Why You Should Try a Book Tasting

Whenever I notice my middle school students in need of some book recommendations or our classroom in need of some reading magic and bookish bonding, I make plans for one of my favorite strategies: a book tasting.

If you’re unfamiliar with the book tasting strategy, it’s a fun lesson in which students get to sample, or “taste,” different books. Each round (or however you structure it), students “taste” a different book: they check out the cover, blurb/summary, and first few pages/chapter. Then, they record their observations and thoughts, as well as how interested they are in reading the book. While you can keep a book tasting super simple, you can also play up the “tasting” theme, transform your classroom into a book diner with menus, and be as “extra” as you want. Full disclosure: I might do one “extra” book tasting a year and one fun “book speed dating” twist on the activity a year, but the majority of my book tastings are simple and casual. Whether you call it book tasting, book sampling, book browsing, book shopping, or book speed dating, the goal is the same: to help students sample new books and add to their “to-read” lists!

Book tastings strengthen any independent reading program

Not only are book tastings super engaging and fun, but they’re one of the most crucial parts of any independent reading program. Simply having a well-stocked, diverse classroom library is not enough…you have to bring the books TO the students. In this way, book tastings function as an invitation to reading. They always result in students finding new books, readers bonding over a shared love for their favorite books, and kids giving and getting peer recommendations. Like I mentioned, a good book tasting lesson always feels like magic. But it’s actually a very strategic strategy designed to hit lots of essential ELA goals in one lesson.

If you’re ready for your readers to reap the benefits of book tastings, here are 10 reasons to make this engaging activity a staple in your middle or high school English classroom!

why you should try a book tasting

1. Book tastings pique readers’ curiosity and encourage more reading.

One of the easiest ways to engage readers is by giving them a “taste” of a book that makes them curious enough to read. Similar to strategies like Book Trailer Tuesday and First Chapter Friday, the power of a book tasting lies in its magical ability to spark curiosity. A book tasting gives students just enough time to consider a book’s cover, read the blurb on the back or inside, sample the first chapter, and skim through the pages. This kind of sampling almost always leads to questions, creating a curiosity gap that can only be filled by reading the book. 

With the right collection of high-interest books, a book tasting naturally creates this kind of curiosity, but you can increase the excitement by hosting a “book lottery” after the book tasting. To do this, ask students which books they’d like to check out, and then find a fun way to draw and announce winners. I like to use pickerwheel.com, but if you can find actual “tickets,” those are fun too. 

novel in verse book tasting

2. Book tastings help readers learn what they like and how to successfully select books.

If you have students who never know what to read, constantly abandon books, and/or claim to “hate” reading, these readers might need help selecting titles. A book tasting is a great way to help these readers learn how to find books they will enjoy.  I’ve found that there are many more confused readers who have never learned what they like in a book and very few kiddos who have a true hatred for reading. Most students have not had the time, choice, support, or book access to truly learn what they like and dislike in a book. These students–and all readers–benefit from guided practice selecting books. This is exactly what a book tasting offers: the time and space to build in this practice and spark discussions about books.

Speaking of discussions, book tastings are a great way to help your students learn how to talk about books. With book tastings, you can help students move past “This book looks good” or “I hated that book,” and help them elaborate with specific details. What is appealing about this book? What are some specific reasons they disliked that book? Of course, this kind of explanation is essential in ELA, but in all subjects, too! It’s something we work on all year long, whether it’s analyzing textual evidence, proving a claim, or just explaining with specific examples. Again, a book tasting is another chance to practice this essential skill.

how to select books

3. Book tastings help you get to know what your readers like.

In addition to helping students discover their reading preferences, a book tasting helps you get to know students’ reading identities so you can tailor your instruction and book recommendations. With each book tasting you host, you will learn more about what your readers like. Over time, you’ll learn which kids love a good murder mystery, which classes prefer realistic fiction, and who is in the fantasy fan club. With this knowledge, you can strengthen your book recommendations and strategize how you might broaden your students’ book horizons. You can also select more engaging texts for class study, connect your curriculum to students’ favorite books, and tailor your instruction to your readers’ interests. 

For example, I realized through some book tastings that my students were interested in mysteries and thrillers, so I made a whole book tasting just for that genre! During our book tasting for Banned Books Week, I noticed how students flocked to the books with the most “mature,” real-life issues, so I made an attempt to feature and recommend similar titles they’d enjoy. You can learn so much from just one book tasting…but you’ll never know until you try!

get to know what readers like during a book tasting

4. Book tastings help readers learn about genre, writing style, text features, and more.

Because book tastings invite students to explore a carefully curated collection of books, you can get strategic about how you structure the activity and what you feature. By considering the specific books you want to highlight, the elements you want readers to notice, and the questions you want students to answer, you can build your own book tasting to meet different goals! Want students to learn about nonfiction text features? Host a nonfiction book tasting and ask students to share what they found after the activity! Getting ready to teach readers about suspense, dramatic irony, and other characteristics of the horror genre? Organize a spooky book tasting! Ready for readers to explore sensory details and creative language? Let them discover the wonderful world of poetry with a novel in verse book tasting!

As you can see, the possibilities are endless. The next time you’re getting ready to teach something, think about how you can preview or practice it with a book tasting!

learn about genre, style, text structures, and more

5. Book tastings are a great way to introduce a genre, preview a theme, or begin a unit.

Book tastings are an excellent “hook” to a unit because they allow students to explore a set of texts on their own, make observations, and generate questions. For example, I structure my book tastings with my favorite question duo: “What do you notice?” and “What do you wonder?” Sometimes, I’ll tweak those questions depending on my goal of the book tasting. 

