From the Archives: Speed Dating with Books!

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Here’s a fun idea from Tish Carpinelli for getting high school students to try reading something new.

“Oooh, book speed dating, I remember that. It was fun!” It made me smile to hear a senior boy pass by and say those words as I was setting nullup the decorations for a group of freshmen. It’s always great to have students think a program is fun, but it’s an added bonus when that program gets books into their hands that they really enjoy and actually finish. For our high school, speed dating with books is an effective approach to pairing up students with “the perfect match” of a book!

WHEN BOOKTALKS AREN’T THE ANSWER

When students used to come to the media center with their English classes to select a book for an outside reading, I would usually give booktalks. If I nullshared a dozen books and half of them were actually checked out, I was happy. For the rest of the period, students would browse the stacks in search of a book, find one quickly, and then sit down and chat with their friends until the bell rang. They often didn’t read a word of the book they checked out before they left! As the deadline for their projects approached, some of them returned their original choices to exchange for another book because the one they had was “boring.” Sadly, some students never even completed the assignment because they did not have a book that appealed to them.

GETTING “COMMITTED” TO A BOOK!

I first heard about book speed dating on the LM_Net listserv and decided to give it a try. After reading how other media specialists set up their programs, I came up with a plan that works well in my library. With some modifications, I have used this basic procedure with all grade levels, from freshmen to seniors, from resource classes to advanced placement students. In addition to being fun, book speed dating gives the students a chance to get to know a book before forming a “committed relationship” with it. They must read the cover, front and back flaps, and begin reading the book during the dating period. This results in their making an informed choice before they check out the book, and the book they choose will be one they enjoy reading.

SETUP:

  • Arrange tables with no more than four seats at a table. (If a class is smaller than average, I take chairs away from each table.) Decorate tables with red or black tablecloths and a “romantic” centerpiece. I spring for red helium balloon bunches for freshmen, but with older students, I’ve found that a more subdued battery-operated scented candle is appropriate. Make sure there are pencils and bookmarks in the center of each table, and a table number sign.
  • At each seat, include a worksheet if appropriate. Less mature students (freshmen and sophomores) often benefit by having the worksheet keep them on task as they move from table to table. For older students, the worksheet is less effective and inhibits their engaging with the books.
  • Scatter books on the tables according to the levels that are most appropriate. Provide a variety of genres and an even mix of books with boys as a main character and girls as a main character. I attempt to have most of the books approximately the same length, in order to avoid students choosing based on length. Try to provide 3-4 books per student per table. If you anticipate four students at a table, there should be 12-16 books total on the tables. This is a great opportunity to spotlight books that are not easy to promote through booktalks, but are still great reads. When students examine these books more closely, they often decide to give them a try—and discover how good they are!
  • Have plenty of preselected books on a cart nearby for replenishing between periods. I have found this to be the most difficult part of the activity. Neatening messy tables and balancing the book selection on the tables in a few minutes between classes can be challenging.
  • Add one extra table off to the side and put a “Blind Date Table” sign on it. On this table put several exciting, appealing books face down. Before the students begin the activity, warn them that if they are not able to select a book from all the dates on the tables, they will need to choose one from the blind date table. Although very few students will need to use this option, it encourages those reluctant readers who never seem to be happy with the selection to make an informed choice!
  • Set up a timer for the dates. Most of our sessions are between three and five minutes long, depending on the attention span of the students.

PROCEDURE:

When students come in, I have them stand in a group away from the tables and begin by asking who is familiar with speed dating (sometimes, even freshmen have done speed dating!). I give a short explanation, then tell them that, although it might surprise them, choosing a book is really a lot like choosing someone to date. For instance, the first thing we notice (if most of us are honest) is a person’s physical appearance. When choosing a book, the first thing we notice is the cover. We want a person to have something in common with us, and we want a date to be interesting. Similarly, we want a book to be interesting, and often we want to read about subjects or settings that are familiar to us. At this point, students are starting to understand that dating and choosing a book aren’t so different.

AFTER THE INTRODUCTION, BRIEFLY EXPLAIN THE ACTIVITY:

  • Point out the table numbers and the rotation during the dating.
  • Explain the worksheet. Ensure that students understand that they are to take the worksheet from table to table with them, filling it out at the end of each date with the name of the book they “dated” at that table, and their opinion of it.
  • Students may continue to date the same book from one table to the next, or they may “break up” with it at any time during the activity. “Ditching” the book and “picking up” a new one is perfectly acceptable. I also let them know that they may even date more than one book at a time (I do point out that this is not a good idea with people). They should, however, focus on one book, even if they collect more books along the way.
  • I let them know that I am available to “set them up” with a special request, such as a particular book, author, series, or subject. During the date, students often raise their hands for me to play “matchmaker.”

After the introduction to the activity, I allow students to find seats at the date tables. I ask the girls to have a seat first, spacing them out so that there are no more than two per table. Then I let the boys fill in the other seats. This is to ensure that there is an adequate variety of books that will appeal to both genders at each table. When everyone is seated, let the dating begin! As the activity progresses, I watch that students read and engage with the books. Sometimes, after a few “dates,” I see that a student does not appear to be interested in any of the choices. I make contact with that student to try to find out what would appeal to him or her and attempt to meet that need. In between dates, I sometimes gauge how the activity is going by asking questions like, “How many of you are taking your book out for a second or third date?” When students have visited each table, they fill out their final book selection on the worksheet, turn in the sheet, and check out their books. At this point, I pass out one chocolate kiss to each student, because, as I like to tell them, the perfect date ends in a kiss!

THE REWARDS OF SUCCESSFUL MATCHMAKING

While it is fun and there are lots of giggles about the numerous puns during the book speed dating activities, the most rewarding part is the response that comes a few days after our sessions. Teachers report how almost all of the students love the books they chose, and how quiet the room is with them all reading. Students come into the library and return the novel they chose just a few days ago, having finished it already because they had found “the perfect one!”

SOME “HOT” DATES FOR GRADES 9-12

This list will vary according to the popularity of certain books and genres. These titles work well for us, but be sure to include books that are most appealing to the students at your school.

24 Girls in 7 Days by Alex Bradley

Acceleration by Graham McNamee

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson Any books by Sarah Dessen

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod (series) by Heather Brewer

City of Bones by Cassandra Claire

Crackback by John Coy

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

Hanging on to Max by Margaret Bechard

Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Invisible by Pete Hautman

It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini Kimani Tru (series) by various authors

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by Alexander Gordon Smith

Looking for Alaska by John Greene

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Scribbler of Dreams by Mary Pearson

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar

Soldier Boys by Dean Hughes

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman

Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Whatever Happened to Cass McBride by Gail Giles


Tish CarpinelliTish Carpinelli, MLS, is a media specialist at Lower Cape May Regional High School. She earned her master’s degree in school and public librarianship at Rowan University and has written several articles for Library Media Connection. When she is not managing the Media Center, 3D printing, or reading, she tends to her herd of seventeen alpacas.

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