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How To Host A Book Tasting For Middle Schoolers

how to host a book tasting for middle school students

What better way to expand young readers’ hunger for literature than hosting a book tasting? Follow these steps to hosting your very own book tasting that will have your students eager to eat! (I mean read.)

What Exactly Is A Book Tasting?

It’s a classic tale. Kid hates vegetable (supposedly). As it turns out, the kid simply assumes they hate said vegetable. The reality? They’ve never even tried it.

No, this isn’t an article about expanding the palate of picky eaters, but about developing students’ taste for literature. Much like with food, sometimes it’s a matter of trying new things to help expand one’s pallet. Luckily, a book tasting is a perfect way to get students to “taste” a  sample of various books ranging in topic and genre. After all, you can’t taste a book simply by its cover.

So, what exactly is a book tasting?

A book tasting is an engaging activity where students read a few pages of several books throughout one class period; students will read a variety of novels for a short amount of time to sample and reflect on different authors, genres, and styles of writing! Reading is fun for kids when they ACTUALLY enjoy what they’re reading about.

Now, let’s dive in and get to planning!

Why And When To Host A Book Tasting.

The best part about planning a book tasting for your students is that it’s practically a one-size-fits-all activity. In other words, you can use a book tasting at any point in the year and for various purposes. You can take the general idea of a book tasting outlined in this article, make a few tweaks to fit your needs, and voila! You’ve got yourself a five-star meal. (Errr… activity.)

Here are a few ways you can incorporate a book tasting into your classroom:

When you’re introducing new books for independent reading.

If you plan on having your students do a lot of independent reading throughout the year, hosting a book tasting is an excellent activity for the first month of the school year. You can even host one every quarter or at the start of each semester if you desire.

The truth is, students often don’t know where to start when selecting an independent reading book. (Libraries can be overwhelming for the indecisive.) In other cases, students find themselves stuck in the cycle of their comfort zone, reading books by the same authors or within the same genres. A book tasting is a perfect way to introduce them to various authors, genres, storylines, and styles. At the end of the activity, they’ll walk away with a wish list of books they are excited to read.

When you’re preparing for literature circles.

Book tastings give students a sense of autonomy when it comes to preparing for literature circles. Choose 4-6 potential titles for your literature circles and assign a book to each table. Have students complete the book tasting activity, giving them a chance to rotate around the tables, interacting with each title. While you are choosing the titles, students will be excited by the opportunity to have a say in which book they read.

Have students take notes throughout the activity (more on that in a moment) to track which titles they would be interested in reading and why. Then, have students select their top three choices or put all of the books in order from the one they are most interested in reading to the least interested in reading. Feel free to ask students to include a brief explanation for each rating to give you more insight into their interests. With that said, it’s imperative to begin the activity by explaining that students may not get their first choice. However, as for those other titles in their top 3? Encourage your students to read them as independent reading books. It’s a win-win!

When you’re teaching various genres and styles of literature.

Whether you’re looking to teach different genres or to expose students to a variety of options, a book tasting is a great way to do so. This approach is also a way to get students exploring various books to notice similarities and differences within a single genre or between different genres.

It’s a great exploratory activity that will have students dipping their toes into various genres in just one activity. Organize tables by genre, including student favorites like mysteries, science fiction, adventure, and graphic novels. There are plenty of engaging options students will love in the realms of historical fiction, memoirs, dystopian, and all sorts of other styles and genres as well!

One of the best things about a book tasting is that they are highly adaptive. You can adjust your book tasting to fit any grade or ability level. Feel free to make appropriate adjustments to best suit your classroom needs. Need to go virtual? No problem. Book tastings are just as sweet when hosted online.

Prepare: Setting The Scene For Your Book Tasting.

This is one of the most fun parts for the teacher, and you can dive into the “tasting” theme as much– or as little– as you’d like. Whether you’re setting up your book tasting in your classroom or school library, I suggest transforming the area. Adopt a restaurant ambiance or low-key coffee shop vibe.

How? Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Decorate the tables with tablecloths and centerpieces. Plastic flowers or battery-operated candles are always a nice touch.
  • Dim the lights. You can even string up a few lights to add an ambiance of cafe lighting!
  • Play relaxing music in the background. Consider classical tunes or soothing soundscapes. Just be sure whatever you choose to play isn’t too much of a distraction.
  • Create a “menu” to pass out to students that lists the titles, author, and genre of each book. Keep it simple or go all in. For example, you can list out the page count as if it were a price! Additionally, add a short blurb about each book to give students an idea of what to expect before diving in, just like you would see on a real menu.
  • Include placemats and settings at each seat. As an alternative to the menu, include a card to indicate the title, author, and genre of each book. Include a brief blurb to build interest around each book.
  • Include a literal “tasting” element. Provide some snacks to help keep students focused on their hunger for books. Student will love if you come up with fancy names for ordinary snacks, like Fruity Buttons (Skittles) or Buttery Delight (popcorn)! Include bubbly juice (juice and seltzer water) or “kid coffee” (aka hot chocolate) for a drink.
  • Dress up as a chef or barista for extra pizzazz! Students will feel transported to a new place when you greet them at the door in costume. 

Note: whether you’re describing the book in a menu or on a tasting card for each book, keep the description to 1-2 sentences to build suspense. Make students drool! Instead of giving it all away, get them excited to taste the book for themselves.

Bon Appetite: Allow Students to Get a Taste.

If you’re looking for a quicker version of this activity, consider limiting each “tasting” to 3-5 minutes. Under this format, encourage students to read the front and back covers and any inside flaps. They can take a quick “finger walk” through the book and read a short passage or two. This gives students a taste of the genre, writing style, and personal interest in each novel.

Alternatively, if you have time for a more in-depth book tasting, allow students up to 10 minutes with each book or 30 minutes per table if set up by genre. During that time, students can dive into each novel. For more extended book tastings, it’s helpful to guide the students with questions and encourage them to sift through the entire novel, reading a longer passage (or two) to get a feel for each book’s genre, writing style, and personal interest

Regardless of how much time you are giving students with each book, it’s imperative to give them a chance to “taste” a variety of books. (Afterall, that’s the whole point, right?) This is a great way to incorporate movement into the activity as well.

After the timer goes off for each round, students can return their books to the “kitchen” (aka shelf) and choose another one. Or they can rotate seats at the same table (with each seat representing a different book). Alternatively, they can move to a completely different table with a whole new selection (and perhaps genre) of books.

If you’re using a book tasting to help prepare for literature circles, repeat this process until all students have the chance to “taste” each book choice. For other purposes, repeat the process as many times as your allotted time for the activity allows.

Teacher tip: Guide students through their book tasting as appropriate.

If you have a particularly diverse classroom and are concerned about various student abilities, you can still plan the perfect book tasting. Set up each table with a variety of books for a particular reading level. Then, have students check-in at the “reservation desk” to give them their assigned table! Students can rotate through the different seats at their appropriate table.

Regardless of student ability, it’s a good idea to provide students with a concrete note tracker. As I mentioned earlier, you can use this as a place for them to keep track of basic information, such as book title, genre, and author. You can even include a space for students to give each book a rating of 1-5 stars, coloring in however many stars they feel the book deserves after having a taste.

Now, if you’re looking to guide students through a more structured tasting, provide students with questions to ensure they truly engage with each book they taste! You can ask questions such as:

  • Is there anything you can relate to with the characters, settings, or conflicts in this book?
  • Would you be interested in reading this book? Why or why not.
  • Does this book remind you of any other books you’ve read and liked? What about shows or movies you’ve watched?
  • What intrigues you most about this book?

No matter how you decide to set up your note-taking guide, it will help students get the most out of your book tasting activity.

Hosting a Book Tasting: The End Result.

If you’re preparing to dive into literature circles, hosting a book tasting will help take the guesswork out of it– and give students a say (somewhat) in what they read. After students “taste” the different book choices, have them fill out a simple form to indicate their top 3 picks. While this will give you insight into their interests, you’ll still have wiggle room to have the final say.

Alternatively, students can walk away with a wish list of books they’re interested in reading over the course of the year! With this book tasting activity, you’ll never worry about students complaining about not knowing what they want to read next again! Therefore, this is a great option if you plan to include a lot of independent reading in your classroom.

Teacher tip: Plan a follow-up activity.

The fun doesn’t have to stop when the tasting is over! Encourage the students to reflect on the experience and the books they tasted. One of my favorite post-book tasting activities is writing a review. This follow-up activity is especially useful when using the tasting to introduce a plethora of independent reading options.

Explain to students how food critics often write reviews of restaurants after tasting various items from the menu. Read an example or two. Then, have them each choose 1-3 books they are excited to read. Instruct students to write a short review of those books, including what excites them most about each one. Then, have them share their reviews with the class! This follow-up activity is a great way to allow students to share their enthusiasm for their newfound book wish list. It also allows the other students a second look into books they may have overlooked during the activity.

A Final Note On Hosting a Book Tasting For Your Middle-Grade Students.

Book tastings are a fun way to get students excited about reading. It also encourages them to engage with new genres, authors, and styles they may never have chosen otherwise. It’s a great reminder for students that when it comes to books (and, for that matter, food),  the only way to know if you like something is to give it a try!

So, whether you’re preparing for literature circles or simply want to get your students excited about independent reading, consider hosting a book tasting for your middle-grade readers.

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