Teaching Students to Write a Book Review
I’ve always been an avid reader, but I hit a snag around high school and college when it came to choosing books for reading pleasure. I started reading book reviews out of my People magazine and online to help narrow down my choices. Through reading reviews, I was introduced to some of my all-time favorite novels, like The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold and The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Book reviews are a useful resource for reading fans, but can also be an alternative assessment tool for teachers.
Before students can write a book review, you must introduce them to professionally written pieces. Take them to the computer lab and go to sites that have notable book reviews, like the New York Times or Barnes and Noble Review. If you do not have access to the internet, you can always clip reviews from magazines, like People or from the newspaper. Read several reviews as a class and discuss the format reviewers use when writing about a book. Be sure to point out that reviews provide a general summary, name major characters, introduce the major conflicts in the story, and give either a positive, negative, or neutral opinion of the work. Good reviews will never reveal the resolution to the conflict, so encourage them to avoid giving away the ending!
I also use this time discuss how reviewing books, movies, and other media can easily turn into a profession. We discuss how writing and expressing one’s opinions clearly can benefit a future reviewer. Students are in awe at the many different types of reviewers that are in our mainstream media today. There are reviewers for video games, phone apps, computer software, as well as the typical book and movie reviewers. As a class we discuss how much fun a career in reviewing could bring to someone who has an avid interest in the subject matter they are critiquing. Tying a real-world application to the assignment helps middle school kids to see the answer to the eternal adolescent question, “Why do I need to know this” that every teacher seems to encounter on a daily (if not on a daily basis)!
How to Implement and Assess Student Reviews
Develop a structure for the book review, depending on the length you desire the review to be. I usually like students to implement the “Plot Pyramid” structure that they learn early on in the year, which follows the five steps of plot organization: Exposition, Conflict/Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action/denouement, and Resolution. Of course, I have them leave off resolution, so the ending to the novel is not revealed to the reader. This ends up being a four paragraph structure (minus the resolution), and then I have them add an “opinion paragraph” at the end of their plot assessment to make the structure a five-paragraph essay form.
If you have advanced students, or if you think your students are ready, you can also require quote integration into the article. Using the Quote Burger Method, assign students to integrate a certain number of quotes within their writing to bring a flavor and voice to the article that mirror’s the book. You will also be able to pick up on who actually read the book, and who is “writing blind”, based on the relevance of their quotes. At the end of the article, students can also rank the book on a four star system (one star being a horrible book and four stars being an awesome book). Students can draw the stars and color them in, or you can use clip art in Microsoft Word….either way, assigning a star ranking adds visual appeal to their review and peaks student interest in the review.
- Teacher experience.