Book Tasting: COVID-Style

Everyone loves a good book tasting, right? I’ve done everything from book tastings to book dating to book musical chairs to book tweets (more on some of those in another post). But I’ve never done any of those COVID-style.

When we finally came back to school this fall in hybrid mode, I knew I still had to get books into my kids’ hands. I had a huge book order come in over the summer with a huge range of genres and I wanted them gone (checked out, I mean). 

So, how do you introduce books to students when they cannot touch them? How do you introduce books to students when they can’t sit at the same table together and have a conversation about them? 

Then it hit me. The kids didn’t have to see or touch the books in order to get to know them and find their just right book. I took a piece of my book tweet idea from last year and expanded upon it. 

I pulled all of my titles for the book tasting COVID-style. I created a book list in Destiny so I could scan each title into the list to access wherever I went. Then, thanks to GoodReads, I grabbed the summary for each title. In a super long Google Doc, I listed the title, author, and summary of the book, making sure to credit GoodReads. I did not list the genre or the length; I wanted students to decide whether they were interested in the book based on what the book was about.

Since I had previously pulled all of the books to create the list, my library workers and I shelved them in alpha order in a separate area of the library. 

I put four printed summaries on each of the 22 round tables in the library. I gave students instructions on what they were going to be doing. We talked about how we do judge books by their covers, so I intentionally only gave them the summary. We also talked about how they should keep an open mind when reading the summaries – that it doesn’t matter if the characters are he/she/they, or their race, or their sexuality, or the presumed genre.  In short, if it sounds interesting, they should go for it. 

Next, they were instructed that if they found a summary they were interested in, to give it to me or the other teacher in the room. We would go pull the book from the aforementioned shelves and hand it to the student. The summary went into the “taken” pile of papers. We then encouraged the students to find a comfy place and start reading the book to make sure it was just right for them. If so, then they could check it out, and either keep reading or continue to look at the other summaries. I did not have a checkout limit on books. I told them if they could carry it, they could have it (I even had plastic bags!). If they didn’t like the book after reading it for a few minutes, then they could give the book back to us and continue to look at the summaries. After we sanitized the book, it went back on the shelf and the summary went back into the pile of books not taken. Once a summary was taken from the table, either myself or the other teacher would replace it with a new summary. We continued to do that as the period went on and students found their match. 

With about 8 minutes left in each period, we told the students who had not yet found a book that they could browse the shelves and I went and worked with each student to help them find a match. 

I did this version of book tasting both 1st and 2nd semester with 4 English teachers. With just one teacher for both semesters, we had over 200 books checked out! I wish I would have thought to count the number of books checked out by other ELA teachers but didn’t. 

If interested, here are both the lists with summaries that I used:

All in all, it was a great experience and the students really loved being able to “shop” for books. I liked the freedom that this version gave students because they could get up and change tables once they were done reading the summaries on their tables – especially since people read at different rates. Once COVID is over, I will definitely be taking pieces of this type of book tasting and integrating it into whatever I decide to do next.

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