Book Pass

I tried something new with my students this week: a Book Pass. The purpose of a Book Pass is to introduce and familiarize students to some of the books that are available for them to read during Free Voluntary Reading time. They get a small taste of several different books in order to see if they are interested in reading any of them. This kind of activity is also sometimes called “Book Speed Dating.”

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I first heard about the idea of a Book Pass a long time ago, but I was hesitant to try it because I was worried that it might be too chaotic or overwhelming to my students to read only a little bit of several different books. But I was wrong! It went very successfully in my class, and I wish I had tried it sooner. It definitely increased my students’ excitement about the books.

I think activities like a Book Pass are particularly important in my classroom because, as I’ve written about before, I don’t have a physical library of books in the classroom, so I need to do everything I can to make access to books as easy as possible for my students.

There are many different ways to do a Book Pass, but this is the basic procedure that I used:

  1. Ahead of time, select books that you think will be of interest to your students. You’ll need one book for each student. I tried to find books from various genres and at various reading levels.
  2. Give each student one book and one handout. The students will use the handout to record their response to the books. Click here to see the handout I created.
  3. Tell students to write the name of the book on their handout.
  4. Tell students to read the summary on the back cover of the book and then open the book and start reading from the first page. I gave my students about 2 minutes to read.
  5. When the 2 minutes is up, have the students record on their handout if they want to continue reading the book (on my handout, students just circle “yes,” “no,” or “maybe”).
  6. Students pass their books to the student sitting next to them. You’ll have to figure out the best method for passing based on the desk arrangement in your classroom, but it should all be fine as long as each student has a new book in their hands!
  7. Repeat this procedure until each student has looked at several books.

After we finished the Book Pass, I gave my students about 10 minutes of free reading time so they could get started on reading their new books. Of course, some of them were already reading other books, so they decided to finish those books first. But I told the students to keep their handouts, so they now have a list of books they want to read after they finish their current ones.

Several of my students found books they were very excited about, and they eagerly asked me if they could take them home. Success!

I think the hardest part of reading is starting a new book. I think this is true for my students, and I know it’s true for me, too. It’s often hard for me to find the time and the motivation to start reading. Even though I love reading, it can be hard to start a new book. But after I’ve started the book—assuming I like it—then I really want to continue reading it. Doing a Book Pass (and following it up with Free Voluntary Reading time) helps introduce students to new books and gets them past that difficult first step of starting a new book and getting interested in it.

A Book Pass is also a good way to guide students into choosing a new book if you’re worried that maybe they’re reading a book that’s not at the right level for them. To give an example: One of my Level 4 students has been reading a book about Michelle Obama for the last three or four months. It’s an authentic book (i.e., not a graded reader written for language learners) that is at about a 4th-grade reading level. I know that the book is difficult for him; however, he chose the book himself because he is interested in Michelle Obama and wants to know more about her. If he’s really interested in the book, I obviously don’t want to hold him back from reading it. However, I was getting a little worried because he had been reading the book for a long time. When I asked him about it, he said, “I finished the book, but I’m reading it again and again because there are a lot of words I don’t know.” I reminded him that it was okay if he didn’t know all the words and that he didn’t need to re-read the book if he didn’t want to. I suggested to him that he could find an easier book, but he insisted that he liked it and wanted to keep reading it.

I felt a little torn. On the one hand, I strongly believe that we should give students free choice in what they read, and I should not force students to stop reading a book they enjoy. (I really like Pernille Ripp’s blog post on this topic.) On the other hand, I was worried that this student was turning his free reading time into an intensive vocabulary study time—in other words, he wasn’t really enjoying the book but was using it to try to study and memorize new vocabulary words. I want our FVR time to be about pleasure reading, not vocabulary study. I try to emphasize to students that they should find books that they enjoy and that are at a good level for them. But I think some students still have the mindset that they should try to “push” themselves by choosing difficult books. Then, they try to study the words of the book or re-read the book again and again so they can remember all the new words.

But the Book Pass activity was great for this student! At the end of the Book Pass, he asked to hold onto It’s Just a Cat—a level 2 graded reader (in other words, a book at a much lower reading level than his Michelle Obama book.) He still has the Michelle Obama book, too, so maybe he’ll go back to it later (which is fine!). But I’m happy that he found a new book that he likes and that is at an easier reading level for him.

It was a good lesson for me: When I told the student that it might be a good idea for him to choose an easier book, it didn’t work. But when I exposed him to easier books and gave him a chance to start reading a few pages of the books and get interested in them, he found a new book he liked. The books speak for themselves!

For other good tips on using a Book Pass in class, I recommend Joy Sexton’s blog post, “The Secret to A Great Book Pass.” You can also just Google “Book Pass” or “Book Speed Dating” to read about the various other ways teachers have implemented this activity. There are a lot of great ideas!

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