Lit of the Millennium, English Elective Librarian-Style

Picture it.  A world in which a group of dedicated seniors constantly read for pleasure, who play with web design,  find their blogging voice, who learn to deliver book talks, to create book trailers, and who discuss a variety of books, authors, and…well…life and the lessons that reading offers, all within a senior English elective? What if you used their work to create QR code covered book displays? Library blog posts and pre-school break reading promotion within your school community?

Welcome to my world. It’s Literature of the Millennium, a course that I am inventing as I go and enjoying every moment of it.

If an upper school librarian is going to be required to teach an elective, this is it. {Note, I floated two offerings during last year’s pre-registration time, a research methods course and this one. One ambitious student signed up for the research class. This fun-sounding one was full. Go figure.}

Here’s my course description:

Many argue that reading for pleasure is on the decline in the fast-paced lives of teens today. Tech savvy librarians work to create lifelong readers in the digital age, utilizing technology to meet teens where they are. This course explores the fundamentals of pleasure reading and reading promotion in a variety of ways. From scholarly research on the long-term benefits of reading in our lives, its importance for our brains and psychological growth, to the design of an electronic portfolio where you will document your exploration of text as well as new technologies. You will select, read, analyze, and blog about four age-appropriate novels. You will then create digital projects to demonstrate your creativity, your understanding of the texts, and the concept of reading promotion in the digital age.

We began the semester with the girls “introducing themselves” via post it notes, which they placed on a white board, as anonymously as possible.

Here’s our board:


We identified 5 themes from this list from which to select books to read. Can I tell you how excited they were to get to SELECT their own books for this reading workshop-style course?!

Keep in mind that these are SPRING SEMESTER SENIORS. The five themes that we identified are:

Anxiety/Uncertain Future (book 1)

Relationships (book 2)

Thought Provoking (book 3)

Adventure (book 4)

Relatable (book 5–if we have time)

We have studied:

Who we are as readers. Fast or slow? What permissions do we give ourselves? Do we skip around? Do we read the last word and determine if the book is a keeper or a ‘toss it back’ (someone does this! Seriously!). Do we read in bed? At a desk? Upright or upside down?

How to find good books. Library, book store, blogs, book reviews, peers, apps like Goodreads, Amazon “more like this”, etc.

Award winners–what do they all mean? Who decides? Do awards matter?

A study on genres–who knew there were so many? (One student’s blog post on “Amish Bonnet-busters” had me guffawing. Loudly. Here, you can too.)

Is there a “right” way to read or is it only important that you’re reading? SAT vocab building vs. relatability,  the Classics vs. Contemporary debate. Audio vs. Print vs. Digital.

Blogging voice, writing as one would converse with a smart friend, use of images, graphics, and punctuation to insert personality, play with timing, etc.

Copyright in the digital age <insert scary music here>. Music & images especially for use in digital projects in class. Creative commons, public domain, etc. I tried to create a game for this to make it fun. I’m still working on it.

How to create effective book trailers.

“Sell it, don’t tell it!” book talks.

Blogged book reviews…how they differ. (Read and evaluated reviews of “Eleanor and Park” the NYT (written by John Green–woot!), one from the Horn Book, and one written by a 16 year old British YA blogger; the kicker is that they had to guess where each review came from.) This one was a really fun discussion.

Read & discussed a number of scholarly articles dealing with “your brain on books”.

We have had two thematic book discussions so far, where each student speaks about how her book fits within the theme. This has been challenging, but fun. I am quickly learning that some themes lend themselves to discussions more easily, like relationships (healthy vs. unhealthy, friendship or love, peer, family, bonds with pets, with drugs and alcohol, etc.). That was an easier discussion than anxiety. Some books were chosen specifically because they were anxiety-inducing, others were chosen because their protagonist was dealing with anxiety.  Still interesting, just less cohesive discussion. What can I say? We’re learning as we go, emphasis on the WE.

While I am in Tampa, the class will be scripting, story boarding, and shooting footage to create 1-2 minute persuasive commercials, our own campus “READ campaign” if you will, calling on ethos, logos, and/or pathos, to convince their peers to make time for pleasure reading in their lives. We will work with our digital photography/videography teacher once I return in editing their footage, adding public domain music, that kind of thing.

One concrete takeaway from the class has been the importance of CHOICE in pleasure reading. ie: A book like The Book Thief, if assigned for English class, then broken down as English classes tend to, looking for themes, literary devices, symbols, historic tie-ins with history curriculum or other books that they’ve read…it no longer feels like pleasure reading, even if it’s a book they would normally love. It’s the work vs. pleasure principle. The majority of busy teenagers don’t love more hard work. Shocker, I know.

These things that we are doing, though, they are FUN. The girls are loving the books that they’re reading, they’re loving our built in library reading day (one of our three meetings each week is typically reading time in the library). They love when I make them read for homework! They are so tech savvy that I’ll show them examples of book trailers, then give them a choice of which app they use, and away they go to Animoto or iMovie, or Youtube’s built in trailer creator (who knew?!). Same for almost every project.

Here are a few  examples of the work that they are producing. I would be glad to share a complete portfolio for the course once I’ve finished pulling it together at the end of the semester.


Book Review

Book Talk

Book Trailer

Animoto book trailer

So, creative brain, what have I missed? What should I add to the course next year?

Are any of you teaching a fun elective that you’re enjoying and would like to share here? Please use the comments below.



10 thoughts on “Lit of the Millennium, English Elective Librarian-Style

  1. Katie, what you’ve created is absolutely wonderful! At this moment, I can’t think of a thing you’ve “missed.” And if I think of something else, it would have to be more of an add-on, not something you’ve forgotten about. I think this sounds like a dynamite class: fun and interesting and EVEN educational!!! I can’t wait to discuss it more on Wednesday.

  2. Katie, This sounds great. An education and fun class for 2nd semester seniors – love it! I’m keeping this link for future reference.

  3. Dear Katie, Yes! that course sounds great. I teach one called Global Literature and the theme is that Global literature provides us with both a mirror with which we see ourselves, and a window through which we can view the world. We’re trying to get a lot more students reading here. I would love to see your syllabus. Thanks, Deb

    • I love this idea, Deb! What books are you reading with them? I did a summer camp for middle schoolers a few years ago called “Reading Around the World” which mixed global lit with crafts, snacks, and book talking, but I love a stand alone course with your structure. Would love to know more about it!

  4. Katie…how great that you were able to offer such a great elective where outgoing seniors were engaged and excited with a course. I’m certain that your energy and enthusiasm is also making a difference with your students. Passing this along!

  5. This is so cool and makes me feel inadequate. I love how you’re promoting the idea of reading outside of the curriculum and getting such a positive response from seniors who are usually checked-out mentally (at least at my school).

    • Ha! *Do not* let this make you feel inadequate. There are so many other things that you guys are doing that make me feel like I don’t have enough hours in the day, this isn’t one of “those”. 🙂 I’m requiring that they read and play. They don’t feel like they’re working so it’s a nice break for them. You could do this too and I’m 99.99% sure that your kids would totally go for it, even when they are counting down the days to graduation.

  6. This sounds fabulous! I want to teach/participate in something like this. Like at most schools we have large numbers of voracious readers in Middle School, and then it tapers off, to a few kids admitting to reading a bit in the Upper School. How does this course fit in with the curriculum at your school? Does it count as an elective credit? I love the tie-in with the technology too.

  7. Katie, It’s wonderful that you are providing such a fun-filled and stimulating opportunity as they finish with high school….talk about leaving them with a positive feeling toward the library!

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