Upon returning from our holiday break, Jennifer Lund and I had a request from one of our Language Arts teachers to schedule her classes for the popular book tasting activity.  We faced two challenges:  the teacher wanted to do the activity in two days (a time challenge), and we had a significant number of books checked out that would make it hard to do the activity with the category oriented version we’ve done for the last year.    We decided to mix it up and put a new twist on it by incorporating elements of the “musical chairs peer review” activity that Sarah Rust and I adapted last semester from our colleagues in New Jersey.

The basic organization included having 35 seats and assigning a book to each “seat.”  We used the same open square seating arrangement that we used for the activity with Sarah and made “placemats” of different colors with numbers to help the students clearly see where to sit when the music stopped.  We placed the books on the placemats ahead of time being sure to vary the types of books so that consecutive seats didn’t have the same kind of text.   We kept a healthy supply of “replenishment” books on a cart nearby so that we could replace any books that were checked out (we observed that at least ten books were picked by students for checkout with each class; others might have noted a book from the session for future reading if they were already engaged with another book for Independent Reading (held in most Language Arts classes each Wednesday) time.


While this version of book tasting does not have the degree of choice as the other interpretations of the activity, we felt this version would hopefully expose students to different authors and types of books they might not normally choose.  Once students had placed their bookbags out of the way, we gathered at the “square” and reviewed the procedures for the activity; we also explained the modified book tasting “ticket out the door” we designed to help them make notes and assess the books they would explore.  The review form, as you can see below, gave us the flexibility to do up to four rounds of the activity within a period depending on the time learners needed to interact with each book; we made our copies on bright yellow paper.  Please feel free to download and modify this document:

These are the “placeholders” we printed on different colors; please feel free to download and use.

For each round prior to starting the music and movement, we asked students to push in their chairs and to make sure the book was on the placemat.  Once the music began, students walked around the square; we also told students they were welcome to dance to the music as they walked about the table.  A few helpful logistical hints on this aspect of the activity:

  • Be sure to mentally identify at least 2-3 students as your points of reference; doing so for each round will help you make sure that students don’t stop at a chair/book they’ve previously visited.
  • Encourage students to move at a moderate pace and to not allow large gaps between students or groups of students to develop as they move around the table; otherwise, it can be slightly chaotic when the music stops and students are trying to find the closest seat/book.  This potential challenge seemed to happen more with smaller classes than larger groups.
  • Vary the length of the music although we tried to have students go around the square at least 1.5 to 2 times per “musical round.”
  • Use a variety of music although we primarily used contemporary songs and/or retro songs with an upbeat or dance-oriented rhythm.  As you would with any activity, make sure you choose songs with lyrics that are appropriate for your audience.  We got positive feedback from several students on the songs we played.

Our overarching goal was to give the students a fun and meaningful point of access to sample at least three to four books and give them an opportunity to preview different kinds of books.  The first effort at this version of book tasting involved five sections of college-prep classes that varied in size from roughly 25-35 students per period.  The first three classes in the morning seemed generally receptive to the activity though the playful nature of what we were doing seemed a little unfamiliar to some; however, most students seemed to enjoy it and several showed excitement about the books they had discovered.  The afternoon classes seemed a little less into the activity although many of students put forth a positive effort.  In this first effort, we noticed that students needed verbal scaffolding for each round to help them know what to do as part of the review process even though they had their evaluation ticket form to guide them through it; some classes needed reminding from the teacher to be a little more specific in the open ended response section.   Depending on the students’ prior experiences as learners, you may need to provide gentle prompting like we did to help students in the activity.  Throughout the day, we received enthusiastic and positive feedback from the teacher as well as an assistant principal who was present and observing several sections.

Word quickly spread that day throughout the Language Arts Department about this version of the book tasting, and we received a flurry of requests from other teachers to schedule time to do this version of book tasting.  We were already scheduled with classes coming in for research, so we were not able to accommodate everyone right away; however, we were able to schedule five sections of Honors 9th Language Arts that we worked with yesterday.  The students in each class seemed to genuinely enjoy the activity and seemed a little more engaged and energized.  We noticed that they were very observant of the book covers as they walked around the table and some did their best to pace themselves so that they might be lucky enough to land at a book of their choice, behaviors that were charming but that we also did not see with the first group on a large scale.  They also needed no verbal scaffolding and were more detailed in their responses.   One modification their teacher incorporated that we loved was that she walked around and responded to their comments either in writing on their tickets or through a quick quiet verbal conversation during the activity.  We definitely would encourage others to adopt this effective strategy that she used with her students.

One thing that stood out to us was that the Honors classes seemed to have  more of a “book/literacy/reading” kind of cultural capital as students in “advanced” classes that are not as prevalent in the “college-prep” classes.  While we want to be very careful to avoid broad generalizations based on class categories, these observations are consistent with other literacy behaviors Jennifer and I have observed over the last eighteen months.  We’re currently  thinking and reflecting on what we’ve seen in the context of scholarly literature/research to better contextualize what we’re seeing and to think about how that might impact our instructional design and work with teachers.  We hope to share more on this later in the year once we’ve had time to dwell more deeply in our questions.

We hope that this variation on book tasting will be helpful for you as we feel it is scalable for any age group.  Please let us know if you try it out and how your students respond to it!

Update 3:25 PM 1/15/15:  If you can’t see the embedded documents on SlideShare, the PDFs are below: