Although my first year of teaching was more than two decades ago, I clearly remember how my second graders returned from Thanksgiving more settled and focused. I was teaching at a public school in Oakland, California, and as December began, I was hopeful, energetic and increasingly confident about the learning routines I’d established in my class. Yet cliques had formed among some of the girls, and too often kids were not nice to each other. Another teacher had given me a book called Tribes, a guide to building a safe and caring learning community in the classroom. I wholeheartedly adopted it.
I learned about the book tasting—an opportunity for students to try out a variety of books—from an instructional coach at my school, who modeled it for the teachers, enabling us to learn firsthand what this activity can do.
To start, I gather titles in a variety of genres from the school library, classroom library, and literacy library—it’s best to have a few copies of each book. I set up my tasting by putting my students in seven groups of four, with four titles in a different genre for each group. One group is generally realistic fiction, one literary nonfiction, one fantasy, and so forth. With groups of four, students get to experience different viewpoints without being overwhelmed—every student gets a chance to contribute when they discuss their books.