Tools of the Trade: Goodreads
By Kelly Virgin
A few years back one of my real life friends asked me to be her virtual friend on yet another social media site. I was already lagging with my tweets, feeling overwhelmed by my newsfeed, and completely out of touch with current hashtags, so I was leery of signing up for anymore social media tasks. However, when she described it as “a Facebook for readers,” I knew I had to give it a shot. Since I accepted her invitation to join Goodreads.com in February of 2009, I have extended that same invitation year after year to over 300 of my students.
While I work hard to create a healthy community of readers within the four walls of my classroom, Goodreads allows us to take that community virtual. As any teacher in the 21st Century knows, “Just as they have done in parking lots and shopping malls, teens gather in networked public spaces for a variety of purposes, including to negotiate identity, gossip, support one another, jockey for status, collaborate, share information, flirt, joke and goof off. They go there to hang out.” (Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning With New Media). Goodreads.com provides my students and I with the opportunity to take advantage of these aspects of social networking in a positive and educational way.
The site encourages students to do all the things they do with other social networking sites (gossip, collaborate, negotiate identity) in response to the books they are reading. It also allows them to take these conversations outside of the physical classroom and into a virtual space. Hopefully by doing some of the same things they do on other social networking sites – checking statuses, sending messages, posting updates and opinions – students can work together to build a social network of readers. Additionally, since the site now boasts over 25 million members, my students are able to interact with an ever growing network of readers, engage in unprompted reading interactions, and even “hang out” with some of their favorite authors.
In my classroom,I have asked my students to use Goodreads in the following ways over the years:
- Create reader profiles – When my students first set up their Goodreads accounts, they take some time to establish their reading identities by creating a profile. Just like with Facebook, each student lists interests, uploads a profile picture, and writes a brief bio. However, on this site they are encouraged to gear their virtual identities towards how they view and express themselves as readers. Not only do these profiles serve to communicate their reading personas to the Goodreads community at large, but they also provide a great resource for me when I engage in reading conversations and make book suggestions to my students. For example, based on Lexi’s profile I suggested she read both Marley and Me and Dairy Queen – two books she eventually read and enjoyed that school year.
- Read and post book reviews – When my students create reviews for Goodreads as part of a class assignment, we first spend time studying the many writing models available on the site. Students are encouraged to find effective and ineffective sample reviews and we study these models together in order to discuss what is working and not working with the writing. By finding and critiquing the model reviews first, not only do students get ideas for their own writing, but they also begin to feel the positive pressure of their potential audience. As you can see from this excerpt, Jack wrote with an awareness of his audience as he took on a conversational and somewhat humorous tone. While these reviews are published and available to the entire Goodreads community, they also pop up on the students’ news feeds – effectively giving them many ideas for future reads.
- Participate in regular book discussions – For the first half of the year, I guide students through weekly reading discussions by posting prompts and modeling with my own responses. I typically align these conversations with the content we are studying as a whole class. For example, when we discuss and analyze motif and theme in our course text, students are prompted to think about and post on the motifs and themes they notice in their independent reading. These teacher-guided reading discussions encourage students to transfer their learning to their independent reading, provide a larger audience than just the teacher for their responses, and enable me to informally check in on both their reading progress and analytical skills. For the second half of the year, the students take over as the discussion leaders – they post the prompts and provide the model responses for each other to consider.
- Extend literature circle discussions beyond the classroom – When my students participate in literature circles, they form smaller book discussion groups on Goodreads to keep up with each other’s reading and responding. Each week they rotate through a new discussion leader who sets that week’s reading goal at the start of the week and asks a reflective question about the reading at the end of the week. While students do meet in real life to hold their final book talk conversation, the regular Goodreads discussions enables them to meet and discuss verbally throughout their reading.
- Research and suggest classroom library additions – One of the strengths of Goodreads is the wealth of information it provides about books and the ease with which students can search it. Each year, I invite my students to search the many book lists provided on the site in order to find books that are missing from our classroom library. They research books by reading the summaries and reviews available and compile short lists of books they think would make good additions to our library. Each suggestion must be accompanied by an explanation. Often times this activity not only gives me ideas for book purchases, but it also gives students multiple titles to add to their to-read lists.
Additionally, I have noticed students using Goodreads in the following unprompted or required ways:
- Posting and updating their current reading status
- Setting yearly reading goals
- Independently reviewing books
- Making book suggestions to each other
- Adding books to their own to-read bookshelves
- Downloading the app onto their phones
- Using the app to scan book barcodes and research titles
- Friending each other
- Friending authors they read
- Taking reading polls
This is only an abbreviated list of the many ways my 300+ students have utilized Goodreads on their own. While I know this social networking site will never replace their Facebook or Instagram, my main goal in using it with my students is to create a community of readers who choose, read, and discuss books without constant and direct guidance or instruction from me as their teacher. I am merely a part of their virtual community, guiding it where necessary, but not controlling it. My students gather in this social network to share their own and eavesdrop on each others’ reading preferences, and I enjoy dropping by to hang out with them from time to time.
Kelly Virgin is in her eleventh year teaching English for the Kennett Consolidated School District and has been a PAWLP fellow since 2010. She is a proud bookworm and loves sharing her passion for reading and writing with her students. This spring she will facilitate the Strategies for Teaching Literature course on Tuesday evenings.