The book report. It’s a stalwart assignment handed out across all grade levels. Teachers use book reports to make sure students keep up with their reading assignments and understand the material covered.
But lately, some educators have started pushing back against the standard book report. Not only is this assignment type perceived as outdated, but some teachers believe it can turn students off of reading well into adulthood.
It’s possible to create engaging book report assignments that your students enjoy. Follow these lesson plan ideas to get creative with the reading-related tasks you create.
Why Educators Are Turning Away from Traditional Book Reports
Many of the criticisms against book reports are fair. This assignment is often built on top of required reading, making the homework seem even more daunting. When a student knows they have to write a report on what they read, they are more likely to delay even opening the book.
“Mandatory book reports serve the purpose of adding more weight on the side of things the child definitely does not want to do, in this case, read,” writes Elizabeth Hanson, founder of Smart Homeschooler. “We fail to teach children how to love reading because we turn it into a chore before a child can learn to enjoy it.”
Teachers want to encourage children to read for fun, but when each book comes with an assignment, students will stop associating reading with an enjoyable activity.
Added to that, many educators use mini book reports (reading logs) to make sure students are reading each night. Students have to create brief write-ups about what they read to prove they understood the material. This isn’t fun for either struggling or advanced students.
“Independent reading work in book logs punishes proficient and advanced readers, for the more they read, the more work they have to complete,” says teacher, author and consultant Laura Robb. She says adults don’t complete reading logs: It’s not something that anyone outside of school would ever do. They only serve as proof that students read each night.
There is good news. As more educators evaluate the use of reading logs, some are starting to change how they assign book reports to students. They are looking for ways to make reading engaging while also ensuring that students do the work.
“I wrote so many boring book reports as a kid that it nearly turned me off to reading altogether,” says teacher Keith Ferrell. That is until his sixth grade teacher let the students choose how they wanted to present their report. “We were allowed to deliver it any way we saw fit. We could work in pairs, we could use props, we could sing, we could dance — the sky was the limit.” With this inspiration, Ferrell couldn’t wait to begin reading so he could create his book report.
Return to the Reason for Book Reports
The first step in planning a book report lesson plan effectively is to understand why you want your students to complete these assignments in the first place. Going back to the roots of book reports can help you keep the core elements of the assignment even as you branch out to other activities.
Primarily, educators use book reports to teach reading comprehension and critical thinking.
“Learning to pick out useful pieces of information from longer texts is a skill that can be used throughout life – particularly when growing up and learning at more advanced levels,” according to teaching resource Mighty Writer.
Actually teachers aren’t assigning book reports at all, but rather book reviews. The team at Innovative Teaching Ideas explains that a book report is an objective summary of the book’s ideas and arguments. On the other hand, a book review is a critical account and provides “a summary of the content and assesses the value of it to potential readers.”
By challenging students to grasp a deeper understanding of the material, you can move away from basic assignments that simply reflect what students read.
Look Outside Written Reports
The goal of most book reports is for students to prove that they read the material. The report form has the added benefit of teaching writing skills, and when you’re assigning handwritten reports for younger grades, penmanship. However, you don’t have to build writing into your book report lesson plans. There are many unique ways for students to prove their understanding of the book.
“Scrapbooks are an awesome way to ditch the book report and add some life to literature projects,” writes Amanda Clark-Rudolph at ClassCraft. “You can let students choose if they want to do an online scrapbook…or make a traditional one with colored paper, glue, and glitter.”
This is also a good way for students to reflect on different chapters as they read. The deeper into the book they get, the more they can add to the scrapbook journal.
Additionally, you can build events around different book reports, whether students are reading different books or the same book together.
“Imagine that you’ve been invited to a birthday party for one of the book’s characters, and you want to bring the perfect gift,” says Kim Kautzer at WriteShop. “Consider the character’s personality, likes, and dislikes before deciding on a gift he or she would really love and use.”
To make this a writing activity, students can create birthday cards where they explain why they chose that particular gift. You could even throw a class birthday party for that book character with your students.
