My 7th grade has always had a Book Choice Unit, usually sometime around Winter Break. Not only does it give students more of a voice in the class, but I also use it as an opportunity to apply and reinforce the concepts of reading and understanding literature that we’ve covered in the first half of the year. As a project-based unit, it also tests small-group contribution and cooperation and management of time and resources. Finally, I usually end up with some valuable feedback on books that I may want to include or consider as future summer reading options.
I begin by putting together a list of choices, sometimes based off of nominees for young adult literature awards like the Alex Awards, usually with the input of the school librarian and the MS Book Discussion Club, and finally with suggestions from students themselves. Each student then picks a few choices that they’d be willing to read with others, and I then have the task of forming reading groups of three or four students from this data. Occasionally, I’d helm a reading group myself, as when two other students decided they were willing to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao with me.
Students are given four or five weeks to read their books. In the past, I’ve experimented with framing the reading and discussing of these books with literature circles and with book discussion blogs.
As students complete their books, I introduce a culminating creative project and analytical essay. In the past, I have assigned book reviews and art projects, video book trailers, and keynote presentations.
Here’s an example of one of the more complicated projects I’ve assigned:
As you can see, it involves the conceit that each small group is preparing a proposal for a movie adaptation of their book. They have to come up with a pitch as to the book’s merits and difficulties and the changes they’ll have to make for adaptation. Finally, they also have a choice in providing a sample of pre-production work, which range from an excerpt of the screenplay to a marketing movie trailer. Here’s one group’s special effects demonstration for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which they read, obviously, before any of the actual movie adaptations were released):