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Why asking students for book recommendations is a good thing

For the love of books

ONE bright afternoon at school, one of my Year 7 students approached me after class to ask me one of the greatest questions anyone could ever ask an English teacher: "Sir, what books do you recommend I read?" This was followed by, shockingly, "I am reading Pride and Prejudice right now, but I also like Charles Dickens." Here was a student, in Year 7 mind you, so keen on reading and expanding her mind, whilst surrounding herself with only some of the best company of authors already.

I needed a moment to recover from her question.

I next thought, how do I answer this enquiry? So many novels, so much literature at the tip of my tongue, and my mind kept spawning more suggestions with each passing moment. However, these were books that I enjoyed reading growing up. Perhaps she would not share my admiration of them in the slightest bit. What genres does she tend to favour? Maybe it's not science fiction after all, maybe it's not Tolkien. I needed time to prepare my response, so I settled for: "Come back tomorrow after class, and I will give you a list of books to consider."

That evening I thought about several things, but the one reflection that came to mind foremost was the common practice of teachers to continually select literature and materials in their lessons that they had themselves done so many times before. Content that they were so familiar with that they could arrive at school twenty minutes before class started and have a tattered copy of reading comprehension questions for a particularly well-known novel ready for the photocopier's bright lights.

Why the stagnation? Why the laziness and desire for routine? We have all been guilty of it before. I know we have our own lives to live after school, but why not take a delightful evening and read a new novel or a new poem and come up with fresh, insightful activities for our students to work on? Not only will it stimulate their minds, but ours as well. Reading something new for the betterment of our students. We get to enjoy our profession even more.

I know many have done it already, while it might not be possible for others as there are usually certain curriculums in place throughout most schools. Also it is more time consuming. Nevertheless, that is not always the case I think. We have opportunities to select some works to study. At the very least, passages to be analysed for content, themes, sentence structures, characters and so forth - making it work within the boundaries provided by the school. When you get a chance, take it.

Which brings me back to my bright student's request and another thought: Too many times we choose to have our students study literary material that we know in all their intricacies, which have stood the test of time, and that we think must be read. And that is fair enough, they are fantastic books. Yet, we should also make a better effort to discover what genres and titles our students like - no matter how silly we think they are - and incorporate them in our lessons. At least every so often.

The classics will always be there, ready to be explored when the time comes. Perhaps it is I who needs to ask someone, a student perhaps: "What new treasure do you recommend I read?"

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