Recommending good books is half an input-based teacher’s job. It is also deeply rewarding to use books you love to connect with students. Here are 10 tips to give more exciting, compassionate book recommendations.
1. Know your students.
Take the time to get to know your kids by discussing shared stories, books or movies, or just chatting about anything that interests them. If they love the romantic stories you share, that can be a clue to recommending books.
2. Know your collection.
Read all your books, or at least skim them. Over the summer, I read Spanish-language versions of the same beginning readers I recommend in English and French to my students. The time traditional teachers spend making worksheets or grading tests is more pleasantly spent reading good books.
3. Be honest.
“I tried this and I couldn’t get into it, but (this other student) said he loved it.” Honesty about a single book you disliked makes the other 10 you recommend seem more sincere. Be honest and avoid books you think won’t be a good fit for students.
4. Maintain a variety of genres and levels.
A variety of books makes recommending books easier. Realistic fiction is a good starting point for students who don’t yet have a favorite genre. Reading aloud and Sheltered Popular Literature can introduce students to new genres and titles. Recommend those books again later during readers conferences and kids are likely to give them a try.
5. Have a “First 30” list.
Be ready at any moment to spout off the first 30 easiest titles for beginning readers. These are easy books you are sure they can be successful with. As you offer them the book, read the first page aloud (or two…or 100) to them, individually or in small group reading circles if time allows.
6. Be a little messy.
As you walk around, pull anything and everything from the shelves, Don’t re-shelve, just start a big stack. My classroom library doesn’t use exact shelving or call numbers. Kids are encouraged to pull books from anywhere, try out books, and return any they don’t want anywhere in that section/genre. Model exploring, putting your hands on books, and having fun.
7. Be spontaneous.
Don’t have the recommended books already pulled; this seems insincere. You can have a mental list of books you want to recommend that kid, just let kids see you pull the titles off the shelf.
8. Ask questions.
Start your recommendation with a question. If you speak their L1, do so. Ask “Have you tried mystery books?” or “What do you think of comics?” Really listen. You may opt to record the conversion/impromptu readers conference later, but don’t take notes in front of students. Give them your full attention and adapt your recommendations based on their responses.
9. Make time for individual students.
Find the time to meet with each student one-on-one. Those students who struggle to find the right book will loiter in the library longer, so station yourself there or seek out readers who look lost.
Note to foreign language teachers or those with larger, homogenous groups all ready to start reading at once: invite first-time L2 readers to trickle to the library when they are ready. After shared stories get very long, tell students they can either read the story text or read a book.
10. Love your books.
Be enthusiastic when you recommend, and show off at least a few books you honestly loved reading. If you don’t love it, mention other students who gushed about it. Periodically weed out any books students don’t love: especially those with worn, dated covers or boring stories. Nothing makes teaching more joyful than a library you genuinely love.