A Bookstore Field Trip to Teach Contemporary Fiction

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One of my favorite things to do on the weekend is to get lost in a bookstore. I grab a venti mocha from the Starbucks conveniently located inside Barnes & Noble, and sip n' browse until I run out of coffee. You might even find me parked in an aisle in a random section of the store, making camp right there on the floor and reading a book that has captivated my interest. It occurred to me when I was creating my contemporary fiction unit that many students may not understand why this activity is so enjoyable. Unless they have parents who partake in such activities, many students have never even set foot inside a bookstore! As part of my mission to create life-long readers, I decided I must remedy this tragedy and take my students to visit my mothership: Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

How to Plan the Trip

Before I could even begin planning the trip, I had to check with B&N to see if it was even going to be a possibility. I wasn’t sure if they would be happy with a bunch of hormonal eight graders raiding their store at once! I found the name of the Barnes and Noble Communications director for our local store on-line and called. I told her my idea and what I was going to be teaching, and she thought it was a possibility if I could get my groups under 50 students at a time. We have a little over 200 eight graders in our building, so the other 8th grade Reading teacher and I divided our students into four groups. The Communications Director agreed to take a morning group and an afternoon group over two consecutive days. Each trip would last around two and a half hours, and we would need two buses round-trip for each day.

Once I knew that Barnes & Noble was on board with my idea, I had to think of a way to present it to my principal for approval. I knew I couldn’t go in and say, “I wanna take my kids to a bookstore,” because, really, what could he deem as “educational” about that brief statement? I knew that the trip would need to have substance and educational value for permission to be granted (and let’s face it, money to be relinquished for the buses)! I called the B&N Communications Director one more time and we volleyed ideas back and forth about what would interest 8th graders, and I told her more about my best-seller lesson and my plans for reading the contemporary fiction novel, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins during the time-frame we were hoping to schedule our field trip. We can up with the following activities that you can try during your trip:

Bookstore Field Trip Activites

1. The manager of Barnes & Noble agreed to explain how the best-seller list works for the store, since Barnes & Noble has their own version of a best-seller list. He discussed the differences between hardcover fiction books (and showed the students examples), trade paperback fiction, and mass market fiction. In no other retail industry can you order too much of a product and send it back to your supplier, he explained, as you can in the publishing world. He discussed how his store places orders, what they watch for in ways of new authors and books that are gaining in popularity. The layout of the store was described and he also presented the “hot and new” books in the teen fiction section of the store, briefly describing the plot of each title. To my shock and amazement, the students actually listened and seemed very interested in the manager’s spiel. They even ask questions, and I was very proud of them, for the most part. However, I did cringe a little when one of my witty boys asked the manager, “so how much do you make reading books all day?”. Nice.

2. After the manager enlightened us with how Barnes & Noble operates, we were lucky to have a resident author working in the store. This man worked in their distribution department, but was also a part-time author with a few published novels. He explained how “not everyone is a Stephen King or Stephenie Meyer” and that most published authors are NOT millionaires and usually have to have another profession to pay the bills. He explained how many years it took him to write his first book, and the lengthy and frustrating process involved in having a book published. I really wanted my students to understand that just because you write a book, doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to be published. Hands were up all over the groups when the author asked for questions. Being the hopeful author that I am, I asked him a ton of questions, myself!

3. Students were beginning to get antsy after sitting through both speakers, so I gave them twenty minutes to go use the rest room and grab a frappacino or coffee from the coffee shop located inside the store. The group that was able to go in the morning before the actual store opened even learned the ins and outs from the barrista how to correctly order fancy coffee. I learned a lot during this mini-lesson as well! I had told the students in advance that they would be allowed to purchase coffee, books or gifts during our trip, so many of my students were jacked-up on sugary coffee beverages by the end of our stay. I’m sure the other 8th grade teachers were silently cursing me after I brought their students back to school, bouncing off of the walls! The coffee break was quite a treat, and made the rest of the trips' activities all the more enjoyable!

4. The Communications Director had a great idea to get the students up and moving around the store. (Be forewarned that I had several parent volunteers going on the trip with me for this portion of the adventure!) She created a scavenger hunt in which the students had to list the title and author of books in certain sections of the store. For example, she had questions like, “List the title and author of a book located in the Travel section. Pick a book that discusses a location you would like to visit someday.” She even had questions that would bring the students to the Customer Service area, so that they would be familiar it. We gave the students pens and paired them up and let them loose. My parent volunteers and I roamed the store, making sure students were not being too loud or rowdy. The first pair finished received bookmarks, but I think next year I’m going to try to round-up a few gift-cards to the store for the winners.

5. To “bring down” the students before loading up on the bus, the Communications Director took the time to tell my students about the many reading clubs that meet during the month at Barnes & Noble. She also gave students a Barnes & Noble calendar that listed what activities and author signings were going on that month, and encouraged them to stop by and participate. I also had students ask how they could start their own teen reading club. (I was as proud as mother duck, watching her babies swim for the first time! Ha!) My students also inquired about the store hosting a release party for the sequel to The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins titled Catching Fire. It is scheduled to come out in September, but they were wanting to do something similar to the Harry Potter parties the store has had in the past. We might actually get to be “hosts” of such a party this September.

Field Trips Make Learning “Stick”

I could have talked about bookstores and described what a great atmosphere within the walls of my own classroom, but BEING THERE is what the students needed in order to believe me. They had a blast, I had a blast, and even the parent volunteers were excited about the trip! Several students purchased books that were discussed in the presentation, and I’ve had so many parents tell me since the trip, their teen has wanted to return to the store to browse. I’m not saying that this field trip was life-changing, but anytime we can allow kids the freedom to have fun while they learn and then field trips are definitely worth the muss and fuss! I can’t wait to do this trip again next year, and I would love to hear successful bookstore trips that you have in the future!

This post is part of the series: Contemporary Fiction Series

New fiction is often overlooked in public schools, and at a time when new teen fiction is flying off of the shelves and shaping mainstream media! Capitalize on this resurgence of interest in teen reading and integrate it into your classroom lesson plans with the help of this article series.

  1. Teaching Contemporary Fiction Series: Shaping Your Unit
  2. Contemporary and New Fiction: What is a Best Seller’s List?
  3. Planning a Bookstore Field Trip
  4. Teaching ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins