I initially saw the idea back in April when Tom Riston, a year 4 teacher at Wroxham Primary School, posted a picture on Twitter (@Year4_TWS).
His photo really caught my eye and sent my imagination into overdrive. Tom had also blogged about his inspiring book tasting experience and this gave me all the information I needed to set up my own.
You see, the children in my class are creatures of habit. We all know how much children like to watch the same movies over and over again and, well, they also like to stick to one series of books, one author, or one genre that they’ve fallen in love with too. I had been looking for an idea to encourage my Year 5 class to venture out of their own comfort zones and try some new texts and this looked like the perfect mechanism to do just that!
Coaxing them to open up to other genres can yield huge benefits in the long run. Not only does it expose them to whole new worlds and grow their love of reading, but it also builds vocabulary, fosters skill development, contributes to comprehension and contributes to their social and emotional development (conjuring up a greater range and depth of different emotions and ways of expression).
I personally hold the belief that high quality children’s literature is the silver bullet in teaching Literacy, and that the creation of a classroom that fosters curiosity and playfulness is central to developing readers and writers. Yet, whilst I was always seeking out quality texts to reinvigorate the curriculum, I had not put as much focus on ensuring the children were choosing quality texts for their ‘free reading’ books as well. If you’re ever struggling to find quality, challenging, age-appropriate texts, the CLPE have an excellent Core Books list which you may find useful. I brought a mixture of my favourites from home which I thought they would enjoy.
At the heart of this book tasting, was the idea that I wanted to engage and support children to become motivated, independent readers who aren’t afraid to explore new genres and authors. I wanted to encourage them to be inspired as readers and motivated to seek out and read new texts for themselves. So I sent them each an invitation to join me at a ‘book tasting’ and placed a few posters around the classroom to build intrigue.
The idea was simple. The classroom would be set up in the style of a typical French restaurant, complete with chequered tablecloths, flowers, place settings and suitable music for added ambience. Each table would have a basket of books with a different genre ‘on zee menu’ and children would be given short amounts of time to ‘taste each dish’ (or book).
When the children arrived for the session, I stood at the door in an apron with a clip board and ushered them to their tables as if I were the maître d’. I also remained in character and spoke in a terrible French accent throughout the entire session, much to the children’s amusement! There was a real buzz around the classroom as the children excitedly sat at their tables, eagerly anticipating their amuse bouche, but once the texts were in front of them the room fell completely silent.
They were hooked. After reading a few pages of a book, they were asked to complete the question prompts on their menu and add any interesting vocabulary they found to their placemats. The children also had little book marks to record any book titles or authors that they particularly enjoyed so that they could remember them for our next library visit. After 10 minutes or so, I then swapped the baskets of books in a clock-wise direction, so that each table was able to explore each genre within the session (historical fiction, picture books, comics and graphic novels, non-fiction, poetry etc.).
Finally, at the end of the session, the children were asked to complete the ‘reflection’ napkins so that I knew what they had felt about their experience of the book tasting. I was overwhelmed with the positive response from even my most reluctant readers. I was so pleased when I heard the book blether continue into lunch with lively chatter and comparisons about their favourites.
The fact that the books were my own meant that we could all engage in in-depth chat about the ‘tasters’ and I could then recommend other books and authors for the children to try. I now keep a ‘special selection’ of my own books on the shelf in our book corner and when children are looking for recommendations I try to suggest 2 or 3 (including a wild card!) so that they still have choice and ownership over what they are reading. Suddenly, a much wider range of books were flying off the bookshelves in our classroom reading corner. It was a delight to see. The discussion around books continues and they have since come to me for recommendations or to discuss a book once they’ve finished it.
I was absolutely blown away by the impact this activity had on helping me to build a community of readers in the classroom. The book tasting was a fantastic activity for enthusing and engaging my class to explore new texts and I will certainly be using it more regularly in the future.