By Kendall Strickler, 3rd Grade
I love to teach reading. The look on a child's face when they connect with a book, really connect with a book, is the kind of stuff that makes my heart swell. So it kind of breaks my heart a little bit when I hear one of my third graders say, "I don't have anything to read." I will then do a sweeping motion with my arm toward our extensive classroom library, beautifully organized in color-coded bins by genre, and invite them to peruse at their leisure. When they come back and announce, "I don't like anything in there," then I know it's time for a visit from Chef Genre.
Chef Genre is a silly character I created who helps kids enhance their reading lives. She runs a special kind of cafe that allows students to sample different genres of books by having a "book tasting." Some kids have a fixed mindset about books ("I don't like fantasy"), and a good book tasting is an effective way to turn that into a growth mindset ("This book looks cool! I'm going to give it a try!"). Chef Genre hosted my first book tasting of the year this week, which focused on three genres: fantasy, mystery, and nonfiction.
Chef Genre is from Dijon, France (genre being a French word and all), has crazy rainbow-colored hair, an oversized puffy chef's hat, and light blue polka-dotted kitten glasses. She's a real dog lover (she has ten dogs at home) so she wears an apron with a picture of all ten of her dogs on it. She has a thick French accent, and is an avid reader and a comedic joker. (I really love to ham it up in front of my kids.)
I generated excitement for the first book tasting by posting signs on the classroom door, "Book Tasting Tomorrow!" and then "Book Tasting Today!" The kids were very curious but I wouldn't let on at all. I sent them out to recess on the day of the tasting, and worked quickly to turn my classroom into a cafe and myself into Chef Genre. I spread checkered tablecloths at each of our three genre tables and then put a book at each place setting, with a stack of additional books of the same genre in the center of the table. I dimmed the lights, turned on cafe music, and donned my accessories.
When the kids came back from recess, I told them that their teacher had to run out and I, Chef Genre, was in charge. I checked their "reservations" and sent them to their tables. Their instructions were to peruse the book at their place setting for five minutes. If they didn't want to read it, they could swap it out with a book from the pile. When they found one they liked, they wrote the title down on their special book tasting bookmark. Their goal was to have two titles on their bookmarks before the time was up at their genre table. When I rang my chime, the kids rotated to the next genre table and followed the same procedure again, and then one more time.
After they had visited all three tables, the kids filled out a reflection "napkin:" What did they think of the tasting? Was there anything that surprised them? I got exactly the response I was looking for. One boy wrote: "I never expected to like a nonfiction book but I learned some really cool things. This was GREAT!" And one girl wrote: "I found lots of books that I did not think I would enjoy but now want to read!"
With that kind of feedback, I knew the book tasting was a valuable experience for my students. Chef Genre's work is done here! She'll be back in a few months to do another tasting with three more genres. Until then, au revoir!