Try a fresh spin on the tired book report assignment and use “book talks” instead. A book talk is just an informal conversation with the student wherein I determine whether the student actually read the book. No more speeches, no more poster boards, no more fatigue. As the kid talks about the plot, I flip through the pages of his book and ask about specific characters or scenes. I also like to read a small bit aloud to the student and have him tell me what happens next in the chapter. As he’s talking, it’s easy to look through the next few pages and see if he’s right.

It’s awesome not to have a stack of book reports to grade at the end of each term, but my favorite part of this assignment is the one-on-one time it allows me to spend with each student. Even if the book talk is only two or three minutes, I find it helps to build connections with kids (most of my classes have 35-36 students) that I wouldn’t otherwise have time to make. It’s also a nice pocket of time to talk about books (one of my favorite subjects) and help struggling students find titles that will hold their interest.

Give it a try for one quarter and see how it works for you. Less to grade. More fun for all. I mean, S.S.R. is supposed to be a fun time, right? My teens really respond well to not having to build yet another poster board or collage. Some years, they’ve actually cheered when I introduced the assignment.

Tracking page-counts for students is super-simple, too. Just use the tally sheet for each student and jot down the titles and page-counts of successfully reported books. At the end of each quarter, add up the pages, consult the sliding scale, and – bam! – enter the grade. You’re done. It takes me less than five minutes to figure and record the grades.

Click here for a free copy of student handouts and tally sheets. Hope you like this approach to managing your S.S.R. tasks.

Join the conversation! 10 Comments

  1. […] I am trying Student-Selected Reading this school year, thanks to Laura Randazzo’s amazing ideas. As she suggests, I am carving out time for SSR and then meeting my students in one-on-one book […]


  2. […] year, after doing some research and reading a great post by Laura Randazzo, I decided to implement Student-Selected Reading (SSR) in my classroom. I’ve […]


  3. I really want to try this next year, but I’m not 100% sure to go about it. I have 2 levels of 8th grade kids, Gen Ed and Honors. If a kid reads a 300 page book, that just counts for one book talk? If they read 2 200 page books, they do 2 book talks for the semester? I’m confused! Help!


  4. Hi Caiti,
    No worries. I always have to say it a few times before my students “get it,” too. 🙂 To get full credit for the quarter assignment, my gen. ed. kids need to successfully report 250 pages, while my honors kids must hit the 500 page mark. I’ll just talk about gen. ed. kids for the rest of this note and you can double the pages when thinking about your honors classes.

    Toward the end of the 1st qtr., a student will need to have successfully book talked 250 pages’ worth of SSR book/s to me. If he successfully reports on a 300-page book, he’ll earn a full 100 pts. on the 1st qtr. assignment and have 50 pages rollover in his book bank account, so to speak, for 2nd qtr. If he reads a 200-page book, he’ll book talk that one as soon as he’s done but then also need to book talk another book before the 1st qtr. deadline. If he gives me another 200-page book in the 1st qtr., he then has built 400 pages in his account. On the deadline day, I’ll take 250 of his 400 pages for the 100-pt. assignment, and he’ll have 150 pages of credit rolling over into his 2nd qtr. tally.

    Some of my eager readers are actually able to get their book talks done for the entire year (250 pgs. x 4 quarters = 1,000 pages) before winter break and then they have a book with them to read every Friday for the rest of the year (they still need to earn the 10 pts. for weekly reading) but no longer have to see me for Book Talks. Sweet, right?

    Hope this helps clarify things. I know there’s a lot to wrap our heads around with this one, but it’s worth it! 🙂


  5. Laura,
    On your SSR guidelines, #12 emphasizes that you “don’t allow reports on books that you haven’t finished.” Does this mean that if a student chooses a book that is 312 pages, but only reads 250 pages, thinking that it meets the requirement, you give zero credit unless he/she has finished reading the entire book? If a student chooses a book based on a movie, though they only receive a credit for 150 pages, they must complete all of the pages in the book? If the student has finished one book of 200 pages, then reads 50 pages into the next one, you don’t allow a report on the second because it isn’t finished?
    Sorry for all the questions, but I love this idea. I just want to decide how to interpret that rule in the guidelines for my students.


