Bookmatching is the art of connecting a student to the right book. For it to be successful, the matchmaker (i.e., the teacher) needs to know the student’s personality, interests, aspirations, and reading level.
The ultimate goal is to connect students with books they’ll love—and stick with. When bookmatching is successful, it increases student engagement with reading, and has the side benefit of cultivating stronger relationships between students and teachers.
How many class novels did you read in school? I know that I read a few, skimmed most, and bought Coles Notes for a couple I couldn’t stand. At home, though, I read voraciously.
From my own experience, I know that when students are given choice and voice in their reading selections, they have a feeling of ownership over their reading. Bookmatching applies this concept to the English language arts classroom.
Bookmatching—which I first read about in Penny Kittle’s Book Love—sounds like an easy task, but it’s one that requires both time and patience to master.
Here are six steps to get you started.
1. Gather books: Before bookmatching can begin, you’ll need books. This can be accomplished by building a classroom library, or accessing resources in your school or community library. A good selection of reading materials from a variety of nonfiction and fiction genres is necessary to allow for enough possible matches with students.
2. Make books easily accessible: Books need to be easy to find for both bookmatchers and students. The easiest and most accessible technique I’ve found is organizing texts by type (fiction or nonfiction) and then by genre (e.g., science fiction, historical fiction, YA fiction, etc.).
3. Get to know your books: Bookmatchers need to know their wares. Read books. Talk about books with others who’ve read them. Read articles about books. Research book trailers and summaries. Repeat. The longer you practice bookmatching, the better you’ll get to know your resources since you’ll have read—or conferenced with students who have read—many of them.
4. Introduce book talks: Set aside a few minutes during each class to showcase one book from your library that you’ve read, someone else has recommended, or is hot and new. Show your excitement about reading and talk openly about what kind of reader would enjoy this text. Make sure to select books from a variety of genres and reading levels to attempt to engage different students with each book talk. When students have completed a book, ask them to do a book talk as well. The goal is to showcase what’s out there, and hopefully snag a reader or pique someone’s interest.
5. Use trial and error: Sometimes matching students to the right book takes time, even if you know them and have previously found books to engage them. This is where trial and error comes in. I will often give hard-to-match students three to five books to skim or try out for a single class based on what I know about their interests, reading habits, and past reading selections. It may take 10 or more books to find one that works—but in the end, the process will teach you about the student’s reading interests. And you may even be surprised when they select something you didn’t think of at first.
6. Conference regularly: Bookmatchers need to be constantly talking and checking in with their readers to make sure the match continues to be effective—as well as to determine where to guide them next. One goal of bookmatching is setting students on a reading path—“If you liked Book A, try Book B”—but you also need to know when to diverge from the path due to a drop in student engagement or a need for more challenging material.
Once set up, the bookmatching process becomes easier to master—and the success stories you’ll encounter will be more than enough to convince you that the effort is worth the reward. In my years as a bookmatcher, a few stories stand out—including the student who said that a book I suggested to her about living with abuse “said all the things I wanted to say but didn’t know how.”
Then there was the non-reader who I helped become a voracious reader—which took three school years. When he entered my grade 10 ELA classroom, he had never read a whole book in his life. After trying and failing for two years, I finally matched him with the “right” book when he was in grade 12 by combining what I knew interested him (go-kart racing) and what I understood about his reading level (grade 5–6).
After that first match, I connected him with other books on topics of high interest to him and at his reading level, and he took off, reading 11 books by the end of the year. His has become someone who genuinely enjoys reading—and that will stay with him long after high school English class.