Book Bentos: 5 Tips to Make Them Better

Get the most out of your next book bento assignment

I now have two rounds of book bentos under my English teaching belt. Last fall, in my independent reading “Novels” class, I assigned book bentos for the first time. I learned quite a bit from that first encounter with this creative summative assessment and reflected on the whole experience with this blog post: Book Bentos: My First Attempt and What I’ll Do Differently Next Time. This post features links to resources, book bento examples, and a list of exactly what I decided to implement during my second attempt, which occurred at the end of third quarter.

A wall display of book bentos made by high school students.
My independent reading “Novels” classes created book bentos last fall and this spring. I displayed them in the hallway last week.

Two weeks ago, my spring semester “Novels” class tried their hand at book bentos. On this second encounter, I built on what I learned last fall. As a result, I truly feel the book bentos my students turned in this time were better designed and more meaningful. More importantly, they were still effective indicators of my students’ understanding of the themes and symbols found in their chosen books.

A stack of Jane Austen novels.
Photo: Leah Kelly on Pexels

In completing this second round of bentos, I can now confidently say that the book bento is a successful alternative to the traditional “book report.”

If you haven’t tried them yet, you should!

Here are my five tips for better books bentos:

  1. Schedule an in-class “photo day.” Last fall, my students created and photographed their bentos at home. While that was fine, I could tell some students likely waited until the last minute and rushed their photos.

Several were arranged in less-than-ideal ways or lacked objects that held significant meaning in their books. I vowed last fall to schedule an in-class “photo day” in the spring so students could have more guidance with photographing. I can see a big improvement over the fall bentos since I was able to help students arrange their objects and take their photos.

Here are two book bentos from my current spring “Novels” class… my second attempt at book bentos.

2. Use height to get a better photo. To take the photos, have students arrange their objects on a table and then take the photo while standing on a step ladder. Cell phones are great for these photos, but make sure students hold the phone perfectly level or be prepared to edit for the distorted angle.

3. Make sure students explain the significance of their bento items. As an alternative to using an app like ThingLink, I required each student to place their book bento photo into a Google Slides presentation and then follow up the photo slide with two more that explained the significance of each object followed by a student-written book review, respectively.

A photo of a Google Slide that contains an explanation of the objects in the student's book bento.
Here’s one student’s Google Slide that explains the objects in their book bento. This particular one is for Where the Crawdads Sing.

4. Place objects and books at ninety degree angles. Even though placing objects at ninety degree angles may seem like a natural thing to do, you might have to demonstrate exactly what you mean to your students. When the objects are haphazardly scattered in the bento, the result is merely a collection of items related to a book, and not a stylish interpretation.

5. Print out a colorful cover of the book. Not all books your students will be reading will have an eye-catching cover. This was the case with the two book bentos above. One student was reading an electronic version of Eighth Grade Bites and the other student had already returned Where the Crawdads Sing to the library. If you have a student without the physical book, find a colorful image online, print out a color copy, and tape it to another similar-sized book.

I hope these book bento tips come in handy for you!

Sometimes it seems that students might benefit more from showing their understanding in a more unconventional way than an essay. Book bentos are perfect for that and this spring, that’s especially the case as students look forward to the end of a most unusual school year.

A picture of a high school graduate.
Photo by Anand Sundram on Pexels.com

All of the book bentos shown in this post were created by seniors who will be graduating in about two short months!

As you can imagine, creating a book bento was a welcome option for these students in the final two months of their public school education.

If you have a similar situation, think about trying book bentos!

Happy bento-making!


Try this new poetry lesson!

Enter your email below and I’ll send you this PDF file you can use tomorrow to show your students how to write Treasured Object Poems, one of my favorite poem activities. I know your students will enjoy it!

Image shows readers the paper I'll send for signing up for my email list. The handout gives instructions for a Treasured Object poem.
Treasured Object Poems

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Published by Marilyn Yung

Writes | Teaches | Not sure where one ends and the other begins.

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