Saturday, September 30, 2017

Our First Book Tasting Event

I have been seeing many teacher librarians talk about book tasting activities on social media over the past several months. With our specialized student focus on increasing interest in reading this year, book tasting is something I've wanted to try with our high school students. Just a few days ago, we attempted our first such event. It was a great success, and I will share the journey of its development in the paragraphs below.


During lunch, we have been sharing the idea of a book tasting event with students for the past few weeks. I've been surprised at how many of them liked the idea. We began thinking that this could be an excellent service to provide teachers in their classrooms. Such book "catering" events could be a creative way to advertise our newly genrefied fiction section to teachers and students. For information on our genrefication process, please read Kaitlyn Price's (my teacher librarian colleague) blog article here.


There are always opportunities to reach teachers with library services. We merely have to actively seek such chances. That opportunity happened one afternoon when Mrs. Michelle Davis, one of our 10th grade ELA teachers, came to the library. We had just been talking about book tasting, and we told her about it. She was immediately interested in having us come to her class. We found a date and began talking about what it could look like.

Room Layout
The Event

Mrs. Davis decided to use 6 tables in her classroom set with a restaurant theme. We had battery powered candles, tablecloths, and a "Book Pass" form that my teacher library colleague, Kaitlyn Price, had previously used.   Mrs. Davis would greet students outside her door and hand them a "Book Pass" form (you can find this form on Kaitlyn's blog here). She also took time to describe the expectations of the day. The students spent 7 minutes at each table. We had at least 10 titles at each location. The genres she selected were Sci-Fi/ Fantasy, Action/ Adventure, Realistic Fiction/ Historical Fiction, Romance/ Biographies, Sports, and Mystery/ Suspense. The "Book Pass" form required students to list the Title/ Author, list their comments, list the genre, and provide a rating. This form also served as their exit ticket for class.

The "Chef" Makes a Visit
Kaitlyn and I would roll in a cart with the books after her introduction. We both wore aprons and carried the books to the tables as if we were servers in a restaurant. I used phrases like "Careful, these are hot", "I believe this table ordered Sci-Fi/ Fiction... excellent", and "This book is cooked medium rare for you, sir." The students seemed to enjoy the role play we provided. In the middle of the sessions, Ray Borel, one of our library assistants, would visit the class dressed as a chef. He used a French accent to interact and check on the students. During the last 6 minutes of class, we would return to check out books "to go." On the next day, all her classes came to the library to respond to a Google Form survey we created. You can view some of their responses in the Student Voice portion of this article below.

Teacher Reflection (Mrs. Michelle Davis)

The book tasting may be one of the most successful activities I have ever had in my classes.  Though I have worked to create a reading-friendly culture or mindset in my classes this year by spending the first ten minutes of every class each day reading, this helped to convince me that even my reluctant readers are willing with the right approach.  I cannot thank our media specialists enough for coming to me with an idea and working together to form a plan that kept 5 classes of sophomores engaged and reading for full 50 minutes (or more) class periods.  

The formal dining ambiance of the event created a sense of curiosity and excitement in my students. Students were intrigued by the formality of a maitre d’  greeting them as they approached the door and were in awe of candlelit tables as they entered.  The interest didn’t stop with seating either. Students remained engaged throughout the periods, sampling from six different genres.  

Candlelight Book "Dining"
It was thrilling to watch my students browsing through the many choices they had been served, choosing the “dish” they believed to be most favorable to their appetites, and devouring the stories. The positive reaction that I both saw and received was rewarding.   There were several students who, though pretending to be uninterested, checked out books for “to go” orders when they believed no one was looking or paying attention.  Additionally, I had students thank me (surprising, right?) and even request future book tastings. Many students anxiously asked if they would get their book passes returned so that they had the list to refer to in the future.  

The whole event was a success.  There was very little redirecting students.  Most of the students stayed focused and willingingly engaged for the entire event. I am anxious to see how my students respond in their official feedback forms following the event.

I will absolutely be doing this again with my classes.  The event allowed the students time to sample books that they may have never willingly chosen otherwise and find gems beyond my limited classroom library.  

Student Voices

"I thought it was an interesting way to get people to get a taste of some reading genres that might not appeal to certain people."

"At first I thought it was going to be boring but it turned out to be pretty fun."

"I thought it was pretty cool but I feel like we should have had more time to actually read the books and get a good taste."

"It was cool and interesting and helped me find out what kind of books I like."

"I really liked it. I ended up finding a book that I like. I would have never found this book if I would have not done this."


It always surprises me how simple changes to a classroom space can alter the dynamic in a dramatic way. Mrs. Davis' students were extremely engaged in this activity. It was a wonderful opportunity for us to get out into a classroom. Teachers and students saw us in the hallways as we went to and fro in our costumes. This advertised the event in a great way! Teachers and administrators visited the event. In addition, several ELA teachers now want us to bring our "book catering" to their classrooms. One has even made reservations for these services for early next week. I think we have a great recipe for literacy success in the building. Think about launching your own book tasting event soon. Be sure to share your book tasting stories in the comments below.

Other Posts That Might Interest You: 

How we helped geography classes Skype with national parks in the library.

3 things I've learned about Breakout EDU.

My table of contents for the blog is here!

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

3 Things I've Learned About Breakout EDU

 I first wrote about our adventures with Breakout EDU after I discovered it on summer professional development trips last year. You can read about our first library orientation Breakout EDU here. Since that time, we have learned so much about how to facilitate such sessions. To illustrate this, I want to present 3 things I've learned about Breakout EDU over the past year. I hope you will find these points helpful as you begin planning your own sessions.

