so quickly? Was it really that easy?
Most kids go around 3-4 times before finding a book they want to read. Here are few issues to think through before you try this activity.
- How will you handle the student who comes to you after the third round, and asks to get the book they perused in the first round? This is especially tricky if another student has chosen the book in the meantime.
- What will you do with the few students who cannot, or won’t choose a book? There will be some, especially at the beginning of the year when you don’t know your readers well. How will you handle that after the 5th or 6th round?
- Will you require each student to walk away with a book?
I do require each student to walk away with a book. I ask them to make a 15 minute commitment to the book, and then to put it back in the Book Nook if they find they don’t like it. If a student asks me for a book that they perused in a previous round, I let them grab it if it is available. If not, I give them a sticky and ask them to write their name on the sticky note so that the current possessor of the book will know who to pass the book on to when they finish with it. However, they still have to choose another book today! Finally, if a student can’t, or won’t, choose a book, I try to be curious about that. They must choose a book, and sometimes, by asking open-ended questions, together we can find a book. Sometimes, as we chat, I realize that the fault is mine and I didn’t give them a choice they would like. So, we expand the search into the Book Nook until we find a book. But everyone MUST have a book!
So, that’s Book Carousel. I use this strategy once a month or so. It is a great way to get books into kids’ hands and keep them motivated to read. You also learn a ton about your readers, especially the kids on the edges who choose books quickly, or don’t choose! Doing this multiple times a year helps you notice changes in your readers and keep up to date! It takes 10 minutes and it feels kind of like a party because of the music. I hope you find this a helpful strategy. Happy teaching!