Creating Booktalks

Students listen to me give booktalks all the time, but it’s even better when they get to give their own. Booktalks are different from summaries or reviews – I tell my students to think of them as movie trailers for books.

Grade level: 6th-8th (I’ve done booktalk projects with kids as young as 3rd grade – obviously the expectations are different! This particular lesson plan is for middle school kids.)

Background: Our eighth graders have been watching me do the Book of the Week for a long time, so we had the students model their booktalks off of that format.

Individual note-taking sheet
Class note-taking sheet
Examples of good and not-so-good booktalks on YouTube
Hook starter ideas
Laptops with movie-making software to create booktalks (our students used iMovie or QuickTime)

Instructional plan

Booktalk components

So today we’re going to talk about the components of a booktalk – we’ll watch a few examples to try to develop our own components and criteria. Then we’ll talk about some sort of basic pointers for booktalks, things that I’ve figured out, and then you will have some time to think about a book you might want to talk about.

We’re going to develop the criteria & essential components together. In order to do that, we are going to watch a few video booktalks and book trailers.

While we’re watching the booktalks, we’re each going to take notes on this sheet.
Take note of what happens in each kind of booktalk/trailer. What techniques do they use to get you involved? What do you notice about what they say and how they talk? How are they structured? How do they begin and end?

(watch book trailers, with ~30 seconds at the end of each video to take notes)

OK, now share your notes with your partner. Go through and circle the things that you felt were *most* important.

Make a list on the board with the entire class.

OK, so these are the components we’ve come up with:
[YMMV, but my kids reliably came up with: title and author; introduce main character; introduce setting; some kind of “hook”]

Writing a hook

Go back to the videos and watch the “hook” again. Have students identify the techniques the presenters use to hook their viewers.

We ALWAYS start with a hook. We never start with “This book is about…” or “I read The Fault in Our Stars and…” Instead, I usually start booktalks either by talking about the main character OR setting the scene, depending on whether I think the characters or the plot/setting are more compelling. You can also start your booktalk with a question – great for both speculative fiction and realistic fiction – or a quote, or anything else. Just not “This book is about.”

Alone or in pairs, students complete the Hook Writing Practice sheet with a book they’ve read (doesn’t have to be the one they will do for their project!) Display hook starter ideas while they work. Ask volunteers to share their hooks with the class.

Pointers & ideas

So before you guys start planning, I want to give you a few pointers that will help you be successful, and show you a few resources that might be useful.

  • A booktalk is NOT a review, report, or summary.
  • You only have one minute! This is one challenge of Book of the Week – they basically have to be exactly one minute. This means I run through it a few times to figure out pacing. Mine are usually 170-200 words long, but I’m a fast talker! A typical presenter reads about 140-160 words per minute, so that’s probably what you should aim for.
  • Think about it like a movie trailer. You’ve all heard the old-school movie trailers that are like, “IN A WORLD where…” or, for romantic comedies and stuff, “Meet Jane. She was just a normal librarian until one day…” Those movie trailers don’t explain the whole plot to you – and they also don’t explicitly give their opinion about the movie. Of course they want you to think the movie is great, they’re selling it. That’s what you’re doing too.
  • I usually start out by deciding what’s most compelling about the story – not just to me, but to people generally (or to the audience of the particular book). Usually it’s the main character or the setting, but sometimes it’s the plot or the writing style, if it’s something really unusual – but you want to lead with that most compelling thing.

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