Informal book talk, inside‐text talk and recommendations

Summary of key findings

Talking about texts and talking about reading was at the heart of the RfP pedagogy identified in the TaRs research. This booktalk was informal and highly reciprocal; it was often spontaneous and involved two way teacher-child / child-teacher and child-child recommendations and was found in many other un-assessed reading focused activities.

This talk was dependent on the teachers’ knowledge of the children as readers, and their knowledge of children’s literature and other texts. It was also influenced by the complementary strands of RfP pedagogy: reading aloud and independent reading time, and a physically and socially engaging reading environment.

In this short film researcher Mary Anne Wolpert and teacher Jon Biddle explain the implications of the findings and how we can address them in our teaching practice.

More research details

Whilst at the start of the Teachers as Readers (TaRs) project, teachers reported that during guided reading, comprehension sessions and indeed almost all literacy lessons, children were involved in talking about texts, they acknowledged that this was mainly teacher-led, often relating to vocabulary, grammatical features and specific lesson objectives. This was clearly necessary, but they recognised that there was almost no space and time for child-led book talk of a more informal conversational nature.

Through discussing their own current reading of adults’ and children’s books with one another in TaRs sessions, the teachers began to appreciate the motivating power of such book talk, the non-assessed nature of it and the way in which it led to book recommendations, tempting them to try new authors or texts. It was not easy however for the teachers to step aside from the prescribed and assessed agenda and make time for casual classroom conversations about what individuals were reading and what they thought of this. 

Over time however, in response to the improved resources and environments and read aloud provision, this kind of talk flourished. Teacher involvement and interest in the children’s talk about texts was key to the effective practice which developed. The project significantly extended Chambers’ (1983) original conceptualisation of book talk to encompass a wider range of discourse about books and other texts, as well as talk about reading and being a reader. In TaRs, book talk involved close conversations, reader to reader (both teachers/ children and children/ children) about specific texts, characters and scenarios, named authors or poets and about themselves as readers, their preferences and practices.

Children were encouraged to talk to one another about their current reading and, over time, spontaneous child-led text talk also emerged. This child-initiated text talk, what the project named ‘inside-text talk’, complemented book talk and arguably enriched it. Children’s ‘books in common’ - books that several friends or peers had read, and books that teachers read to the class, often several times - frequently formed the basis of children’s inside-text talk conversations. In these, children would often quote from a text, (sometimes in unison) refer to a theme or character from a text and make connections to a text which demonstrated that they knew each other as readers.  

Teachers realised that their growing knowledge of children’s literature enabled them to join in such inside-text talk conversations with increased assurance and genuine engagement. Their knowledge also enabled them to make recommendations to children about what else they might find engaging to read. In many cases such recommendations became two-way as children also suggested books to their teachers.

The informal book talk and inside-text talk conversations that were documented were rooted in a  shared pleasure in reading, an interest in others views and ‘books in common’. Teachers initially viewed these as interesting conversational encounters but, as with reading aloud, over time they began to observe the pedagogic purposes of such social interaction in children’s development as readers.  

…they need advice much more than I realised. Before the project our talk about books would be based on re-telling – say in guided reading they would have the book open … and they would be looking back at it to remind themselves of the plot.  Now, when we talk about reading it’s different talk, it’s about their enthusiasm for the book, what they have liked about it and why.  It isn’t forced. …  I have just realised how important such talk is.  It just wasn’t part of my thinking before.  - (TaRs teacher, Birmingham) 

Thus a key impact of the classroom talk about texts was the shared understanding amongst children, between teachers and children, and amongst teachers, that reading is intrinsically worthy of discussion.

Adapted from pages 97-99 and 115-118 in Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge. 

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries,  related papers on http://oro.open.ac.uk/ or the core book https://www.routledge.com/Building-Communities-of-Engaged-Readers-Reading-for-pleasure/Cremin-Mottram-Collins-Powell-Safford/p/book/9781138777484 or the UKLA/Primary National Strategy professional development guide to developing reading for pleasure (based upon TaRs, Cremin et al, 2010) at : https://ukla.org/shop/details/building_communities_of_readers1

Building Communities of Readers Cover Building Communities of Engaged Readers Cover

Review your practice

This self-review document is designed to help you consider your practice with regard to informal book talk, inside text-talk and sharing recommendations. Talk about texts of all kinds and talk about reading was identified as a key strand of the pedagogic practice which fostered RfP in the TaRs research. Such ‘reading chat’ is not an optional extra but is critical in creating reciprocal and interactive communities of readers.

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Practical classroom strategies

The big change for us is in the amount of talk about reading that goes on now in the classroom … but also in the playground and around the school. We hear them talking about reading – freely – incidentally!   (TaRs teacher, Birmingham)

1. Make time for informal reading chats 

Seize opportunities, such as coming in from the playground or before school to chat to children informally about:

  • what they are reading and  what they think of it
  • what you are reading and your views on it
  • their preferences and interests
  • what they read at home

The key here is not formalising this, but letting it happen spontaneously and responsively as you see them getting their book bag out or chatting to a friend. You are joining in/triggering such conversations as a fellow reader not a teacher/ assessor.  

2. Build time to talk about texts into other activities

Trigger book conversations through offering time at the end of independent reading time opportunities e.g. ERIC (Everyone Reading in Class) or after reading aloud time, as well as when clearing up. This might be by:

  • offering children 4 choices of a read aloud picture book (reading the blurb and reminding them of other books by the same author)
  • inviting children to suggest what should be read aloud
  • adding two minutes to the end of ERIC to chat about that day’s reading 

3. Create time to recommend texts 

Book promotion is important, as are tailored recommendations for readers. 

  • read aloud a short opening that tempts children to want to borrow the book
  • make reciprocal recommendations - suggest to a child 2/3 books they might like and agree to try one of their recommendations and discuss what you each thought
  • invite each child to find a book they’ve read, and recommend it to a particular friend
  • role play- in pairs, one child is a brilliantly knowledgeable librarian, another a child who is not sure what to read. The librarian finds some books they’ve read and seeks to persuade the library visitor to read one. Who is the most successful librarian in the class? What did they find out about from taking with each other?  
  • offer post-it notes to add  brief reviews inside books 
  • create book displays with clear star ratings

4. Create a Book Blanket to trigger book chatter

With your class, take all the books out of your reading area/shelves and spread them like a blanket over every available surface in the classroom. Now the fun starts! You can use this resource by inviting children in pairs on different occasions to:

  • find a book they remember enjoying and talk to their friend about it 
  • find a book or two by an author they both know and chat about this writer
  • select a book each on the title/cover alone and discuss if the blurb is enticing enough to follow through 

Settling to chat on a table in the reading area, on the carpet etc, this activity will find its own rhythm and may need you to support the less experienced readers.

5. Establish Reading Buddies

Set up a Reading Buddies system with other classes by pairing younger/older children to read aloud with each other and talk about the books that they like. Initially you may need to model this and provide prompts for the children to discuss the books.   

6. Play Book Bingo

Playing Book Bingo can work as a classroom activity or resource to support book talk at home. Look at downloadable activities to support this, for example: https://uk.pinterest.com/explore/reading-bingo/

7. Establish Reading Advocates /Ambassadors 

Children can be the very best advocates to promote reading for pleasure with their peers. Consider how you can promote reading ambassadors within your classroom. These may not be the most fluent or confident readers, but can be celebrated, for example as Reading Buddies (see Strategy 5 above). The ambassadors might do a survey of children’s interests or take a box of comics onto the playground to read and share with others. Children themselves will have ideas for this role. You could also explore projects such as JustImagine's Reading Gladiators which promotes reading for pleasure and encourages children to collaborate with team mates 

8. Nurture reading conversations on the playground

Create outdoor nooks and spaces for lunchtime reading, or take boxes of comics or picture books out on ‘Fun Fridays’ when children can borrow, chat and share these.  Encourage TAs or teachers to join in and bring their own reading material to share with each other and the children.

9. Book Zips

Explain to the class that the new picture books that have just arrived are unusually protected by ‘Book Zips’ that are almost invisible, but not to those with imagination! In groups, they can choose one book to ‘read’ although they cannot open the book, since if they do, somewhere a fairy’s wings will snap and the poor fairy will never fly again! In groups they can however discuss and predict, for e.g.:

  • names and nature of the characters
  • what happens/key events  in the tale
  • key themes being examined
  • the style of writing
  • a sentence likely to be inside

It is best to use books with limited or no back cover blurbs and/or place them in zipped plastic bags, until the fictional ‘keys’ to open the books arrive in the post one day and the groups /class can open and read them.

10. Establish a reading group

Offer the children the opportunity to set up a class book club. This might begin with more confident readers and you suggesting a book/text/author for them to read. At first you could model discussion of the text and suggest how to best organise the group and independent reading time. Then suggest that children choose their own author/text/theme to pursue and also, where possible, the space where they read and discuss.

For further details about how this has been successfully run in classrooms, see The Reading Agency's www.chatterbooks.org.uk

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