How to use #ScotTeenBookPrize to enthuse a class about reading - Elgin Academy

Elgin Academy takes to the Scottish Teenage Book Prize annually, with relish. It stretches a class and allow them to demonstrate the skills they have been developing during S1-3, and it’s worth devoting a term to working on the project.

There is a buzz about the books and peer recommendations and reviews can be very powerful.

Now an established project with S3, between October and March, it includes reading, group work in the library and a wide variety of tasks in the classroom. It begins with librarian and teacher collaboration in September, to plan the project, continuing with pupils’ group work in both the library and in the classroom.

Pupils read their first book during the October holidays and they complete all three books by the end of January. Having enough copies of the books for everyone is the priority. It can also be a concern, as multiple copies of each title are required for the project to be successful. In the past, our school PTA has been happy to fund the purchase of 25 books. I have also borrowed copies from the public library and from school library colleagues too. Now, however, I buy all the books from the library budget, as I see them as an investment: these are books that lots of pupils will want to read. The S3 pupils participating in the project talk about them, write about them and go on to create a display about them during Book Week Scotland for all in school. There is a buzz about the books and peer recommendations and reviews can be very powerful. Often, pupils like to borrow and read books in friendship groups and these books are ideal for this. The pupils will read the books in pairs or threes and they enjoy sharing opinions and their reading progress with each other.

How the project unfolds

In the classroom, the teacher uses the shortlisted books for all types of writing tasks.

During the project, the class is divided into three groups and each week, a dedicated library period focuses on book discussion with alternate groups. This discussion can be fluid and personal and topic discussion is down to the pupils. It is lovely to see them take ownership of this project. Groups discuss aspects such as character, plot, narrative style and setting, and think about what makes each novel worthy of being included on the shortlist. They individually produce a written review of each novel and these are displayed in the library.

In the classroom, the teacher uses the shortlisted books for all types of writing tasks. For example, last year, pupils were asked to write a scene from a play about a bad relationship (romantic or friendship) or to write a poem about family. In previous years, pupils have also written about such topics as the history of witchcraft as well as revolutions and divided cities. All tasks link to issues or themes in the shortlisted books, and there are lots of ideas in the resource which Scottish Book Trust provides each year.

The class also often gets to meet invited external partners. Last year, we invited a speaker from SAMH and she talked to the class about some of the issues raised in Black Cairn Point by Claire McFall. We’ve also had visits from the Scottish Refugee Council.

Entering the competitions

A pupil from Elgin Academy
After Christmas, the class divides into smaller groups to focus on the entries for both competitions. The pupils get really excited about these activities and display some wonderful creativity.

As the project progresses, we start to think about our entries for the competitions, and the groups discuss graphic novels and how to adapt their favourite scene from the books in graphic novel format. These library sessions are relaxed and informal and are enjoyed by all. For the book trailer competition, we look at media techniques and analyse how to produce a good trailer that draws on the themes of the novel. Pupils need to use their imaginations to think about they might be represent different aspects of the novels on zero budget and limited time. This is usually a very popular part of the project and the pupils tend to meet up after school to complete filming.

You can see some of our entries for both competitions in this blog post.

The moment we've all been waiting for

Elgin Academy pupils
The project culminates in March with more fanfare and rolling of drums as the pupils vote for their favourite book. The big ballot box is wheeled in and pupils post their votes in solemn silence.

The pinnacle of the project is the Big Reveal: which author and book have won? We all watch the announcement in the library as it is streamed by SBT and there is more fanfare as the winner is revealed.

This project is a fantastic way of developing a whole-school reading culture and for engaging with lots of pupils about books. It also provides opportunities for partnership working, both in and out of school. It is an absorbing, enjoyable and inspiring part of the final BGE year and really engages the pupils. It's a wonderful project and well worth taking part.

If you're feeling inspired to take part in the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, it's free and easy to register - find out more on the homepage.

Practitioners can choose to enter a small group of pupils or entire classes! Check out this blog post from school librarian Alison Crawford to find out how she partnered with her English department and other schools to co-ordinate participation in the Scottish Teenage Book Prize.

Shelagh Toonen, Joanne Havinden

Shelagh Toonen is the school librarian, and Joanne was until recently an English teacher at Elgin Academy.