Facebook
Edutopia on Facebook
Twitter
Edutopia on Twitter
Google+
Edutopia on Google+
Pinterest
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

In my last post I described 10 ways to cultivate a love of reading in kids. I want to expand on that theme by suggesting 10 alternatives to the book report. I'm not a fan of book reports; I don't think they are an effective way for a student to demonstrate understanding of a book and I don't think they help students enjoy or appreciate reading.

Let's consider some activities that allow a student to show understanding of a book and that might be enjoyable. This selection of activities is also intended to meet the needs of different kinds of learners -- or to contribute to the development of skills beyond writing. I often allowed students choice in deciding how they wanted to respond to a book -- they could choose from a list like the one below.

1. The Graphic Novel: Students draw scenes from a selected part of the book-perhaps a scene that represents the beginning, middle and end if you're working on understanding chronology; or three scenes that depict how the main character changed. If the book is rich in setting, then asking them to illustrate where the story takes place can also be revealing. Drawing will help students remember or find details. Then you can also ask them to highlight or copy the textual evidence for their illustrations.

2. An Alternative Ending: Asking students to create an alternative ending to a book -- one that makes sense -- pushes them to really demonstrate an understanding of characters and plot. What makes a gripping novel is often that you don't know what's going to happen in the end. Asking students to diverge from but build on a writer's style is very hard -- and an exciting challenge for skilled readers.

3. A Sequel: Sequels are also fun for kids to write. How many of us have reached the end of a book and wanted more? This gives them an opportunity to predict what would happen next. It's also challenging because a sequel has to make sense; there must be a continuity of some elements of theme and plot. If there are other students who have read the same book, they can be the judges -- is this sequel believable? Students can write a few pages, a short chapter, or a whole book.

4. Diary of a Character: What might Professor Snape (of Harry Potter) have written in his diary? Students can select a character and compose a few pages -- or many pages -- of a diary. For fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid they can emulate that author's style and include illustrations. Such an assignment reveals a student's understanding of the character and the genre of the personal narrative.

5. A Monologue: What might a major or minor character want to say? How might they say it? Students can take this in many directions. Again, this is another way for a student to communicate how she understands a character, as well as to practice speaking skills.

6. The Talk Show: When several students read the same book, they can put on a talk show for the class with each student representing a different character. The "host" prepares a list of questions to ask each guest, pushing the student to develop higher level thinking questions such as "Can you explain why you...?" or "What regrets do you have about..." Again, as you (the teacher) listen, you can assess how well each student understood the book.

7. Letter to the Author: If a book really moved a student, he might be interested in writing a letter to the author. There might be more information he'd like ("Did any of this really happen to you?") or he might want to share his reflections and thoughts about the book. It's no uncommon for authors to respond -- and that's a thrilling experience for a kid. This kind of assignment helps you assess how a student connected with a book and responded to it.

8. Review for Peers: This could be done in writing (and posted online somewhere including Amazon.com) or it could be shared verbally with a class. This is a way for students to practice persuasive writing and to share their opinions.

9. A New Cover: Creating a different cover for the book is a great project for artistic students. They might use traditional mediums -- paper, markers, and so on, or those with the skills and resources could create one using digital tools. This assignment is really a persuasive one: we all judge books by their covers, so how can students communicate their thoughts and feelings about a book through an image?

10. A Reading Guide: At the end of some novels there are a set of questions that are designed for a book club to use in discussion. This is a challenging project, but one that some readers love because it allows them to direct the conversations of others. In order to formulate good questions, they are required to have a deep understanding of the book. This activity is also great if you have book clubs or literature circles as students can provide their peers with this guide.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of alternatives to book reports, but I hope it's spurred some thinking about how to get students to respond to books they read.

What alternatives to book reports have you offered students? What would you like to try? Share with us in the comments' section below.

Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Tami's picture

My daughter has made two children's books from Novels. It is quite difficult to get the main points of a novel into about 15 pages of picture book. Really shows understanding.

Kate Nonesuch's picture

Love this list. I always tell students I'd rather they read another book than write a book report on the first one.

Danielle Deb's picture

I let my children create video trivia quizzes with Blubbr (www.blubbr.tv) as a fun way for to reflect on the book. It was very easy. They wrote the questions and answers, found the videos and challenged their friends to game. They loved it!

Tarolyn Lee's picture

My students are currently doing oral book presentations and they are loving it. One class stated today this is a FUN way to talk about a book you have read. Students were given detailed guidelines to prepare for the presentation, suggestions for a visual product, and rubric for the oral presentation. The class score the presenter using the rubric and provide immediate feedback. We have discovered those who are articulate, funny personalities, as well as did not read and or prepared. Students are asking to do it again!

Dr Roz Linder's picture
Dr Roz Linder
Educational blogger @ On the Web w/ Roz Linder

What a great list!
As we delve deeper into the Common Core reading standards, I think people will really begin to look for creative, meaningful ways to expand their "Toolbox". I will definitely share this with my FB and Twitter fans!

www.facebook.com/pages/On-the-Web-wRoz-Linder

Allison's picture
Allison
Third grade teacher from Rangeley, ME

We had our students write a sequel to Sarah Plain and Tall in the form of a play. They wrote the script, learned their parts, developed a set, and put the play on for their peers in other reading groups. During a biography unit students got to dress up as their historical figure and were invited to a tea. At the tea they had to talk and act as their historical figure would have. They also wrote interviews with their figures. In both instances students were far more engaged than if they were solely writing summaries and reviews.

NatalieD's picture
NatalieD
4th grade teacher from Philadelphia

Thank you for your suggestions. I am looking for ways to engage students with reading and writing. I had my students make a newspaper as a writing assignment. They had to summarize a story, make a wanted ad for the characters in conflict, have a "for sale" section using the setting, and include 3 fillers (advice column, weather, etc..). I continue to seek alternative methods to engage students in writing and critical thinking instead of writing an essay.

Discussion Keep ‘em Engaged through the Holiday Craze

Last comment 9 hours 15 min ago in Student Engagement

blog Becoming a Listening Educator

Last comment 3 days 8 hours ago in Professional Development

blog Making School About Connection

Last comment 3 days 11 hours ago in Social and Emotional Learning

Discussion Finding That Spark: Keeping the Luster in Learning

Last comment 1 day 8 hours ago in Character Education

blog Debunking Homework Myths

Last comment 2 days 1 hour ago in Assessment

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.