One of my fantastic 5th grade teachers and I were talking the other day and he brought up Shelfari (www.shelfari.com) and asked if I’ve ever used it for students as sort of class book review portal. I hadn’t, but I thought it sounded like a brilliant idea so we decided to give it a go. Shelfari is dubbed as the “premiere social network for people who love books,” and the concept is to create a virtual bookshelf of all the books you’ve read or are reading and then you can meet others in the community who have read the same books and have similar reading interests. Sort of like have a book club, but you don’t have to leave your house.
The way we used Shelfari with 5th graders was to create a classroom bookshelf of all the books the students and teacher have read during the year, give a rating to the books, write a review, and give the books a tag or two (non-fiction, mystery, biography, etc.).
The teacher creates an account with his email address as the username and a password (making sure it’s a password you don’t mind sharing). Then, each student logs on with the same username and password (there doesn’t seem to be a limit as to how many users can log in at the same time – I had 22 logged into the same account at the same time). They then search for the book she or he has read, adds it to the shelf and then begins the review.
Students first show their book status by checking either, “I plan to read;” I’m reading it now;” or “I’ve read it.” If they choose I’ve read it, they can then enter the date of completion. Next, the student gives it a rating, 1-5 stars and writes a review. For my classes, I have them enter their initials and student number at the beginning of the review so that the teacher and other students know who gave the review. The “My Edition” section I have the students skip as it’s just details of whether they own the book, loaned it to a friend, etc. For the tags section, they are required to enter at least one, and they usually end up entering several. Finally, in the last section students can read other reviews by other members, learn more about the book, and also learn about other books that Shelfari suggests may be enjoyable for the reader.
I’ve noticed the reviews my students write when they are on Shelfari are more thought-out, poignant, and well-written. When students know that others will be reading what they’ve written and there is a real audience, the end product becomes much more polished with less impetus required from the teacher .