Book tasting is a great activity to showcase your school library collection to both avid readers, reluctant readers and those in between. The idea behind a book tasting is simple. In a book tasting, the library is into a restaurant experience, but instead of serving a three course meal with food, students instead sample three different books to decide if they’d like to read them and to expand their reading tastes. The goal of the book tasting is that students will leave with at least one title of a book (hopefully more) that they are excited about using as an independent reading book. Ideally, they’ll also be able to define their reading interests more articulately too. Here are step-by-step instructions for planning your own tasting!
Needed materials/ supplies
centerpieces (I used fake flowers and vases)
printed “menus” for each student (see below for copies of the middle school and high school menus I’ve used)
book sets for each table, organized by genre or intentionally mixed
Table tents that indicate the genre of each table (if using genre tables)
Set up good days and times with teachers if you are on a flexible schedule.
Ask teachers about any reading interests of specific sections or things you should know before the tasting (ex. is this a class of avid readers? reluctant readers? any students who may need additional support or books at a higher or lower reading level than usual?)
Gather needed supplies.
Decorate tables and make copies of “menus”
Pull books in a wide variety of genres and interests and set them out on trays in the middle of book tables.
During the tasting:
Introduce the day’s activities. Feel free to play up the maitre d’ act in your intro (My younger middle school students love it when I pretend to be the chef or staff of a fancy restaurant and don’t break the act at least for awhile, though each population is different). For younger students, I emphasize having good table manners (i.e., don’t grab from each others plates, speak in a calm voice, sit up straight, don’t rock chairs) which helps manage behavior issues that come from being excited to be in the library.
Students will want to use the books at their tables right away (yay!), so if you have more instructions to give, let them know that they may start to read for each course only when you begin the classical music.
Explain the level of detail that you want in the menu answers and give models of good answers for any questions you think students will find confusing. My students often need prompting about good level of detail when they explain why a book does or doesn’t appeal to them, for example.
Begin playing classical music, which is the signal that course one will begin. Students will choose a book from the table where they are seated and begin to preview it guided by their tasting menu.
After about ten minutes or students start to look like they are finished giving feedback, stop the music to signal the end of the course. It’s ok if students don’t finish the whole tasting menu for each book, but I always ask them to rate the book on a 1-5 scale before they move on. When finished, students will move to a new table if you are using genre tables (see the notes below for more on using genre tables).
Repeat steps two and three for two more book tasting courses.
Collect book tasting forms and thank students for coming!
After the tasting
File the tasting menus in an easily accessible way for students and teachers. I create an annual binder for each grade and get it out when students come to the library for circulation.
Share any feedback with students’ teachers.
Ask for feedback to improve the program next time.
For my fifth grade tastings, at the request of teachers, students stay at the same table for all three courses, so I make sure each table’s book tray has a variety of genres, reading levels, and subjects represented.
In my high school tasting, books are set at tasting tables by genre, so the day flows in a more progressive dinner style. Students move to a new book table at the end of each course. The first two courses are from book tables in genres they know they would enjoy (I often encourage them to think about which kinds of movies they like if they are usually non-readers). In the third course, I ask them to challenge themselves by picking a genre they usually don’t read.