1. Have enough boxes for everyone - The first year we conducted Breakout sessions, we didn't always have enough boxes for everyone. As I recall, we might have 12-15 students assigned to one box. We discovered it was more difficult to keep everyone engaged with higher numbers on one box. This year we have used more boxes for classes when possible. By keeping 7-10 students assigned to one box, we noticed a higher level of engagement during our library orientation sessions this year (2017-2018). The students also seemed to enjoy it more by having fewer student teams on each box.

2. Take up the locks when students unlock them - I'm not sure how many locks were ruined last year, but it was significant! After students unlock locks, they will automatically play with them. When this happens, I promise they will accidentally reset the locks. This can make for a really bad day of Breakout EDU! This year, I had students bring me any locks or lockboxes immediately after opening them. I would give them a hint to move on if they followed this direction. The results were no ruined locks and a happier experience for all! Also, at the end of the day be sure to reset locks to something you can remember while they are in storage. We now reset the number locks to 000 or 0000. The direction lock to UP-UP-UP-UP and the word lock to SPELL. We have discovered that we cannot always remember the last Breakout EDU puzzle from several months prior. Resetting your locks for storage will greatly reduce future stress!

3. You don't have to help them immediately, let them problem solve! - During our first year of Breakout EDU sessions, I felt like I had to give the students a hint every time they got stuck. I hated seeing them struggle. I missed the point. Breakout EDU is all about problem-solving and teamwork. Let them struggle and think as a team. The better they work as a team, the more successful they will be. The struggle is part of the experience. Offer hints, but make them agree to ask for a hint as a team. Consider giving them a specific number for hint support advice (for instance, each team can only receive 3 hints, etc).

Breakout EDU takes a lot of time to plan and execute. I had several students ask if I like setting up puzzles. I told them it was very time consuming to do, but it is so worth it to see them learn through engaging puzzles. Be sure to share your favorite Breakout EDU moments and/ or blog articles in the comments below!

Other Posts That Might Interest You: 

How we helped geography classes Skype with national parks in the library.

3 things every educator should remember.

My table of contents for the blog is here!

I have a monthly email newsletter for the subscribers of the Library Media Tech Talk blog. If you are interested in exclusive content not appearing on the blog, be sure to subscribe by submitting your email address! Subscribe here!

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Geography Classes Skype with National Parks

Several months ago, I wrote about ways to connect your library with Skype. If you haven't read that piece, take a moment to get familiar with Skype in the Classroom and the cool connection possibilities they offer. Since writing that article, I have had the opportunity to have some wonderful virtual tours with National Parks around the United States. I would like to share how we did this with several 9th-grade Geography classes during the spring semester of 2017.

The Need

Geography was offered to 9th-grade students during the second semester of the 2016-2017 school year. Two of the teachers that would be presenting these classes came to me because they knew we frequently connected via Skype in the library. They asked if we could help them connect to National Parks around the country as part of their classes. The teachers knew this would be a wonderful way to expose students to different land forms and places around the country in a new way. I was very excited to assist them with this endeavor!

How We Set Up The Sessions

I visited the Skype in the Classroom web page to see what parks were available through virtual field trips. I selected which sessions the teachers wanted, and put our available dates with times. It didn't take long for national park rangers to email me confirmation times. We typically connected the day before each session to test our connection and equipment.

What Happened

Below are brief descriptions of each park session. I made Facebook Live video broadcasts and put them on YouTube to share here.

Badlands National Park is located in South Dakota. The ranger did a great job talking about the landforms and wildlife in the area. My favorite part of this video clip is when he turned the camera around to show the students snow on the ground. The entire room reacted with a unanimous sigh. It was one of those moments that reminded me why we should connect our students to the world outside of our classroom!

Yellowstone National Park is located in Wyoming, Montana, and parts of Idaho. We enjoyed hearing about geysers, hot springs, and other natural phenomena during the session.

Joshua Tree National Park is located in Southern California. I recall that the park ranger Skyped outside with a desert background! It was a wonderful experience for our learners.

Student Reflections

"What I liked about Skyping the Badlands National Park was that he showed us fossils of animals that used to live in that area."

"I LOVED the whole experience! I have one suggestion though, maybe students go one at a time and ask their question/ questions? But loved the whole experience. Maybe we could Skype with the White House."

"The Skype was very good. It gave us information and something for us to look at and see that what we are learning is happening around the world..." 

"I think the Skype call was fun, and I liked how he showed pictures and fossils and stuff to show the animals that were actually there. I think he did a good job explaining everything, and I thought he knew the material very well."

Final Thoughts

I think this illustrates an important way the library can help connect teachers and students to the world outside of the school building. Teacher librarians often have a flexible schedule at the secondary level. This allows us to locate and schedule events like this for teachers that may not have the time or confidence with such connective technology. This is definitely a future ready practice we can all bring to the table. What are you waiting for? It's time to connect! Be sure to add your memorable connection moments in the comments below.

Other Posts That Might Interest You: 

Are you listening to student voice?

Connect your library with Skype.

My table of contents for the blog is here!

I have a monthly email newsletter for the subscribers of the Library Media Tech Talk blog. If you are interested in exclusive content not appearing on the blog, be sure to subscribe by submitting your email address! Subscribe here!

Contact Me/ Follow Me

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