Connect Book Reports to Activities Kids Love
Once you start brainstorming ways to create new book reports, you can come across a variety of activities and creative channels for your students to tap into. The first way to engage students is to find lessons that are relevant to what they love.
Homeschooler Amy Blevins created Minecraft printables teachers can use to engage students. “I have a struggling reader who needs all the help and motivation he can get when it comes to reading and comprehension,” she writes. “Because he loves Minecraft, relating almost any learning activity to Minecraft makes it less of a burden.”
Along with other online games like Animal Crossing, Fortnite, Among Us that may be a trend in your school, you can also use social media to get kids excited about what they are reading.
Teacher Kelly Sage says educators can use social media to help students engage with their characters. You can ask students to create a few tweets that a character might send out, including memes and hashtags. Some students might even want to create TikTok videos for their characters.
Social summaries can also serve as fast alternatives to reading logs as students can post to classroom pages what they read about.
Rethink the Reading Log
Social media provides one alternative to the standard reading log, but there are other ways to get students to discuss what they are reading at home.
For example, you can dive into the jot journal craze and ask students to write a few bullet points about what they read each night. This is less cumbersome than a full reading log and can still create the basis for a class discussion.
“Teachers say that even a couple of sentences recording a personal reaction to a story are enough to trigger a lively classroom discussion,” writes the staff at FamilyEducation.
If they’ve read the same book, these discussions can teach students how to talk about them. The conversations can also help kids discover new books they want to read because their peers enjoyed them.
Even changing the physical format of reading logs can make them more exciting. Teacher Emily Aierstok created a template for elementary school teachers to guide readers through a “paper airplane book report.” With this model, students can write about the protagonists on one side and the antagonists on the other of the paper airplane. They can fill in elements within the various folds. This is a great exercise to break out the different elements of a story, including the “5Ws and one H” questions necessary in information-gathering.
There are hundreds of ways to develop new book report lesson plans that your students will enjoy. Matt Miller at Ditch That Textbook has a list of 10 alternatives to the traditional book report that use technology to engage students. A few include:
- Setting up a video call with the author where students can share their thoughts on the book.
- Asking students to create alternate endings (happy or sad) for the characters.
- Creating a digital comic book that retells the story or creates a unique scene.
Consider the technology usage of your students and your teaching goals so you can create lesson plans that challenge students while fostering a love of reading.
Encourage Independent Reading
While book reports are necessary for some classroom situations, you still want students to foster a natural love of reading. You don’t want advanced students to feel like they are being punished for reading ahead and you don’t want struggling students to give up. There are a few ways to build a love of reading in your classroom that isn’t report-related.
Janssen Bradshaw at Everyday Reading suggests reading the first couple of chapters with young learners to help them learn about the book. “For most of us – even big readers – the first couple of chapters are the hardest because you have to orient to a new setting, new characters, and new plot,” she says.
Reading the chapters together in class can hook students on a story that makes them want to keep reading when they get home.
You can also help students by giving them control of what they read and when.
“Readers develop ownership by making choices—choosing what to read, when to read, where to read, and how to read,” say literacy consultants Gravity Goldberg and Renée Houser. “When students play an active role in their own learning it is empowering to them—it fosters identity and independence.”
As a teacher, you can still guide reading time while allowing students to choose their ideal environment. You can challenge students to read for a certain amount of time or read a certain number of pages.
Finally, make sure students feel connected to the books they have. Why should a particular student care about a character or plot point? Make the stories relevant.
“When students find titles with characters that look like them and families that resemble their own or their neighbors, their interest level increases,” writes urban literacy consultant Kathryn Starke. “Making these connections also increases student comprehension.”
Book reports still have a place in the elementary classroom. They teach reading comprehension and writing skills. However, if you want your students to be interested in reading and develop a love of learning, you may want to rethink how your kids report on the stories they read. A few changes to your lesson plans can foster a passion for books that lasts a lifetime.
Images by: wavebreakmediamicro/©123RF.com, wavebreakmediamicro/©123RF.com, StockSnap, Pezibear