Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book review botheration

My students are writing a book review blog. I've been excited about this project since reading The Book Whisperer at the beginning of summer. It goes live next week, but I have a problem.

We worked together as a class to identify what a good book review looks like. We looked at professional reviews from The Horn Book and The Children's Book Review, and student-written book reviews at Reader Views Kids. But we were most impressed by the reviews from This Kid Reviews Books. Inspired by his format, my kids decided to write book reviews in two sections: a summary followed by their opinion.

Altered books by Bryan Elementary students
As the teacher, I led discussions about what made for a good book review. We read about writing book reviews and revising with a partner from the Writer's Express handbook. I wrote an example review using the format we chose as a class. I've offered suggestions on their Google Docs. Still, about a third of my students haven't written a quality book review yet. 

Some of my kids' reviews lack detail. When I push for more, they say that more detail would result in giving spoilers. Other reviews lack specifics in the opinion section and just say "it was a good book," without giving examples of the things that made it shine.

Other students have written beautiful reviews that tell just enough about the book to entice a reader. The opinions include reasons why the characters or settings were just right and comparisons to other books. Those reviews are ready to publish and represent the type of work I expect from students in an advanced learning program.

I'm struggling with where to go from here. I know that we'll post the detailed reviews this week, but not the others. This year, I've been working at building a culture of going back to review and revise work until it is top quality. I'm not allowing students to get a low grade and move on. How do I continue to support those students to develop their writing? Where do I find the balance between pushing them to improve and motivating them to write?

Please let me know if you have some ideas. I want my 4th and 5th graders' writing to shine. I know we can get there with some more time and effort. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...


  1. This is so great! My fourth grade teacher told me about hamburger paragraphs and I made 2 hamburger formulas for my reviews (one for summary and one for what I thought about the book). I wrote an article about it here -
    Doing it that way made it easier for me and it reminded me of all the stuff I should include. I hope that helps! You sound like an awesome teacher! :D

    1. Thank you! That hamburger paragraph idea helped a few of my kids really figure this out.

  2. I love this idea and as someone who has blogged with their students for many years, here is what I have learned. We need to get out of the way sometimes of students' writing and let them publish unfinished things. I know we want our students to represent themselves well but blogging does not have to be perfect, in fact, if you want students to like blogging then we have to scale back on our editing/revision expectations. That can come later. Blogging should be for them to start a conversation and sometimes those conversations will not be perfect. Allowing students to publish "ok" work means that others have a chance in providing them feedback as well, which is often more powerful than when we give it.

    1. Thanks so much! I started letting my students publish when they felt ready right after Christmas break. I'm already seeing benefits from letting students publish "ok" work and receive feedback from outside.

      I just wrote an update about it on my blog this morning.