A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
I read a sign in a Kindergarten class the other day that said, "The best way to become a better reader: READ, READ, READ, READ, READ!" and the Kindergarteners do! Teachers and parents read out loud to them. Kids practice reading in fun learning centers. They lounge in comfy reading corners and read stacks of colorful books in the classroom. Teachers understand that learning to read is paramount, so reading and listening to stories is an integral part of the early primary classroom. Stories are full of bright pictures, and reading time is often mixed with art time, allowing students to display their imaginations. Most importantly, the reading that goes on in the Kindergarten is fun. It's magical.
Somewhere down the line, students "know" how to read, and the whimsical reading focus from the early reading years begins to disappear. Reading is still stressed as an important core skill, but student reading time is often compressed into compartments of silent reading at school and assigned reading time for homework. Students are often assigned reading levels and are encouraged to read books that are specifically labeled within that level. This type of "free-choice" reading works well for most students, but some students are bored with the choices they have and don’t get the reading practice they need.
There are plenty of strategies teachers can use to encourage and improve student reading. When choosing strategies to try, I think it’s important to remember we don’t only want to make students read more often. We want them choose to read. We want them to read for pleasure. We can require students to read, but if this reading is forced and stressful, students might not recognize the joy attached to reading, causing it to become more of a chore to students than a pastime. The strategy we are discussing this week involves varying the formats of writing you present to your students so you can involve as many types of readers as possible.
The current Gateway resources we are featuring focus on an often-overlooked literary format: the graphic novel. A graphic novel is basically a book written in the style of a comic strip. The story in a graphic novel is told with a lengthy narrative intertwined with sequential illustrations. These types of novels are a hit with kids who love comics, and reluctant readers might be pulled in by the illustrations. As a teacher, I am excited about the amount of reading involved in each novel and the complexity and detail in the stories. These aren’t just glorified comic books. They are creatively illustrated novels!
If you think using graphic novels in your class might be something you want to try, please check out this guide from Scholastic. It has lots of information about the graphic novel format and ways to use these novels in your classroom. There are also some helpful links to get you started.
If your students are hooked on this style of novels, you may also want to have them take excerpts from stories they have read and turn them into a graphic-novel type format. Making a 1 or 2 page graphic novel-esque summary of a book would challenge students to understand the story well and would make a great book report! There are some simple comic generators online, like this one from ReadWriteThink that will help students take what they have read and recreate it in a comic-book format. They have lots of activities that go along with the comic generator including this alternative book report. Going low-tech with this assignment and letting students create their own drawings by hand would be great, too.
Like the title mentions, a picture is worth a thousand words. Asking your students to read and create graphic novels may be just what you need to get a few of those students engaged that you haven't seemed to reach yet. Sometimes, flexing those creative muscles makes learning more fun for these students. We will cover more reading strategies in future columns, so please comment and let us know topics you would like us to cover. Happy reading!