When it comes to finding literature for performance in speech and debate, students often struggle with where to start. They may have a relatively small knowledge base of authors, or they may be unable to wrap their minds around the innumerable topics available for performance.
A great way for students to explore different literature is through a book tasting. Just like food tasting, where you sample small portions of different offerings, a book tasting allows participants to “taste” pre-selected parts of a book to see if it appeals to them. This activity introduces participants to new genres, authors, content areas, themes and styles of writing.
To create a book tasting, the teacher selects various literature and flags or marks portions of the text for students to read. Depending on the time set aside for this lesson, the teacher should select parts of the book or story that will pique the interest of the readers and give them an idea of how to use that literature for performance. Teachers can even provide multiple pieces of literature with the same general theme at each table, enabling students to see multiple perspectives on a topic.
Book tastings can work best in an area that allows students to move freely between stations so they can “taste” all the offerings. If your classroom does not work or you want a change of setting, your school’s library or media center should be a good alternative.
After you have selected literature and found a place, it is time for the fun part.
You can be as simple or as elaborate as you want when it comes to decorating your tables, which makes the experience more visually exciting. Teachers can decorate like a restaurant, using vases of flowers and placemats, or they can add items that relate to the theme of the literature, like video game controllers and game cases for literature about the impact of video games on our society.
Finally, teachers create a way for students to jot down notes about what authors and titles they enjoyed and what potential performances of that literature could look like.
There are many online examples of handouts for students to use while tasting the books, but the idea is to lead students into reflection about what they are “tasting.” Giving them a “menu” sheet with sections for specific “ingredients” in the literature or questions like, “What tickled your taste buds?” helps guide their discovery. There are many benefits to book tastings besides introducing students to new texts. Rotation from table to table incorporates movement and keeps students engaged, or students can summarize and report about what they read. Teachers can add prompts at each table to spur brainstorming and discussion.
Instead of using books, teachers can use articles from journals and news sources that relate to their content, no matter the subject area. Additionally, book tastings are a great way to incorporate reading into your lessons by using sophisticated texts that are intentional (lol) and lead to a high-yield activity for students. Book or text tasting is even a novel way for administrators or presenters to get teachers more engaged with professional development.
In the end, book tastings invite students to explore, savor and think critically about the literature they are choosing to perform for speech and debate competition. The result is deeper learning mixed with richer performances and a splash of fun.
Mellessa Denny of Amarillo (Texas) High School has coached high school speech and debate for 20 years, with students participating on the local, state and national levels. She is the past president of the Texas Speech Communication Association, and in October 2018 was selected as TSCA Secondary Teacher of the Year.