Book Alikes

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Background:  I am a huge fan of writing for real purpose.  In order to have students engaged in learning, they need to feel as though what they’re doing really matters in some way.  (Other than just earning a good grade!)  When it comes to writing, one of the ways we can create a real purpose is to provide an audience who will be reading what the students create, so I’m experimenting with having students write something for my Book Buzz blog. 

I began Book Buzz back in the fall to provide a forum where students could discuss the South Carolina Children’s Book Award nominees.  I created a post for each of the 20 titles nominated for the award, and allowed students to leave (moderated) comments about the books they were reading.  Once the book award contest ended in March, I decided to keep Book Buzz going as a general book/author/illustrator blog for students to read and comment on.

One of my recent Book Buzz posts was on Book Alikes, and it occurred to me that my students could be a great source of information regarding books that were similar to one another and that their classmates might enjoy reading.  So two weeks ago I asked my 5th grade Library classes to come up with titles of books that have something in common, and then write a short description of how the books are alike and why other kids would enjoy reading them.  I explained that some of their suggestions would be shared online through Book Buzz for people all over the world to read.

So, how did that turn out?  You can see the some student-recommended Book Alikes here, here, here, here, and here, with more to come in the next couple of days.

Downside:  Students were asked to do this “cold” as they walked into the Library for their weekly Library class, so there was no time for them to think, plan, or polish.  Some claimed they just couldn’t think of two books that were alike.

Upside:  Many of the kids were very enthusiastic about the project, and some were so excited they wanted to read their comparisons to me right away and explain their choices further.  

I definitely plan to do this again next year, but I’ll introduce it early in the school year and make it an ongoing project for students.  Showing them the examples from this year’s students should spark more ideas, and allowing the students plenty of time to develop their ideas will no doubt improve the quality of the recommendations and the writing. 

I’m debating on whether I should try to interest some classroom teachers in using this as a formal writing activity, or whether being graded on it would take some of the enjoyment out of it for students.  Your thoughts?