How to Host Book Speed Dating in Middle or High School ELA

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, then you probably know I LOVE using the “speed dating” discussion strategy for everything from persuasion to literary analysis. I’m always looking for an excuse to incorporate some “speed dating” because it’s such a fun, student-centered way to get everyone engaged at the exact same time. You can read more about speed debating, speed dating discussion, speed dating peer feedback, and more HERE, but today I want to chat about a different type of speed dating: BOOK SPEED DATING! 🙂

Instead of being paired up with peers to discuss, students are paired up with books for mini “dates.” During each speed date with a book, students note their first impressions and take some time to get to know the book and its pages. At the end of each round, students rate the book depending on how interested they are in reading it. 

Sound fun? Here’s how you can make this engaging activity happen in your ELA classroom!

How to host book speed dating in middle or high school

1. ROUND UP A STACK OF HIGH-INTEREST BOOKS.

The speed dates will only be as good as the books you include, so make sure to round up a stack of quality candidates that you know your students will love! Shoot for high-interest books texts from a variety of genres. You want books that will appeal to a wide range of readers, but also books that will broaden your readers’ horizons. Book speed dating is a great way to expose readers to books they might not typically pick up on their own. 

Don’t have enough books? Facilitating this online without access to physical books? No problem! My Book Speed Dating resource comes with a Google slides “menu” of books already loaded with links to samples where students can preview the cover, a summary, and the first chapter…for free. 🙂

Need some book recommendations? You’re in the right place! My Book Speed Dating resource comes stocked with 30+ middle school and 30+ high school book recommendations. You can also stalk my First Chapter Friday Book List blog posts for more ideas: Part 1 HERE & Part 2 HERE. And if you’d like a spring of book recs that will never run out, definitely check out my massive book recommendation brochures: middle school HERE & high school HERE.

Last but not least, I’m always reading, reviewing, and posting about books over on my Instagram, so you can find lots of recs for middle grade and young adult lit over there.

2. CREATE SOME SORT OF RECORDING SHEET OR FORM.

Casually getting to know books is all good and fun, but students need some sort of way to track their first impressions when there are so many fish in the classroom library sea. After all, the goal of book speed dating is to help students find their book match, so a recording sheet or form only makes sense. Not only will it help students keep track of their dates, but it will help you–aka the Book Matchmaker–pair students up with books after the lesson.

A simple graphic organizer worksheet will suffice, as will a Google form! I use both options, depending on my goals, and I like both for different reasons: A paper worksheet is great when I don’t want students to be distracted by their Chromebooks. But a Google form is perfect for when I really need all of my book matchmaking data in one place. For example, at the very beginning of the year, when I was still getting to know my students’ reading interests and preferences, I used a Google form. It was super helpful because I was able to copy/paste some of their info from the form over to my independent reading master spreadsheet/conference log. Now, I am using a worksheet because a) I already know what students will like & b) many of them are currently in the middle of books. All I have to do is keep the worksheets and pull them back out when students need a new book!

3. CREATE A STUDENT-FRIENDLY RATING SYSTEM.

Make sure you have a way for students to “swipe right” on their favorite books. A simple numerical scale works, but feel free to spice it up with some teen-friendly rating options. Because I am hosting my book speed dating on Valentine’s Day, I opted for a candy hearts rating system. I know some students will be thrilled to use the “THANK U, NEXT” option when they meet a book that’s just not their type. But I know they’ll be equally as excited to shade in the hearts for a full 5-heart “BE MINE” rating when they find THE ONE! 

Like I mentioned earlier, if you want Google sheets data, a Google form might be more practical for your purposes. Candy hearts are cute, but if you need all of your info in one spot, choose function over fun! If you’re using my Book Speed Dating resource, you can have your cake and eat it, too, because the digital versions feature the same fun rating scale (minus the coloring of the hearts).

4. PLAN OUT THE LOGISTICS OF THE LESSON.

Once you’ve prepped your books and recording sheet, you’ll need to plan out the lesson itself. Here are a few things to consider:

  • How much time will you give students during each speed date? 4-5 minutes work well, but you can adjust this depending on the number of rounds you think you’ll get through!
  • How many rounds of dates will students get through in your allotted time? Again, it’s up to you! I’m planning 6 rounds for our speed dating tomorrow. This will give us our 10 minutes of free reading time and allow for transition time, too.
  • What kinds of things should students jot down on their recording sheet/form? I like to keep it open-ended to give students the freedom to make their own observations, but it’s up to you. For example, if you’re doing speed dating for a certain genre or theme, maybe you want students to record certain characteristics or ideas they notice.
  • How will students get a new book each round? Rotating the books clockwise (or whatever works for your seating arrangement) is a great plan, but you can also give students the freedom to pick their own books for each speed date.

5. SET THE MOOD FOR SPEED DATING.

After the logistics are planned out, it’s time for the fun part: Setting the mood for speed dating. Here are a few things you can do, depending on your time, desire, and $$. 

  • Project a fun slide on your board to pique students’ curiosity when they walk in.
  • Play jazz music during the lesson.
  • Set up a fun ambient room on YouTube. (I love this cherry blossom window scene or this rainy coffee shop ambient room).
  • Set out fake tealight candles from the Dollar Tree/a craft store.
  • Provide refreshments: cheap mints or some candy hearts!
  • Set out doilies and/or fake flowers from the Dollar Tree.

It’s okay if you spend 0 money! I’ve done this kind of activity with all the extra bells and whistles and with nothing but a little music and YouTube, and the result is ultimately the same. The kids will love it no matter what!

6. HOST THE LESSON & WATCH THE MAGIC HAPPEN!

Once it’s time to host the lesson, your job is (almost) done. You get to sit back, relax, and watch the magic happen as students fall in love with books! Okay, maybe it’s not that simple…but it is magical. Really, all you have to do is keep track of time and signal to students when each speed dating round is over. I like to do this with my phone timer and an old-school bell I have in my room. Every round, I ring the bell to signal it’s time to transition. The rest of the time, I usually walk around and chat with the students about the books in their hands. It’s fun to connect over books we’ve read and the books they’re excited about reading!

7. MATCH STUDENTS WITH THEIR FAVORITE BOOKS.

When the speed dating is done, the real fun begins…you get to play Book Matchmaker and pair students up with their favorite books. Admittedly, this can be complicated when multiple students are interested in the same book, but that’s okay! You can hype up the excitement by raffling off your copy/copies of the book. It’s ridiculous, but my middle schoolers go wild for this online spinning wheel: https://pickerwheel.com/. While you’re raffling off the hot copies of books, you can teach students how to access their favorite books in other ways. Show them how to use the school library, local library, and Overdrive/Libby. If you’re an ELA teacher who doesn’t use Overdrive yet…RUN – don’t walk – to this blog post because it is a game-changer. And it’s even better when you get your student digital library cards and show them how to use it, too!

I hope this blog post helps you host a fun book speed dating lesson in your ELA class!  If you don’t have time to plan a full book speed dating lesson and want one that’s ready to go, you can check out my brand new resource HERE. The resource includes the following:

  • Thorough Teacher Instructions
  • Student Recording Sheet
  • Middle School Book Speed Dating Google Slides w/ Digital Menu
  • High School Book Speed Dating Google Slides w/ Digital Menu
  • Student Recording Google Form
  • Middle School Book Recommendations
  • High School Book Recommendations

Thanks to the digital version, you can even facilitate book speed dating without books. Yes, as weird as that sounds, that’s right. The digital versions include links to book samples so students can get to know each title just like they would during the in-person lesson. 🙂 Just add students!


Want more ideas to help students fall in love with reading? You’ll love these blog posts:

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