Tools and Resources

Class and Family Book Tasting During Distance Learning

Designing reading activities to engage K-12 students at home

One of my favorite parts of the day with my students is reading a novel with them. Regardless of age, children love when their teacher or family member reads to them. Many of my colleagues have mentioned that this is the time they miss the most with their students during this period of remote learning. They miss their students asking questions about the characters; the demands for “Just read one more page, please!” They miss the rich discussions that develop into debates and connections. But we can still share purposeful read-alouds with our students during distance learning.

Class Book Tasting

Reading a portion of several books is a great way to determine what your students would like to read and/or discuss. What child does not enjoy choice and getting to have a say in what they get to hear and learn about? How do we do that during distance learning, though? 

First, take advantage of the fact that many authors have given permission for their books to be read aloud (and recorded) during this time. Always start with the standards you would like to review or teach (depending on your school district’s directive). Next, create a questionnaire using Kahoot, Google Forms, or paper and pencil and have students share their opinions on the book you are considering. Portions of a book can be shared via digital read-aloud sources like Epic, Booksie, Vooks, and Storyline Online so that students can have the texts in front of them almost like they’re holding them in their hands! We can read portions of the book using Google Meet, Zoom, Flipgrid, or other platforms–consider recording and posting these for students to access in YouTube, a shared class Google drive, or whatever virtual file-sharing-platform your school is using. This way students who can’t attend live can still hear your read-aloud! One or two pages or a specific paragraph can also be sent to students to read to determine their favorite choice. They can share their favorite choice by participating in an online debate to defend their reasoning. One way to do this is to have students share their views orally if the class is together on Zoom, Google Meet, or other virtual platform. They can also write about it on a shared Google Document. 

Once you have shared the portions of the books and your students have completed their questionnaire, you can determine what novel will serve as your next class book. A great way to reveal the book choice is to wrap it and share a picture of it on your Class Dojo, Google Classroom, or another platform, and then unwrap it in front of the class during your scheduled digital visit. You can also create an iMovie and share it on your Google Classroom as a teaser. Book tasting gives students the opportunity for choice and defending their reasoning. All children have a way to access the book whether it is read to them or they read a portion independently. Students are predicting, connecting, and reflecting during this engaging activity.

Reading Class Chapter Books During Distance Learning

After your students have chosen THE book for them, it is time to read for a purpose. You might want to read the entire chapter for your students, during your Google Meets or Zoom session, to get the gist and then ask text-dependent questions. You could also record yourself reading the chapter using Loom, Google Slides, or Zoom. Then you can share a specific paragraph or page you would like your students to analyze for a specific purpose if you’re reading aloud a text they’ll all be able to access digitally. Students can explain their thinking on Google Meet, on a Google Document, or in another way. Remember our students who are English Language Learners can use Google Translate and digital books that are translated into their native language to access the learning. The key is to keep them engaged and build and then sustain that love for reading.

Family Book Tasting

A family book tasting is similar to a class book tasting and is a great activity to share when everyone is home for long periods of time. The major difference is you’re looking for a book the entire family will enjoy. 

One of the ways I have accomplished this with my own two children and my husband is choosing four or five books that support their interests. You can do this using the same resources I mentioned in the class book tasting section, or you can use books in your own home library. Since it is a “book tasting,” I would have my children choose their favorite snack to share during our family reading event. My husband and I would read a few pages of each of the books aloud to my son and daughter. Then, all four of us would discuss which book we should read as a family. Over the years, we have read Magic Tree House books, Paul Catanese books, and the Harry Potter series. Family book tasting events promote the importance of literacy within the home. Children of all ages can participate in the family reading time by listening to other family members read the book (in person or virtually), asking questions to make sense of the text, making predictions, and sharing the lessons they learned from the characters. 

Families can choose to read books in their native language, too. I will never forget when one of my students told me that she, her grandma, mom, dad, and siblings all chose a book written in their native language to read each night as a family. These are memories that last a lifetime.

Creating that Family Connection with Book Tasting and Shared Novels

Book tastings and sharing novels promote fluency, comprehension, questioning, and defending one’s thinking. Parents and grandparents can share books that were their favorites as kids. I remember when I introduced my daughter to Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume when she was in fourth grade. The conversations we had reading that book together helped us grow our relationship. She read to me, and I read to her. Sometimes, she would want to read a chapter independently and then discuss it with me. It motivated her to want to read more books with independent female characters. My sister’s family, with children ranging in age from 6-12, is reading Harry Potter books (during the school closure) and then watching the movies to compare and contrast them. They play the theme music as they read to set the tone. Once your family finishes the book, the children can write a letter to a family member or friend about why they recommend it using specific details from the text.

Paired Informational Resources to Support the Understanding of the Chapter Books

Many times while reading a novel, students will have questions about the setting in the text. This is a great time to hand over the heavy lifting to the students and to support the balance of reading fictional and informational text. They can use Google Earth, a paired informational text, or National Geographic for Kids to learn more about where and when this novel took place. Students can also research the music during the time the novel took place. For instance, if you are reading Bud, Not Buddy, you could research music of the Great Depression on a resource like Spotify. 

Reading is a wonderful way to escape from our current reality. It can take all of us on a virtual vacation or on a trip in a time capsule. Shared reading at home and virtually gives children the opportunity to build their vocabulary and background knowledge of unfamiliar topics and events. Let us know what you are reading together. How are you making new connections with your students and/or with your family? We look forward to hearing from you via social media

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About the Author: Tika Epstein is a Kindergarten through fifth-grade instructional coach and interventionist for a wonderful Title I elementary school in Las Vegas, Nevada. Additionally, she teaches pedagogy and content classes to alternate-route-to-licensure and new teachers. Tika is also a guest blogger, Twitter chat moderator, and Core Advocate Ambassador. During distance learning, she shares resources with teachers, participates in class Google Meets, and facilitates virtual professional development for her school using resources. When she is not teaching, she enjoys spending quality time with her husband, adult children, and two dogs.