George Lucas Educational Foundation
Literacy

Using Technology to Inspire Independent Readers

Students can create and share video-based book reports—and deepen their reading habits.

iStock.com/Milos Luzanin
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As teachers, one of our most critical jobs is to create independent readers. Getting kids excited about books is the first and most crucial step on this journey. The more passionate students are about books, the more they read, and the more they read, the better they get. Making book commercials—or persuasive pieces to inspire their peers—is one great way to help students share their excitement about books with each other and create a community of passionate readers.

Book Talks Versus Book Commercials

Book talks are a common tool teachers use to pitch books to students. The main drawbacks of book talks are that they are often delivered by the teacher to the students and are over as soon as the speaker finishes. Book commercials are multimedia videos produced by the students that change this paradigm. The permanence of book commercials is one of the keys to their success. Because they live online, students can turn to them whenever they need something new to read. My students have created a library of more than 130 commercials for 90 different titles over the past two years. The library is constantly expanding and keeps student interest in books and reading growing.

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By having a book commercial of the tough books, it will help push you through faster because you know the book well and know that something good is coming. —Isabel (fifth grade)

Academic Benefits

Book commercials serve other benefits as well. The act of creating a commercial gets students thinking about elements of story such as character, setting, and plot. A commercial is a response to literature that is deeply personal and authentic. The students are invested in spreading the word about their book, and having an audience of peers gets students thinking about how to write persuasively. They must consider what to write in order to arouse interest in the book without giving too much away.

Another benefit is the collaboration between students producing a book commercial. As teachers we often put our students into reading groups with a limited choice of books and then try to create artificial conversations. In contrast, the act of creating the book commercial together pushes students to have deep discussions as they negotiate creative decisions about what to include and how to communicate the strengths of the book.

Last year there weren’t any book commercials, so you didn’t know what to read, so you just got boring books. —Abby (fifth grade)

The Technology

There are many apps that can be used to create these commercials. For all, it's important to make sure that the student is in charge of telling the story. Students can narrate their videos or use text alone to sell their books. Students can use whiteboard apps like Explain Everything, ShowMe, Educreations, and PixiClip to draw, add pictures, and record their voice. TouchCast is an inclusive video production app which includes features such as video graphics, text, and links. The green-screen option allows students to place themselves in the book and create a commercial that looks professional.

Perhaps the best app for this project, however, is Adobe Spark Video. It is very simple to use and has many customizable features, and the final product is incredibly polished. The purpose of a book commercial is to sell a book, and the more polished the commercial, the better it does at that job.

A Few Tips

Encourage the students to write a script first when creating a commercial. This helps them think through their arguments and guarantees that the final product will be cohesive. Providing a template or guidelines to help them create their scripts and to walk them through the basic elements of a commercial ensures that they think critically about the text.

I want other people to share my book and feel how good it is. —Megan (fifth grade)

The Premiere

Now it’s time for an audience. My students watch each commercial and comment about what they liked, and then the creator tells us what they might do differently next time. We also share all our commercials on our class Twitter account. We’ve even had authors retweet, like tweets, and write to the students because they were so impressed by the students’ work.

A commercial for "When Life Gives You O.J." by Erica S. Perl, created by three students (Lucy, Ava, and Megan) in the author’s class.

Augmented Reality

After a commercial is completed, students can also interact with it using augmented reality. Using one of the many AR apps available (we use Aurasma), it is possible to link the cover of a book to its commercial. Students can scan the cover of books with their iPad and see which ones have commercials, with a photo of the student who made each commercial. Tapping on the photo of the student takes them to a page containing the commercial. We label each book in our room that has a commercial and are slowly pushing this system into the school library, allowing students throughout the school the chance to share book recommendations with each other.

Book commercials are powerful tools in a classroom of readers. When working with students, I can feel the energy around reading build as we work on and watch each other’s commercials.