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Alternative Book Reports

Book reports are one of the “necessary evils” we must force our students to endure in some form. Ages ago (or so it seems!) when I first started teaching I had the students do traditional, formal book reports. They were handwritten in ink, torturous, and BORING. Then we had access to our first computer lab which was stocked with Apples. I desperately wanted my students to type their reports on the new computers and print them out for submission. Much easier, right? I had my students in for a couple sessions and they were all ready to print. That was when the “interim” computer guy did something to the network and lost every one of my students’ book reports. He apologized and I did not have the heart to ask my students to work toward a replacement report for submission. It was not until we got a lab filled with PCs that I was able to trust the technology with a class again. Losing those reports was a terrible thing to have happen, but it also made me aware of creative ways of getting the same information from students. Don’t get me wrong – traditional reports are still an important form of writing which must still be taught. They are valuable for teaching the vital processes of writing, organization of thoughts and writing, and a venue for literary elements. However, we now have more options to make this happen and much less painfully.

Since that disastrous day, I have resorted to “alternative” book report projects as opposed to traditional formal book reports. Before the recent technology pushes, I developed (with the aid of some professional materials) several styles of reports which were more fun and enabled me to get the same information from my students that a traditional report would. My favorite is one for 5th grade called “Trash Picking”. The students bring a minimum of 10 items from home which relate to the story somehow. I encourage creativity as things will obviously not match what they want exactly. They are not allowed to buy things for it specifically and nothing may be perishable or live. Pictures may be used for only a couple of the items. The students present the items orally to the class. For the book Bunnicula I have had students bring in Aquafresh toothpaste using the green and red stripes to represent vegetables and the white stripes as the vegetables Bunnicula sucked the juices from. Another basic one from the past is a 4th grade project. I would stock up on old magazines and catalogs to use as cut-ups. The students would have 5 categories for which they needed to find pictures to represent. They then wrote one good sentence explaining that part of the book. Both of these examples are pre-technology types, but they worked really well for adaptations with special needs students. A student with poor written expression was able to succeed happily. I maintained a 100% turn in rate with these projects.

Now that technology is again becoming a viable alternative for reporting techniques I have begun adjusting my curriculum. I love the power and flexibility offered by PowerPoint. Students are able to add graphics, text, and audio to relay important information from a book. Movie Maker is another tool which allows for extreme creativity using videos, images, text, and audio. Digital cameras/camcorders can be used to stage shots; Paint programs can be used to create original images. Graphic editors can be used to alter any image to make it fit their needs. Audacity and a microphone can be used to create a podcast as a news report or interview. Online comic strip creators can be used to retell a story in a graphic format. Stories can be told from the viewpoint of a character. The possibilities are seriously limitless now.

QUESTION FOR COMMENTS: I would love to hear of some other fun ideas from my fellow educators. Does anyone have some creative reporting ideas they have used with their classes?

~ by dwhiteman on .

One Response to “Alternative Book Reports”

  1. Ah, I see! Bummer – but that is also good to know – thanks!

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