Classroom Tech, Part IV: Shelfari

A snippet of my "Books I've Read" shelf, complete with ratings

A snippet of my "Books I've Read" shelf, complete with ratings

I’m in the middle of  a series of posts outlining how I plan on using technology during the coming school year. I’ll share some tools, resources, and ideas that I intend to use with students in the classroom, and hopefully you, the reader, will share some advice or thoughts of your own, either in the comments section, or on your own blog (just let me know if you do!).

Unlike the other tools mentioned in the previous three posts, Shelfari is not something I am just now starting to use with students. I’ve used Shelfari with my students for a year and a half now, with a mixed bag of success, and I’ve posted before on what it is and on some of my experiences with Shelfari. All told, it’s been a great tool, and my experiences using it with classes have yielded a couple of strategies to make it more effective.

  • I primarily use Shelfari in my English classes as a way for students to document their outside reading. To do this, I ask that they write a book review (which includes both summary and evaluation) on Shelfari. From a management standpoint, the most effective way for me to grade this is to create a group for each class period and work through each class separately. This is really nice because I can stay up to date on what kids are reading, they can recommend books to me or their peers, and their reviews can be read by anyone on the website.
  • Shelfari would also be a great resource for students who are looking for books to read, particularly if you’ve been using class groups. They could use other students’ shelves and reviews to find books that they might be interested in. This could also include an added writing component in which students have to explain why they selected the book that they did, encouraging them to use some metacognition and think about the criteria that they used to select that book.
  • There are numerous other groups on Shelfari that students could be encouraged to join, many focused on a particular literary interest such as a genre, title, or author. Students could interact with other Shelfari users in these groups and hear from like-minded people. There is an obvious safety concern here, as we don’t know who students are interacting with, so that is something that would have to be discussed thoroughly before encouraging this activity.
  • One oft-neglected feature of Shelfari is the “on loan” check box for individual books. Say you keep an inventory of all your books on Shelfari. If a student borrows or checks out a book from you, you can find that book on your shelf and go to the details page. Under the “Editions” tab, there is a check box that says “loaned to a friend.” If you check that box, you can fill in the information – who you loaned it to and when – and save that until the book is returned. While I do wish it was a little easier to access this feature, it’s pretty handy nonetheless.
  • I often use the Wish List shelf to keep a list of books that I’m interested in reading. This might be a really great way for students to build up some interest in a variety of books and let you see the kinds of books they want to read. This opens the door for recommendations, reviews, and other great interaction. You might even make it an assignment to add 2 books from different genres that the student is going to read. One additional benefit to doing this: if students have a list of books they want to read on their Wish List, they should never be telling you they don’t have a book to read.

These are just a few of, I’m sure, innumerable ideas for using Shelfari in the classroom. Unlike some of the previous tech tools, I can say with complete confidence that most students – particularly young adults – enjoy using Shelfari. They laugh and make fun of it early on, but once they start getting into the different possibilities (particularly interacting with their friends), they really do start to engage a little bit more.

Next up in the Classroom Tech series (Part V) will be an oldie, but a goodie: PowerPoint.

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6 responses to “Classroom Tech, Part IV: Shelfari

  • Mark Isero

    Thank you for the post. I’m thinking of using Shelfari (or Goodreads) with my students this year.

    I have a question: Do you find that students get bogged down when adding books and writing reviews? There are so many different steps to adding a book — do you have students do all of them or just some?

    Why did you choose Shelfari over Goodreads? Was it because of the bookshelf (my personal favorite) or something else? And when you say “mixed bag of success,” does that mean the privacy aspect?

  • thehurt

    @Mark: I think one of the benefits of Shelfari is that it’s actually pretty easy to add books. If the students know what book they are looking for, they can just search for it and use the little pull down menu on the search results page to add it to their bookshelf.
    I think the main reason I chose Shelfari was definitely the visual appeal of the bookshelf. I think it had more of an immediate “ooh” factor when the kids used it the first time. In addition to that, though, I think it’s a little closer to what they are most familiar with online – Myspace.
    As for the “mixed bag,” I think the biggest downside was students finding ways to abuse the site (as they do with any website). For example, one student added several copies of Playboy to his bookshelf. I think these issues resolve themselves quickly when they realize that I see everything that they do on Shelfari, and also tend to fade away as the technology becomes more commonplace. I had the same issue when I first used cell phones in the classroom – students abused the privilege. But the more we used them, the less that became an issue.
    Hope this helps, and thanks for the comment!

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  • Leesa Cole

    I love this post and the resulting comments.
    I’d love to add this to my list of helpful links for a workshop that I taught last week. Do you object to me sharing your blog?

    • thehurt

      @Leesa: Feel free to share. That’s why I write. 🙂

    • Amy

      Hi – I teach first through 8th grade, at a Catholic school, and I’ve been debating using goodreads or shelfari, but I am concerned about the adult and high school content of some of the books. Is there a more middle school or elementary type version of these websites, or is there some subset of them that I could use? Thanks… Amy at St. Thomas

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