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Literacy

Using Technology to Inspire Independent Readers

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

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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.

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.

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Madi Chrupcala's picture

This sounds like an awesome idea to incorporate in the classroom! It definitely feels like this has an appropriate place in elementary and middle school, but do you think this kind of assignment could work in a high school environment as well?

Jesse Buetow's picture
Jesse Buetow
5th Grade Teacher

Absolutely! I think this project would work fine at the high school level. This project is about creating a community of readers who are excited about sharing their books. In order for it to work well, it would help to have a class where students were reading independently and had choice/control over the books they read. Student choice is the default in my room, and this project helps enhance that to an incredible degree. I think high schoolers would do a great job and could be very sophisticated in their recommendations and arguments. I'd love to see some of the end result.

Janice Holshouser's picture

Do you know why Adobe Spark Video has to have your birth date to sign in? Was this an issue with your students? Would you provide links to more of your book commercials? Thanks!

Jesse Buetow's picture
Jesse Buetow
5th Grade Teacher

Yes, it requires an Adobe ID to sign in. For this reason (and other reasons) I use a classroom account. I created one for the classroom, and the students then just use my email and password. This works around any age requirements that might limit this project. The added benefit of having them use a class account is that any work they do stays with me when they move on. This way, I am the curator of the commercials and am able to collect a library of commercials to use from year to year.

Here are some links to some of my other favorite commercials:

BoysAre Dogs: https://spark.adobe.com/video/aMqm4
Hatchet: https://spark.adobe.com/video/2MZD5
City of Ember: https://spark.adobe.com/video/oYjop
Crenshaw: https://spark.adobe.com/video/olQ9K

This is a link to our webpage that includes a searchable data base of all our commercials so far (student created):
http://www.spps.org/Page/21530

Peter Paccone's picture
Peter Paccone
9-12th Grade Social Studies Teacher - San Marino High School

What a great idea, especially for students in the high school social studies class. Read a history book, produce the commercial, post to Twitter, watch and invite comments. Will be sure to put before my students Monday. Thanks.

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