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Use speed dating to help your students find their perfect book.

February 24, 2020

After a lifetime of not really dating, my brother signed up for a speed dating event. Terrified from the moment he made the decision, I think that he would have considered "survival" a success. Lo and behold, he left with requests for a follow-up date from every person that he speed dated that evening, and he ended up marrying one of them less than a year later. So, I guess you could say that I am a believer in the potential of speed dating!

But what does this have to do with language teaching?

Last week, I had the opportunity to spend a day observing Andrea Schweitzer's classes. Andrea teaches Spanish at St. Rita Catholic School in Dallas, TX, and her school hosted our first-ever SOMOS Workshop on February 21-22. One of the activities that I observed in Andrea's 6th grade class was Speed Dating - and I know you're going to love it!

Speed Date your class library!

Speed Dating is a way for you to connect your students with books that are in your class library– specifically, books that they are able to understand and are interested in reading. Speed Dating is a valuable tool for anyone that runs a Free Choice Reading (FCR) program in their language classes, because students will only come to love reading if they enjoy the books that they are able to read. There are two big factors that influence enjoyment:

  1. Is the book an appropriate challenge (not too easy, not too hard)?
  2. Is the book interesting to me?

Speed Dating will help your students to answer these two questions!

When to speed date your class library

While Speed Dating can be done anytime, it will be particularly useful to do before you launch a Free Choice Reading (FCR) program in a given class. Andrea's FCR program was already up and running in her Heritage Speakers class, and so that class had Speed Dated the class library earlier in the year. She is looking to implement an FCR program in her 6th grade classes, and she is doing Speed Dating now in order to set them up for success. One common reason that FCR programs flop is that students do not know how to choose books in the target language that they will be interested in and able to understand! Speed Dating will help remove that road block for many students.

Another great time to Speed Date your class library is after you have added new titles to it. I just ordered new titles from Fluency Matters and from several authors that self-publish through Amazon, so my home library has about 15 new titles. Now would be a great time to run a second round of Speed Dating so that my students have a chance to preview the new titles!

Finally, Speed Dating can be a great intervention for a failing FCR program. If you notice that your students are 'just not that into it', they are not connecting with the books that they are reading. Speed Dating will help them to identify books that they can connect with, and so it is a great first-step intervention to reset your FCR program.

What books should my students Speed Date?

Before class, Andrea chose a selection of books for her students to "date" (or browse). Choose a broad range of books so that each student in your class will likely find at least one that they think will be a good 'match' for them! If you have 35 students, you do not need 35 different titles; it might be more appropriate and feasible to distribute 2 copies each of 17 different titles.

Not sure where to find so many different titles? Click the image below to browse our database of novels that are written for language learners:

What level should the books be?

In her selection, Andrea included mostly books that she thought would be an appropriate challenge for most students in her class. For help determining whether your students are likely ready to read a given book, read this post and this post. In addition to the books that you think will present the majority of your students with an appropriate challenge, Andrea recommends including a few really easy books and a few books that would be too hard for most of your students. Sometimes, identifying books that are NOT a good fit can help students to better understand what books ARE a good fit.

While many books that are written for language learners come with a recommendation for "which level" to use it in and/or with word counts, it is very important that you take the time to peruse each book on your own before giving it to your students. First, there are both qualitative factors and quantitative measures that affect to what extent a given student or group of students will be able to understand a text. Each author and publisher makes their own recommendations based on their experience and perceived ability of what students in a given level can do, but only you know your students.

Use an evaluative tool during Speed Dating

In addition to giving books to your students, you'll want to give them a tool that they can use to evaluate each book that they "date". Andrea used a form that Theresa Jensen created and shared in the iFLT/NTPRS/CI Teaching facebook group, and her students found it very easy and helpful to use. Inspired by Theresa's example, I created a new version today that incorporates the "Five Finger Rule" that Mira Canion introduced me to and that we walk teachers through in this post.

No matter which evaluative tool you use, train your students how to use it. I recommend doing the first round of Speed Dating together, slowly, and walking students through the form. Discuss each of the categories on the form (characters, genre, five finger comprehension assessment, interest in reading the book), and help students to understand what each category means and how to find the information it's asking for.

How to Speed Date your class library

Andrea's classroom is deskless, so all of her students were seated in their chairs, which were arranged in two U-shaped rows. Each of her students has a seat-back pocket on their chair that contains a large, personal-sized whiteboard, a pencil, a whiteboard marker, and a folder for each student that sits in that chair throughout the day. The students store their class materials in the folders, and so they always quickly access the papers that they have been working on in class.

Setting up Speed Dating

The previous week, this class of students had done one round of speed dating, and their speed dating forms were already partially filled in. Andrea announced the activity and told her students to grab their whiteboards (which function as a hard surface/desktop to write on) and their partially completed Speed Dating forms from their folders; both items were stored in the seat-back pockets on their chairs.

Then, Andrea grabbed a stack of books that she had selected and distributed one to each student. A few students mentioned that they had already looked at the book that they were given, so she quickly shuffled them around until everyone had a new book.

Speed Dating... GO!

Once everyone was ready with their form and a new book to 'date', Andrea set a timer for one minute. If you are using my form with the Five Finger Rule segment, I would recommend giving students 2-3 minutes with each book, because they will need enough time to read at least one page and count the words that they can't understand. Ideally, they would repeat the Five Finger Test on a few pages scattered throughout the book. Please read this post in order to be able to help your students use this evaluative tool most effectively.

Encourage students to follow these steps:

  1. Copy the title of the book onto the "Title" space.
  2. Look at the pictures in the book, and look for names and words that describe people and animals (ex: mom, dad, friend, man, person, grandma) to determine what kind of characters are in the book.
  3. Scan the back cover of the book, the introduction, and the chapter titles. Look at the pictures in the book (are there photos or illustrations?) to determine whether it is fiction or non-fiction, and whether it is a biography or other informational text.
  4. Using the same tools (reading the back cover, looking at chapter titles and pictures, etc.), identify the genre of the book.
  5. Perform the Five Finger Test on at least one page, or on several pages scattered throughout the book. On each page, count the words that you cannot figure out. Mark the test results on your form.
  6. Make a decision: do you want to read this book? Fill out the appropriate number of hearts on the form.

Speed Dating, Rounds 2+

When time is up, have each student pass their book to the next student. If anyone receives a book that they have already dated, do a quick shuffle until everyone has a new prospect. Remind students of the expectations, then set the timer and repeat the steps!

Andrea's worksheets had enough spaces for students to date and evaluate 10 different books, but she only did 3 rounds in a single class period. Students previewed a few books, then stored away their form to revisit again on another class period.

Help your students find the love of their life

"Children who read for pleasure outperform traditionally taught students on standardized tests of reading comprehension and other measures of literacy (Elley 1998)" (as quoted by Stephen Krashen in The Power of Reading, page 5). Reading accelerates the rate of acquisition and helps the reader to develop a more mature writing style. Plus, reading is delightful. Reading opens doors and opens minds. We want our students to become lifelong readers, and connecting them with books that they enjoy is one of the most important steps in that process.

Help your students find a book that they love! Speed Dating worked for my brother, and I'm confident that it can work for your students, too.

More on using novels

Looking for more ideas on how to use novels in your language classes? Check out these posts:

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