Every so often, wandering through the library with my middle school groups, I’ll hear a sound that is music to my ears: students “You have to read this book. It’s so good. I’m obsessed with it.”
Peer to peer recommendations are incredibly powerful. No matter how well I know a student or how passionately I speak about a book, those words will always mean more when they come from another middle schooler. So to get students excited about their summer reading, I wanted to give them an opportunity to pitch their favorite books to each other – with a twist, of course.
Fifth grade students and I met and planned a “White Elephant Summer Book Exchange” – but I realized soon after that the term White Elephant was throwing some students off, so we switched the title to Yankee Swap. You can see more details here, but the gist is easy – pick a book that you loved, cover it completely, and prep a 30 second book talk to “sell” it to the group. After all the books have been pitched, we’ll draw numbers and number one will choose their book. Number two has the choice to choose a new book or steal the book that number one just picked, leaving number one open to choose a new one. As we make our way through the class, books will be stolen and swapped and bargained like crazy, until everyone is left with a book, and we all unwrap at once. Everyone leaves with a new book and an exciting kickoff to their summer reading.
For the week up to the big swap, fifth graders were able to cover their books using wrapping stations in the library or in their advisories. Some left their covers blank, while others decorated them with meaningful images or text. It was so much fun watching them wrap and decorate, and seeing how determined they were to keep their book’s secret identity a secret! In the classes leading up to our yankee swap, we practiced book talks, knowing that those 30 seconds we had to sell our book would make all the difference. This was great practice for summarizing a book, reviewing key literary concepts like plot, climax, setting, and characters, and getting creative! I was especially excited when students started experimenting with more expressive voices, accents, or body language to really amp up their book talks. Some prepped notecards with key points and others dropped by to practice with me before the big day. I am happy to report that some of these book-talkers are likely to put me out of a job one day.
On the day of the swap, students came to class excited and ready to go. We made a big circle so that everyone could see and went around sharing our covers and giving our book talks. The book talks blew me away! Every single student came prepared with their A game. Whether reading a meaningful page, describing a tantalizing cliffhanger, or using a movie trailer voice to build suspense, each student sold their book to the crowd. It got so intense that even students who weren’t participating dragged chairs over to watch and listen. When the book talk round was over, we each pulled a number, and the swapping began.
It was a whirlwind round of stealing, bartering, and begging. We created our rules beforehand, so students knew that each book could only be stolen three times before it was “frozen” for the rest of the game. The students were so into the game, that even the audience was cheering, clapping, and gasping with each turn! It was so much fun watching the students compete for the books that most interested them. I don’t know what was more fun – watching students beg and plot to get their favorite book, or seeing them light up when someone else snagged the book that they had brought to share.
When everyone around the circle had gone, it was time to unwrap. We all counted down and unwrapped at the same time, which meant there was a lot of shouting, jumping up and down, and hugging. The library was filled with cries of “I’ve been dying to read this!” and “I was going to ask my mom to buy this for me for camp!” Some readers kept swapping once their books were unwrapped, while others plopped down right in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper to start reading right away. Not only do these classmates know their books, but they also know each other, and every participant left happy. And possibly with a sore throat from all the shouting 😉
If you are looking for a way to get your students excited about summer reading, give this Yankee Swap Summer Book Exchange a try. My 6th graders were so jealous when they heard about all of the 5th grade fun, they requested their own – so 6th will be swapping this Thursday! The peer-to-peer recommendations are powerful, the game itself is so much fun, and it’s a great way to get students buzzing about what they’ll be reading this summer. (And make sure you bring a book to participate, too – it just makes it that much more exciting!)