Thursday, July 17, 2014

Using Book Trailers in Your Language Arts Classroom

     Students LOVE to watch book trailers!  And when students LOVE something as much as they LOVE watching book trailers, a grinchy little section of this teacher's soul wonders:  Is watching them actually worthwhile?


After two years of using book trailers in my Language Arts classroom, not only can I assert, "Yes,  they're great!", I can also offer reasons why you should use them.

     I first began using book trailers after realizing that they serve, for books, the same purpose that previews serve for movies:  They whet the appetite for a story.  How many movies have you seen after viewing an intriguing preview?  Would it work the same way with students and books?

     It does.

     Each week before heading to the library, my classes watched one or two book trailers -- more when the book fair was on campus.  Invariably, this caused a stampede for the featured books, a race that was always won by the kids in my first period class.  For the sake of fairness, I began to have each interested student fill out a chit with his name, class period, and title of the desired book.  The chits then went  into a goldfish bowl for a drawing at the end of the day.


     The next day, the coveted book sits on the marker tray at the front of the room, waiting to be claimed by the lucky student whose name is written on the whiteboard.  Jealous groans are emitted in every class, further ramping up the desirability quotient of the featured text.  Fortunately, all students are required to maintain a "Books I Want to Read" list throughout the year.  It will remind them to look for that featured book during future library visits.  More than once, though, students got so tired of waiting for the book to be returned, they instead hounded their parents into taking a trip to the neighborhood bookstore!

     Book trailers can also be used to harvest new vocabulary!  [For more info on this topic, see Harvesting Vocabulary from Self-Selected Reading.] Since trailers aim to promote readership of a book, they often feature description from reviews written to promote the book as well.  Take, for example, this promotion for Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick:


By the end of the video, many students have added a great new title to their "Books I Want to Read" list.  A post-viewing discussion also leads to adding the adverb "totally" as well as six new adjectives to the "Words to Discuss Books" list kept in their writing journals: "hilarious," "touching," "remarkable," "inspiring," "believable," and "uplifting."  I'm sure you noticed, too, near the end of the video, that Sonnenblick offers some great advice about writing to which you can refer in future writing lessons.  Show the video again if necessary!

     After the class has learned characteristics of some literary genres, book trailers can offer on-going informal opportunities to infer genres of books based on the details provided.  Here's the trailer for a historical fiction novel titled Wheels of Change by Darlene Beck Jacobson:


     Pausing the trailer before it reveals the "historical fiction" genre, you would pose a series of questions:
  • So, into what literary genre would this book fall?
  • What are your clues?
  • Who is the main character of this book?
  • What does her conflict seem to be?
  • How do you think she will try to resolve the conflict?
  • Who saw two adjectives you could use to describe this book?
  • Did anybody see a noun you could use to replace the word "book"?
Do you see the academic vocabulary this discussion would reinforce -- not to mention the higher-level thinking involved in drawing conclusions and making predictions?  If any of the questions go unanswered when they are first asked, watch the video again with the purpose of finding those answers.

     The best part of interacting with book trailers is that the students think you're "just" talking about the video instead of delivering a substantive lesson!  It's kind of like slipping Fido's heart worm pill into a ball of hamburger meat:  Fido gets his treat.  You deliver what's needed.  Everyone goes home happy!