The Shelfie

(Inspired by a lesson from my instructor, Dr. J. Nahachewsky)

Here is a simple activity you can have your students do at the start of a semester that allows you to get to know them a little better, and lets the students interact with one another and break the ice.

Most, if not all of your students will be familiar with selfies. They will probably have quite a few saved on their phone. But will any of them have a shelfie? Ask students to go home and take a picture of one of their bookshelves. Emphasize that it does not need to be a traditional shelf…perhaps it is a pile of books on their nightstand, or they only have e-books (in which case they can take a screenshot of that shelf)…maybe some of your students do not have many or any books at home at all. In this case, have them take a picture of a collection of any kind that is important to them (movies, music, etc.)

When they come to class with their shelfies, ask your students to think about what their shelves say about who they are. Is there something particularly significant displayed on your shelves along with the books/movies/music? What books are displayed most prominently? Is there a particular genre or author that takes up most of your shelf space? What types of things are not present?

It may be best to start this activity off by having students write down their ideas individually, and then split the class up into pairs or small groups. Allow this discussion to rage on. Students will begin shy at first, perhaps uncertain if they understood the assignment, or worried they have nothing to say. Ideally, as the teacher you can circulate and check in on groups, fostering that discussion. Soon your classroom will be buzzing.

If there is time, discuss the ideas generated as a full class. Were there similarities or striking differences noted? Did anyone unexpectedly discover something about themselves through this activity? Are there private vs public shelves?

Ultimately, having students bring in a shelfie is an easy and simple activity that sets the tone for the rest of the semester. Not only do you as the teacher get a glimpse into what students have already read, the types of books that speak to them, and the types that don’t…you also can determine the students who read all the time, and the students who don’t read at all. This activity also helps your class get to know one another in a low-pressure and more creative way than having them simply standing up and report their name, their favourite colour, or an extra-curricular activity they partake in.

You as the teacher should get involved too! Introduce the activity the day before by presenting your own shelfie and share a little about who you are with your class. You may be surprised by how much a bookshelf reveals about your identity!

Below is one of my own shelfies. As you can see, I am interested in travel and world history (represented by the map of the ancient world, and the souvenirs of a Mayan calendar and warrior statue from my trip to Belize). The rose is a visual reference to the enchanted rose from the Disney classic “The Beauty and the Beast” – to have such an item means I care very deeply for that particular story, if not for all Disney movies (hint – it’s all of them). There are also pictures of family pets and a general sense of warmth evoked in the picture. This is a significant space in my home, a space I devote to keeping beautiful.

In terms of the books themselves, they are orderly, and organized several ways. There are classics, and rare books. There are reference texts, poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. There is a shelf devoted to Children’s literature, a shelf devoted to texts from my undergraduate, and a shelf devoted to Shakespeare. It certainly provides a brief glimpse into who I am.