Booktrack and a Close Reading Challenge

Amy Harter

Approaching a teaching challenge from a new angle can sometimes make a world of difference in student learning outcomes. For me, Booktrack Classroom has been one of those new angles this year. I was looking for a way to engage the students in my literature class as we were working on close reading analysis of poetry. Close reading is such an essential skill in higher level literature and composition courses, but it can often prove difficult for students who have spent a lot of time in their prior study focusing on the big picture of message and theme, but are inexperienced in analyzing smaller literary elements within the whole.

quote-Close-Reading-Challenge-3Like many other English teachers, I get my students ready for close reading through annotation techniques, mentor text examples, and writing demonstrations. But I had been seeking something more interactive to build their initial reading and annotation skills—much of the crucial thinking for close reading analysis should be happening before the student puts a single word on the page. I needed a better way to help students notice the literary devices, shifts, tone, and key word choices within a poem.

Enter Booktrack Classroom. As a lover of both books and technology, I was fascinated with the concept of texts that came preloaded with their own soundtracks of music, ambient sound, and sound effects to match the action of the story. But when I realized that Booktrack Classroom users could also create their own texts with sound to match, I immediately saw a classroom application for my close reading dilemma. Here was an interactive, engaging, and direct way for students to demonstrate their thinking about a text. So I asked my students to select a poem from our study anthology and type it into Booktrack Classroom. From there, they were asked to apply sounds to reflect tone shifts, important or repeated elements, crucial moments in the narrative, and even special sounds to signify literary devices such as metaphor, personification, and imagery.

quote-Close-Reading-Challenge-3As my students played and worked with Booktrack Classroom, they were delighted at the type of digital product that they could create. My twelfth grade students were like kindergarteners again, giggling at the fact that they could insert an explosion sound or the sound of a dog barking. As they approached the task, though, it was evident that they were working thoughtfully with their poetic texts with a depth of analysis that they had not yet achieved in a "circle and label" style annotation. By sifting through the different choices of music in particular, they worked hard to find the most accurate match for their poem—this led to discussions of precision in vocabulary as students identify tone in close reading. By determining when to apply or change a sound, students were able to think critically about the important changes in the narrative voice. Knowing that they needed to apply sounds at specific moments of the poem also helped students hone their thinking and zero in on the moments that work together to create the core of the poem's meaning.

Where does a poem's power lie? With Booktrack Classroom, my students were able to answer that question in a way that was both exciting and thought-provoking.


Amy E. Harter is a teacher and blogger from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She teaches English at a 9-12 high school and has worked with local National Writing Project sites as a teacher consultant as well as with TED-Ed as a lesson contributor. Her particular areas of interest are incorporating technology and the arts within the teaching of writing. 

Follow her at @AE_Harter on Twitter, or check out her teaching blog "Universe as Text" at