One way to provide an authentic writing experience for your students after reading is to have them write book reviews. While at the elementary level it’s acceptable to simply present what they personally liked or disliked about a book, at the secondary level, we need to ramp up the rigor. Book reviews need to focus on the text’s strengths and weaknesses, not the reader’s preferences.
To write a true criticism, readers must view the text objectively and point to the specifics in a book that caused their opinion. This requires students to state what is good and bad about the text and why.
To help students tackle this authentic-literacy task, teach them to include information and answers to the following five big questions:
What makes this text good? Critics have the responsibility to add value to a reader’s experience. They can do that without offering a scathing critique. Accentuating the positive offers readers an opportunity to consider the book for themselves rather than being told that they won’t like it.
What would make this book better? Even the best of books can be improved. As a critic, it’s important to be honest. And honestly, some parts of some texts are pretty bad. Like an impartial umpire, a critic has to “call ’em as he sees ’em.” If not, a critic can lose the trust of his readers and his influence over them.
What’s the one most important thing the author wants you to know? This is the central idea or theme the author wants to teach his readers. Reviewers have to squeeze the whole text down to a single sentence to say what it’s all about.
Why did the writer write this? Researching the author’s purpose connects the reader into the deeper meaning behind the text. As a critic shares this insight, he opens the door into that understanding.
What does the audience need to know to understand and enjoy the book? Sometimes the critic’s job is to unlock a mystery within a book by supplying an extra piece of information that readers might miss.
For these more advanced book critiques, provide students with some authentic examples from the following online resources: