Have you ever been overwhelmed with the task of recommending books to your middle or high school readers? Maybe you love to read, but you don’t read many middle-grade or young adult titles, so you’re stuck on what to recommend to your students. Perhaps you have a growing collection of great books to recommend but you’re looking for some tips and systems to streamline your book rec process. Or you might even be a book rec expert looking for more ways to fill your treasure chest of go-to, tried-and-true texts. Whatever the reason, you’re in the right place! I, too, am an ELA teacher committed to finding better book recommendations for my students.
If you know a thing or two about me, you know that I love working smarter–not harder. So when I can find shortcuts, helpful resources, and other book rec hacks, I’m all about it. I’ve spent the last two years laser-focused on building my book recommendation skills. Now, I’m ready to share everything I’ve learned with you!
Recommending books to your students is an art & a science! Luckily, you can practice this art form and learn the science behind building readers. Here are 5 ways you can be more prepared with book recommendations the next time one of your readers asks, “What should I read next?”
PS: Don’t forget to stay tuned for the other 3 posts in this series, which will feature a total of 15 more ways to keep the book recs coming. 🙂
1. Read more children’s, middle-grade, and/or young adult literature.
I know this should go without saying, but reading more is the single best way to improve your book recommendations. As busy teachers, this can be challenging. In fact, I used my hectic schedule as an excuse for years, rarely reading what my students read. But once I committed to the habit of reading more MG & YA lit, the benefits were immediate. It made my job so much easier, and it made recommending books more fun. There’s nothing quite like connecting over a shared reading experience after a student reads a book you have read, too!
If you’re ultra-busy, I challenge you to try listening to some audiobooks to sneak in extra reading time and familiarize yourself with the world of literature written for your student readers. (And if you’re not using Libby/Overdrive to listen to free audiobooks, what are you doing?) Try listening while you’re getting ready in the morning, driving to school, going on walks, tidying up your home, etc. Even with a jam-packed schedule, you can probably get through a book a week just from listening! For more tips on reading more, check out this blog post.
2. Give students a reading inventory to learn about their interests and preferences.
If you do nothing else on this list, DO THIS! Before you can play book matchmaker, you have to know your readers’ preferences and interests. A quick Google search will give you plenty of examples to get you thinking, but here are a few key questions to ask:
- On a scale of 1-10, how much do you enjoy reading?
- How often do you usually read?
- What is your favorite book?
- What genres/formats do you like to read?
I highly recommend doing this through a Google form, which will generate a spreadsheet of responses. This way, you can easily access and refer back to students’ inventory responses all year long. You can check out my student-ready reading inventory with print & digital versions HERE.
If you use a Google form inventory, like I do, you can even copy/paste essential information over to other records. I take key information from my students’ reading inventory and paste it into one master reading spreadsheet that I use to keep track of reading conferences… more on that below!
3. Confer with your readers to learn more about their reading preferences, attitudes, and habits.
If finding the time to read is challenging for you, then you can learn just as much (or even more) by holding reading conferences with your students. After all, if you can’t beat them, join them, right? When you hold regular reading conferences, you will easily pick up on which books are popular, which books readers tend to abandon, and which books are worth a read yourself.
Getting to know your students on this level will help you learn your readers’ unique preferences, favorite genres and authors, and any reading gaps they may have. With each conference, all of this informal data compounds into incredibly useful data to inform your future book recommendations. While conferring with your readers is easier when you are reading the same types of books as your students, this is one example where you can “fake it ‘til you make it.” Even if you haven’t read a lot, you can learn as you go, add to your TBR list, and improve your book recommendation skills just by talking to your readers.
When you confer with your readers, don’t forget to record all of the valuable insight somewhere. Like I mentioned above, I have a master spreadsheet that houses all of my data on my students’ reading habits, goals, preferences, etc. I have a sheet per class, with a tab per student, and it’s been the only system that’s worked for my messy, type-b teacher self. You can take a look below, see it in action HERE or check it out HERE.
