How do you incorporate writing about reading in your classroom? Are your students readers notebooks filled with thoughtful reflection or mindless reponses to prompts? How can implamenting writing about reading strategies increase student comprehension?
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If your students are doing a good amount of reading everyweek, this writing-about-reading activity can work:
Ask students to write down five quotes from a week's reading. The quotes should be 1) something that resonates or stands out to the student and 2) something that seems important to the purpose/meaning/art of the text.
Then, for a Friday or Monday activity, ask students to select one of the quotes and explain 1) what the quote means, 2) how the quote is expressive of the text and 3) what the quote makes the student think about or explain the personal connection that led the student to select this quotation.
This exercise makes reading personal and doesn't ask students to suddenly become professional critics. There are some subtle perks too, as students learn to pull out important quotations and explain them in multiple ways they are practicing skills required in writing essays on literature.
In agreement that writing in journals is a formative step in reading comprehension and critical thinking, students can have a "Reader's Response" section of their journals in which they interact with the text. For example, the teacher can ask a question about a chapter, or provide a short passage to which the students can react, with no judgments passed upon them, just positive comments by the teacher or additional direction. [ By the way, the study guides of enotes often have reader response sections, or questions that can be used for this activity.]
On exams for the literary work under consideration, the teacher can allow students to use their entries from the Reader's Responses that relate to any of the essay questions. So, if students are told about this opportunity, they usually feel motivated to complete the activities in their journals.
Depending on the age group, I've actually found journaling to be one of the most effective ways for informal and ongoing writing about reading. It is easy to create journal prompts for a class novel which engage the students in personally reacting to the text (making text-to-life comparisons) but even for activities in which every student is reading a different novel, generic journal prompts are not hard to create (or find on the Internet). I have my students journal for the first 5-10 minutes of every day, and while I do not read every journal, I check them once a week and give credit for completion. If something catches my eye, I like to make comments back to my students, which often results in a personal dialogue back and forth, which many students enjoy.
The thing I like best about journals is that it does cause students to think and write, but it takes off the pressure of "formal writing" and being graded on spelling, grammar, and complete sentences. Certainly, journaling cannot be the sole source of writing in a classroom, but it helps take the pressure off of students who either do not like to write, or are nervous about not writing well.
Like anything else, reading and writing are naturally made stronger through sheer practice, and whenever I can increase student interest enough to get them to practice, I consider it a success.
Writing about reading can be an excellent exercise, especially if the questions are focused and genuinely thought-provoking. The idea of writing for the sake of writing (allowing students to "free-associate") has never made much sense to me, and even less sensible, in my opinion, is the idea that grammar shouldn't count -- that students should be allowed to be "creative" and "uninhibited" and "spontaneous." However, I am very old-fashioned about such things.
Writing about reading can be a great exercise. It can help students realize what they know and what they still do not understand after reading a particular piece. It can also help students learn how to compare and contrast a main piece of literature with supplemental literature. I did often have my students write journals or short essays after reading. Usually, this was a time when I tried to have the students relate what they had read to themselves or to today's world. Some books lend themselves well to this type of activity. When we read Night or The Diary of Ann Frank, my students would pretend to be the main character and then write a journal about how they would feel and/or what they would do in this situation. It helped to make the text seem more real for them.
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