BOOK BLIND DATES: Smack Dab in the Classroom by Dia Calhoun

This month, teen librarian KATIE MITCHELL from Saline Library shared some wonderful ideas when I asked her how to use middle grade books in the classroom. From Book Blind Dates to Reader's Response Journals, read on for ways to engage young readers.

DIA CALHOUN: What tips do you have for getting a group of kids actively engaged with the same book? Kids who might have different interests?

KATIE MITCHELL: As a librarian in a public library, this has been an area that has been very challenging. The kids in my teen book group often ranged in age from 11-15. That’s an amazing time of growth and the levels of maturity are all over the map. Knowing your group is the first main step. I would always emphasize to the kids that all opinions were valid, all feelings to be respected. And I would tell them that if they *didn’t* like a book, I really wanted them to feel welcome, because figuring out what you don’t like in a book helps guide you to genres and writing styles that you like.

Reader's Response journals are great; as they help young teens make strong connections between their lives and the lives of the characters. Another great connector is having the kids themselves booktalk the titles. If you do rotational reading with your class, you can have the group that just finished the book talk it up to the next group to get it.

Finally, this is a group that still really enjoys having people read to them. Reading aloud, or having the audio book playing as they read can help your auditory learners and connect the students who have more challenges with reading. (But, please don’t make kids read out loud if they are uncomfortable. I know adults who stopped reading for pleasure in middle school due to extreme embarrassment in English classes.)

DIA CALHOUN:  Do you remember a specific activity with a specific book that really set kids' imaginations on fire?

KATIE MITCHELL:  Book trailers! Particularly 90 Second Newbery trailers. (See this one of THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND) I think it’s the blend of costuming, acting, playing together (when “play” time is really falling off the radar for these kids), and using technology that makes this an activity that reaches kids across the board. So many teachers use book trailers, sharing the student produced ones is a fantastic connector!

DIA CALHOUN:  Have you ever done something "outside the box" that worked really well?

KATIE MITCHELL: Book Blind Dates. Our middle school is directly next door to the library. Once a trimester, the Language Arts teachers bring their students over for booktalks and some other activities. One of the best ones is the Book Blind Date. We set up groups of tables for 4-5 students, with 7-8 books on each table (I usually do it by genre, so they get a fuller experience). Then when I blow the whistle (apparently, this is hilarious in a public library), they have to grab a book and just read for 3 minutes. After three minutes, they need to record it on their playlist and write down an few keywords and write it from 1 (it’s a match!) to 5 (see you never!). We usually do about six tables. The kids love it and it’s a great way to push some of the older titles that you still love.

DIA CALHOUN:  If you could give teachers/librarians one piece of advice for engaging kids with middle grade books, what would it be?

KATIE MITCHELL: This is such an incredible age group. While you will have readers who are at both ends of the spectrum in terms of reading ability, these are all kids who can be engaged with middle grade fiction. Always look for the connections. If you have a reader who seems too “jaded” for books about middle grade characters, this can be a chance to give them a time where they don’t have to try so hard to be grown up. For kids who are still finding their place in the middle grades (and frankly, who isn’t), these stories are touchstones for feeling normal. As they are growing and changing and their world is expanding, it is so imperative that they have some books that reflect their experience. We get to bring them that! Don’t ever forget how cool that is!

DIA CALHOUN:  Wonderful ideas, Katie. I want to try Book Blind Dates myself! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experience. Katie Mitchell works with the amazing AMELIA BLOOMER PROJECT.

Dia Calhoun's Smack-dab-in-the-Classroom series runs on this blog the 23rd day of each month.


  1. Love the Book Blind Date idea! Thanks, Dia and Katie.

  2. I especially like getting them involved with trailers...

  3. If like to do the speed dating idea with my book group!


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