Book Walks Are Back by Kate Narita
We just finished our nonfiction book walks, and my students are more excited about reading than ever. Wait! What’s a book walk?
I first learned about book walks on Twitter in the fall of 2019 from Maryland school librarian, Karina Hirschorn. She posted pictures book piles on her library tables and students rotating, exploring the displayed titles. Immediately, I instituted once-a-month book walks, and they were a success. Then, the pandemic hit.
Book walks are back in 2021-2022, and my students and I are thrilled. Read on to find out how book walks facilitate student choice, give students something to talk about, and provide time for one-on-one teacher/student interactions.
At the beginning of each of our reading units, we have three book walks over the course of three days. Since I have seventeen students, I have nine stations. There are five books at each station. Half of the class stays seated at their station, and the other half of the class spends five minutes at one station and then rotates to the next spot. Half of the class does a deep dive exploring five books and the other half of the class explores 45 different books.
My student Gracie reflects that book walks are, “Tons of fun because you explore all these different books that you might want to read.” Trevor says there are, “A ton of cool books,” 135 to be exact. Two of my students, Alyse and Tabby, think nonfiction book walks are fun because they learn information along the way.
Although students may not know every book in our classroom book collection after our book walks, they’re excited about the titles. Colin writes, “Mrs. Narita has the best nonfiction books ever.” Is that true? Probably not. What matters is that he’s more likely to be engaged while reading because he’s excited about our collection.
After the moving students have rotated through all nine stations, each seated student brings their five books to the rug and forms a row. We circle around our array of books on the rug. One-by-one, students choose their favorite book to add to their book bin. This process works for shy students who feel overwhelmed by crowds. Leila writes, “I like… that we don’t just start all looking for books at the same time.”
After everyone has picked one book, I randomly call students and they can choose another title. Unpicked books go back in the bins. After three days of book walks, 100% of my students had at least one book they were somewhat excited about, and two-thirds of them stated they were very excited about their chosen titles.
According to Scholastic’s 2017 Kids and Family Reading Report, 89% of kids, “agree their favorite books are the ones that they have picked out themselves.” Furthermore, 88% of students, “say they are more likely to finish a book they have picked out themselves.” Choice counts. If we want students to be engaged while reading, we need to facilitate student choice.
Book walks also give students something to talk about. During the first 30 to 60 seconds of a book walk, the seated student introduces the newly arrived student to their books. This gives the seated students a chance to show off their expertise and relish in the pleasure of reading. A quarter of my class enjoys being the person who listens to the bookseller, and one-fifth of my students enjoy bookselling.
At the end of the round, students have thirty-to-sixty seconds to tell one another about their books. Julia writes, “The best part is learning about what your partner read and telling them about what you read.” One third of my students enjoy the opportunity to converse with their peers about their book. Professor Richard Allington observed, “exemplary teachers fostering much more student talk – teacher/student and student/student – than has previously been reported. (744).”
This year, with an odd number of students, there is one station with no student sitting at it when someone rotates through. I’ve been popping in during the last 30 to 60 seconds to hear what that student has been reading about, but the rest of the time I have observed other students.
Now, I realize I should have been doing is sitting with that pile of books, bookselling to students when they rotate through and then sharing my reading experience with the student who comes to my station, instead of only asking about the student’s experience. Pernille Ripp writes in Passionate Readers, “For our students to become passionate readers, we must, therefore, become visible ones ourselves (5).”
I totally missed an opportunity for me to hand sell certain titles to specific students as they rotated through my station, for students to see me reading, and a chance for me to share my excitement. Pernille Ripp states, “Time is the most valuable thing in education… and we don’t leave time for conversations (Narita Chalk + Ink). I created a structure that provides time for teacher and student conversations, yet didn’t capitalize on it. Whoops!
After our three days of nonfiction book walks, students filled out a Google form about their experience. In addition to giving me incredible information about which titles students chose, why they chose those titles, and which titles they had longed to find, yet didn’t, the form will help me improve book walks.
Some students like Hannah think book walks are tons of fun, “Whether you’re sitting or rotating.” Other students like Connor recommend, “Being the seated person because you can read a book for a longer time.”
Meanwhile, Nicholas thinks, “It’s a lot of fun to walk around and pick books.” But twenty percent of students expressed frustration while rotating because they had found a book they liked and had to stop reading it after three minutes. During our next book walk, we’ll switch roles half-way through the walk to lessen those frustrations. Then, we’ll reevaluate again.
For all of the above reasons, book walks work for my students and me. But the best reason of all to have a book walk is that they’re fun. Remember fun? We need fun today more than ever.
Kate Narita is a fourth grade teacher, the author of 100 Bugs! A Counting Book, and hosts the podcast Chalk + Ink: The Podcast for Teachers Who Write and Writers Who Teach. When Kate isn’t reading, writing, teaching, or podcasting, she, her happy hound and her handsome husband are hiking or running up Mt. Wachusett in Princeton, Massachusetts.