For example, before we read a novel in verse (Before the Ever After) as a whole class, I introduce students to this format with a book tasting, asking students “What do you notice about the way novels in verse are written?” This question prompts students to notice the verse, figurative language, writing style, and more. 

Similarly, before we begin Dystopian Literature Circles, I launch our unit with a Dystopian Book Tasting. Before I “define” dystopia for students, I want them to explore the genre on their own, make inferences, and ask questions. Then, we can have a much better discussion and “Intro to Dystopia” lesson, all while referring to the common texts we explored during the book tasting activity.

The next time you’re planning a unit, especially one that involves an introduction to a genre or a juicy essential question, think about how you might use a book tasting to engage students in inquiry before you begin! 

introduce a new genre or unit with book tastings

6. Book tastings can help students practice critical thinking.

By asking students to “notice” and “wonder” during book tastings, you’ll train them to be more observant and inquisitive. This curious reading will spark great discussions and help students notice and question more during whole-class novels and independent reading. Repeated, low-risk “practice” at noticing will help students gain confidence and experience. Over time, they will notice more patterns, text features, and author’s craft. For example, after my students “notice” craft moves in novels in verse during our book tasting, they notice and start analyzing those same techniques in our whole class novel.

The book tastings give us a common reference point: Remember when we noticed that at the beginning of the unit? Let’s stay tuned and track that throughout the text and think about why the author is doing it!

book tastings help students practice critical thinking

7. Book tastings help readers make plans for what to read next.

Nothing kills reading momentum more than finishing an incredible book but having no idea what to read next. But a book tasting can prevent this problem before it even happens! Unless you’re asking students what they plan to read next or having them keep to-read lists, you’d be surprised at how many readers (even the voracious ones) have no clue what they might read next. I learned this the hard way my first year in middle school. I had helped my students find a great first book of the year, and everyone was engaged in their books, happily reading…until they started to finish their books! Many of them had just finished the first book they liked in years, and I was thrilled! But soon, the students were aimlessly wandering the shelves and back to square one. I had forgotten to help them plan for future reading, so it felt like we were on a reading hamster wheel. I realized then that strong readers have plans for future reading, and I wasn’t doing enough in class to support students in this way. 

I solved that problem by explicitly teaching students how to plan for future reading and setting aside time to explore our classroom library through book tastings and other strategies. During our book tastings, students rate and explain their interest level in each book they sample. At the end of each book tasting, I ask the same exit ticket question every time: What book/s are you most interested in reading? Then, I try to give students time to update their “to-read” lists so they don’t forget the titles of all the books they explored.

With frequent book tastings, students will have a healthier, stronger “to-read” list and a much better idea of what they want to read next. They’ll waste less time deciding what to read and spend more time actually reading!

book tastings help readers make plans for what to read next

8. Book tastings help build community and cultivate a lifelong love for reading.

If your goal is to create a community of readers and help students fall in love with books, then you have to make time for readers to interact with books and eachother. And a book tasting is one way to do just that! A book tasting is an invitation to explore, permission to peruse, and a chance to connect. The conversations that arise during this activity are delightful! You’ll hear students bonding over favorite books, discovering connections between texts, asking questions about books their peers have read, and recommending their favorites to anyone who will listen. 

Book tastings are not just about books: They’re about readers. They’re about sharing the joy of discovering new worlds, characters, ideas, and perspectives. Book tastings are about building a culture of reading and fostering a contagious love of books that transcends your classroom!

book tastings build community

9. Book tastings will expose students to more books than your curriculum ever could on its own.

As ELA teachers, we know how important it is to expose our students to books Rudine Sims Bishop calls “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors.” In other words, we want our students to find books that reflect their experiences AND texts that offer a glimpse into the experiences of others. But what we teach in class–no matter how diverse, inclusive, and wonderful the literature is–is only a fraction of what’s out there. Book tastings are a great way to supplement our curriculum and expose students to new voices, perspectives, and authors. 

To imagine what’s possible, consider just how many books you could expose your students to if you facilitated one book tasting a month. If you feature 25 books a month, you will expose your students to 225+ new texts in one school year. That’s 225 chances for the right book to fall into the hands of the right reader. I’m not a math teacher, but I know those are great odds!

book tastings expose students to more books

10. Book tastings are a great time to facilitate quick reading conferences.

Reading conferences are so valuable, but it can be challenging to find the time for them. Depending on the day and group of students, it can sometimes be difficult to quietly confer with a student while the rest of the students read independently. But a book tasting day is the perfect time to pull students for quick reading conferences. If you set up your book tasting to be student-centered and stress-free, you will easily be able to meet with readers while the rest of the students are engaged in sampling books. Plus, a book tasting almost always sparks great conversations about books, connections, and plans for future reading. It’s a great way to break the ice and begin an easy, natural conference. 

PS: If you’re really behind, it can also be a day to chip away at some planning or grading in between chatting about books! No judgment–we’ve all been there!

book tastings are a great time to sneak in some reading conferences

I hope these ideas give confidence you need to try a book tasting, make room for more book tastings, or “level up” the book tastings you’re already doing in your classroom! 

Ready to try a book tasting in your classroom? Get started with any of these student-ready book tasting resources that take the book selection and prep out of the process!

If you have any suggestions for themes for future book tasting resources, let me know in the comments! I am always adding to the Book Tasting Bundle. 🙂

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