Ten Alternatives to Book Reports by Mary Catherine Miller
I teach an undergraduate young adult literature course at a large research university. Many of my students take the course as a preparation for their future careers as teachers or librarians, while others come to the course looking for a general education requirement for literature. Throughout the class, my students read ten young adult novels. As part of a “reading log” for the class, they submit a response to each book we read. During my first semester of teaching, these responses were all written in the typical book-report style with a synopsis of the text and each student’s opinion of the story. After reading around 600 “book reports” in a semester, I decided something needed to change.
The list of options for student response has grown since that first class, and I find myself constantly updating my suggestions as my students come up with new and exciting ways to respond to literature. These types of projects can be adapted for library patrons, K-12 settings, and book clubs—I’ve received everything from Divergent cookies to YouTube videos! Here are ten of my favorite alternatives to book reports:
- Make a book trailer: We watch both professional and homemade book trailers throughout the semester, and some of my students will work in alone or in groups to film a short trailer for a book they read. It’s always fun to screen the trailers in class and watch students act out scenes from a book or see what they’ve illustrated/animated!
- Found poetry: Found poetry is one of my favorite activities to do in the classroom and as an alternate assignment. To write found poetry, students take words from their book and rearrange them into a poem. Some students will choose words from a single page while others explore a chapter or even an entire book to make their poems.
- Social media: My students love making Pinterest boards to respond to books. Some students choose to “pin” recipes and clothing as though they are a character from the novel while others enjoy finding locations or quotations that remind them of the narrative. Other students have made Twitter or Facebook accounts for characters, having them post status updates or interact with other fictional characters.
- Collages: Similar to Pinterest boards, students will either make digital collages or cut up magazines and find images, outfits, or quotes that remind them of the book we’re reading. This one makes for a fun class activity and is a break from some of the heavier reading we do!
- Redesign a cover: Many of my students paint, collage, sketch, or digitally design new covers for the books they read. We discuss the publishing industry and marketing, and many of them choose to revisit an important scene or theme from the text. This project necessitates that students go back and re-read scenes and dialogue so that they can create a new edition of their story.
- A mixtape: I receive a lot of mixtapes, particularly when we’re reading Eleanor and Park or The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Some students will make track listings on Spotify or actually turn in a CD of songs they think their favorite character would love (or would give to another character!). These CDs have also made my commute to work much more interesting.
- A page from a yearbook: One of my students made up this assignment and I fell in love with it as soon as I saw her project. For her project, she made a page from Bella’s yearbook (Twilight) in which other characters signed their names and left messages referring to various events from the book—it was really fun to see how she portrayed some of the characters from the series!
- Cast the film: When my students do this project, I have them explain why particular actors fit the qualities of different characters from the text, allowing them to more deeply investigate how particular characters act and interact with one another. If the book has already been made into a movie, many students describe why they like/dislike a particular casting choice and how the adaptation adds to their conceptualization of particular characters and scenes.
- Cook food from a text: Some texts have recipes in them and others feature foods (either real or fictional ones). I had one student who found and baked thirteen different loaves of bread to represent each district of Panem. Other students have made polyjuice potion or Dauntless cake or recreated the cover of their text—for each of these projects, I have students submit a written response that describes the food they’ve made and how it relates to their particular book.
- Fan-fiction: This is another favorite of mine! I’ve had students write fan-fiction both alone and in groups. We read some fan-fiction in the course, to introduce students who may be unfamiliar with the vast world of fanfics, and students will often re-write a particular scene or the ending to a book they’ve read while others may write the first chapter of a sequel. I’ve received quite a few sequels to The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
I’m a huge proponent of inquiry projects and using art in the classroom—I think all of these projects can be just as useful as a research assignment or a traditional book report. My students go back into their texts, identify details and characterization, find symbolism and metaphor, and have fun!
(All of the images in this post are actual student submissions from my course.)
Mary Catherine Miller is a doctoral candidate at the Ohio State University, where she teaches young adult literature undergraduate courses. You can find more of her writing at marymiller.com.