My students are shocked when I tell them I didn’t like reading as a student. My nose was never stuck in a book (text books during exam time don’t count… ‘Text books?’ my students wonder). I remember borrowing ‘Sweet Valley High’ books from the library, pretending I read them, when I really only got them for my sister who was already out of school.
I wish I had read more than text books when I was young. I love the school I grew up in but I don’t remember any emphasis on reading fiction or reading for pleasure.
Where I teach, students are very blessed to have access to many great titles and authors. To begin a writing lesson on story introductions, I read the first chapters of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’ and C.S. Lewis’ ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.’ Classics, yes, and for good reason. I had the words on the class screen so the students were following as I read with passion, inspired by the beautiful flow of words. You know students are into a story when they protest as soon as you stop reading. And they did.
I teach a composite class of Year 3s and 4s and that lesson introduction got them hooked! A few students declared they were now going to search for the book in the library (including one student who had earlier stopped reading my favourite Narnia book, ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’, because it ‘wasn’t interesting’).
Here are a few suggestions to inspire your kids to read:
Don’t hold back – expression, voice, and pauses are key. I always tell my students it’s a privilege every time they speak in front of others, so they must strive to be clear and helpful. I believe the same for when I address my class, after all, there are other things they could be doing. So when you read a story out loud to the class, make the most of everyone’s time by giving it your all.
Take the students into the setting with your expression, which the students will see in your face and hear in your voice. Make slight variations for every character for clear distinctions. If you’re committed to bring the text to life from the beginning, you yourself will enjoy it and feel like you’re actually there, in a hobbit home, a magical wardrobe – wherever the story is set.
Finally, don’t underestimate pausing for effect. It allows students more processing time, gets them excited for what’s to come and it prepares them to listen to anything you want to emphasise.
Listen to my short audio recording of the start of ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. It’s not perfect and performing for your kids doesn’t have to be either! Definitely commit to it though!
When you allow time for some short discussions in between, students not only remain engaged but they also practice critical reading and use their imagination. Ask your kids why they think characters are the way they are, what they think will happen next and what they would do in the same situation. You want students to make real-life connections with the text, so let them talk amongst themselves. Want to be another step wiser? Make a note of your kids’ answers. They are almost always entertaining and insightful.
After your ‘performance’, not everyone in your class may be capable of reading the rest of the book by themselves. For beginning readers, shared reading is a great idea. You could read a page or paragraph at a time alternately, or read more or less than the student. The point is, it can be frustrating for beginning readers when they lose the flow of the story because they are struggling to decipher the words. Sharing the reading with you allows the child to enjoy the story and be exposed to ‘harder’ texts whilst you’re right there to provide support. As teachers cannot do this often enough for every child who needs it, I encourage parents to make the time. It can make a big difference.
Linking it with writing
As mentioned from the beginning, the reading session was to introduce a writing activity, making story introductions. One of the joys of being a primary teacher is being amazed at how one lesson can link into so many other areas! So was reading with expression and allowing discussion helpful to their writing? Yes! But there was explicit teaching involved. After each excerpt, we made a list of what students thought made the story introductions good. Here were their ideas:
This list was on the board so students could look back to it as they were brainstorming and writing. They tried to employ at least one of qualities listed above. The boys’ favoured posing a question to create a sense of mystery. A lot of the girls wrote about horses and other animals, with a clear effort at being more descriptive. Everyone’s work was definitely a good start and something to be proud of. And the best thing was, they were pumped to create something exciting for readers!
What do you do to inspire your kids to read and write?
Have you ever ‘performed’ for your students?