  6. Hey Lindsay,
    So glad you’re digging into the materials. Okay, I’m going to number my answers, just to keep my brain organized. Here we go!
    1. Yes, that student with the 312-page book would need to finish the whole thing and book talk it with me by the quarter deadline. He’ll need to plan ahead. On the upside, he’ll get a jumpstart of 62 pages (312-250 = 62 pages of rollover) for the next quarter’s assignment.
    2. Yes, a book that’s been turned into a movie will count for only 150 pages, regardless of how long the books actually is. I tell my Lord of the Rings fans that might want to choose something else because they’ll need to read an entirely separate second book in the same quarter in order to earn a 100% on the assignment.
    3. In this case, I’d allow the student to “abandon” the second book to top off his quarter page count. I leave that option to abandon a book in my policy for cases just like this. The warning, though, is that once a book has been “abandoned” and we’ve book talked on those pages (25-to-50 is the window) then the students can’t return later with the same book to complete a full-page book talk.
    Never apologize for asking questions, Lindsay. I’m thrilled that you’re considering the idea and I love talkin’ shop! 🙂


  7. I found this and started it last year with my juniors, and I’m continuing it this year. I LOVE IT! I like that it simplifies my grading time. Who doesn’t love that? However, I absolutely love that it gives me a chance to talk one on one with each of my students every few weeks. I have adapted the timing a bit and included specific genres over quarters, but every student has a book in hand, everyone loves Fridays. As our periods are only 43 minutes, they actually get upset if I have to “borrow” time to complete something or take a quick quiz.

    Thank you so much for sharing your ideas. You have certainly saved my sanity with this year and last. [grade change, toddler twins, house change, and craziness in general]


  8. Oh, Paige, thanks for taking a few minutes to leave this feedback! I, too, LOVE that the book talks let me actually sit down for a few quiet moments and talk to each student individually. With some of my quieter kids, that’s the only time I think they feel heard. As for you, I cannot even imagine your life – new prep, new house, twin babies!?!? Oy! Enjoy your extra hour of sleep on Sunday (it’s daylight savings time again); I know you need it! 😀


  9. I absolutely love this idea. I have two questions for you:
    1) What kinds of questions do you ask your students during book talks?
    2) Also, have you considered doing this with non-fiction? I’m teaching 7th grade in an area where I have so many students who don’t “like” reading and don’t. I’m trying to get kids to read anything at this point, so I encourage non-fiction, magazines, newspapers (not that anyone has actually brought one in yet), how-to-guides. Do you think this could work for non fiction as well?


  10. So glad this might work for you, Reyna! I ask my kids a variety of questions during Book Talks. Sometimes, I’ll start by having the kid recap the plot as I thumb through the book and stop at a random spot. Then, I’ll stop the student and ask about a particular character whose name pops up a few times in the chapter I’m skimming. I’ll also often read a paragraph or two aloud and then ask the kids what happens next in the story. As the kid explains, I’m skim-reading ahead to see if he/she is correct. Hopefully, it becomes more of a conversation about the book than a quiz. If a student can’t answer my questions or seems flustered, I’ll say that I’m not convinced he/she read as closely as needed to pass the Book Talk and encourage the kid to try again on another day.

    As for non-fiction, I allow only memoirs or non-fiction written as a narrative for SSR; it’s too difficult to Book Talk on traditional non-fiction books because there isn’t a plot line and there are too many details for kids to reasonably remember. In my world, SSR works best with fiction and I don’t allow magazines/newspapers. My kids, though, are older, so the system works well for my classes. Hope this is helpful info. 🙂


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