By 3rd and 4th grade, students generally know what kinds of books they like to read. As teachers, we still want to expose them to different literary genres, authors, and titles. One way to do this is by hosting a book tasting in the classroom or library. This is a great way for students to sample books they may not otherwise come across! And bonus, it’s a fun reading activity that gets kids excited about books!
First, what does this mean? A book tasting is an event during which students “taste”, or sample, a selection of books that you’ve chosen ahead of time. They can rotate among tables to sample the books and record notes about the ones that interested them. You can go fancy with a classroom transformation or just put out some stacks on their desks.
Let’s dig into a few quick tips for getting started with book tastings.
Step 1: Decide on the Goal
It helps to set a goal for your students before selecting the books. What do you want to accomplish? Maybe your goal is to –
- introduce students to recently published books
- expose students to new genres
- introduce students to diverse characters or authors
- expose students to award winners
- have students choose a book for a book club or literature circle
Another thing to consider is if you want students to write anything down during the tasting, such as making a wishlist of book titles they’re excited about. Depending on the grade level, they might label books with sticky notes with their names on them or fill out a worksheet or brochure with short book reviews.
For me, I want students to spend the bulk of their time engaging with the books, not completing a worksheet, so I like to use something simple that won’t be too time-consuming.
Step 2: Pull Books
Book selection is the most challenging part of the book tasting for me, particularly making sure I’m choosing books at the right reading levels. If your classroom library doesn’t have what you need, try reaching out to your school/public librarian or your reading teacher!
I recommend writing down the titles you choose for each table, or better yet, snap a photo like the one below. This will save you a lot of time if you do the same tasting again next year.
Step 3: Set Up
Again, a book tasting can be as fancy or as simple as you like. If you are interested in creating a cafe- or restaurant-themed event, here are some ideas to create a fun atmosphere!
- Decorate tables with tablecloths and placemats. (I use these red and white checkered plastic tablecloths.) You can laminate the placemats for long-term use or you can have students write directly on them.
- Add signs so students know what books they can find at each table. This might include types of genres, author names, series titles, etc. I also find it helpful to add table numbers. I like these little sign holders for displaying signs, which I print double-sided.
- You can also add battery-operated tea lights that look like little candles, bud vases with flowers, and anything else to set the “mood.” Check in your teacher lounge or with your office staff or PTA – they may have some you can borrow.
- Write a fun message on a portable chalkboard or dry-erase easel at the door to invite students in!
- Dress up! You can wear a chef’s apron and hat or server apron. I borrowed an apron from the cafeteria manager at my school!
There’s really no wrong way to do it! Just make sure that the books are front and center at each table. I like to put them in the middle with some standing up, but you can also lay them out at each seat.
Step 4: Tasting Time!
A book tasting might take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Here’s an example of a third-grade genre tasting that took 30 minutes. In this tasting, 6 tables were set up featuring different types of fiction genres. Each student got to sample 3 genres during the rotations.
- 5 minutes – overview and directions
- 1 minute – choose the first table
- 4 minutes – round #1
- 2 minutes – reflect on book #1 and complete brochure
- 1 minute – choose the second table
- 4 minutes – round #2
- 2 minutes – reflect on book #2 and complete brochure
- 1 minute – choose the third table
- 4 minutes – round #3
- 2 minutes – reflect on book #3 and complete brochure
- 3 minutes – wrap up and share out
One thing that was important for me to explicitly teach was how to sample a book. I show students how we can look at the title, front and back cover, table of contents, font type, and illustrations, and then actually read a few pages.
To save time on transitions if you want them to “taste” more than one book, you can have students stay at the same seat and just switch books, or switch seats at the same table. There are lots of ways to make it work for you.
I hope you’ll consider hosting a book tasting for your students if you haven’t before! While it does take some prep, it’s such an engaging way to boost excitement about reading and connect students with books from genres they might not have explored. It’s definitely a must-try if you’re looking for fun reading activities for elementary students!