4. Learn to tailor your recommendations with Book Trailer Tuesday.
Book Trailer Tuesday is another great way to recommend better books without reading them yourself. In fact, this was probably the easiest strategy I employed when I moved from high school to 7th grade without having read a middle-grade book since I was a kid. Book Trailer Tuesday is a great way to expose students (and yourself) to new book titles and quickly learn what is most interesting to your readers. You can talk about books all day, but there’s nothing better than pressing play and watching your students get pumped about a book! To get the most bang for your buck, find a way to track your students’ interest in each trailer. I like to use a simple poll or a quick half-sheet to gauge readers’ interest. My polls usually ask, “Are you interested in reading this book?” and offer the following options:
- YES! I’d like to enter the book lottery.
- Yes, but I’m currently busy reading another book.
- Maybe…I need more information to know if I’m interested. (Sample the book, look it up, and/or chat with Miss G).
- No thanks. I don’t think this book is a great fit for me.
Each Tuesday, you’ll be that much closer to figuring out what students like to read. After a few trailers, it will become easy to tailor books (and more trailers) to students’ interests and preferences. By showing a trailer each week, you can expose students to 36 new books over the course of a year. To get started with Book Trailer Tuesday, you can download my free list of book trailer links for the entire year HERE or via the sign-up form below. To learn more about this strategy, head to this blog post.
5. Try First Chapter Friday to see which books stick.
Similar to Book Trailer Tuesday, you can use First Chapter Friday as a tool to see which books resonate with your readers. First Chapter Friday is exactly what it sounds like: Each Friday, you read the first chapter of a different high-interest book to your students. When I facilitate First Chapter Friday, I give my students these engaging active listening sheets so they can track their thinking and record how interested they are in reading each book.
Like Book Trailer Tuesday, you can totally feature books for First Chapter Friday without reading them first. Skim the book, do some quick research, and read the first chapter to see if it’s “juicy” enough. Sometimes this kind of skimming is enough to give you the confidence you need to recommend the book later on. Once you feature a few books, you’ll be able to see which types of books students gravitate toward. This will help you strengthen your Book Trailer Tuesday, First Chapter Friday, and general book recommendation skills.
Ready to give better book recommendations to your readers?
I hope you found these tips helpful! Remember, next week’s post in this series will have 5 more tips, so make sure you stay tuned for that!
Love these tips but want good book recs right now?
Lucky for you, I’ve worked hard to curate lists, systems, and resources full of book recommendations for middle and high school readers.
- Free Book Trailer Tuesday Links for the Entire Year: Find it HERE.
- Free Middle & High School Book Recs Facebook Group: Join our free community for book recommendations for grades 6-12 readers HERE.
- Book Recommendation Brochures: These book brochures are designed to help students answer the question of “What should I read next?” Through interactive reader personality quizzes, these brochures automatically suggest personalized book recommendations to your students. It’s a magical, self-sustaining system that will get good books into the hands of your readers! Click HERE to learn about the brochures, HERE for ideas on using them, HERE to find the middle school set, or HERE to check out the high school version.
- Visual Book Recommendation Posters: Help your middle school readers find their next favorite book with visual book recommendation posters. Organized by topics like sports, survival stories, mental health, what to read if you don’t like to read, and MORE, these posters make it easy for your readers to find the perfect book. Click HERE to read more about the posters. You can check out the middle school version HERE and the high school poster set HERE.
If you liked this post, check out the following:
- 5 Ways to Help Students Fall in Love With Reading
- 5 Ways to Use Overdrive (& Help Your Students Read More)
- 10 Reasons to Try First Chapter Friday
- Book Trailer Tuesday: How to hook students on books in 3 minutes!
- Book Recommendation Brochures: FAQ
- 10 Ways to Use Book Recommendation Posters in the ELA Classroom