As parents, we know the value of good children’s literature. The challenge is how to introduce these gems to our children without making reading a chore. We spoke to educators at four local private schools to find out how they introduce great books to kids in a way that is fun, meaningful and educational.
The Lexington School
Janette Moloney, fifth-grade teacher at The Lexington School for the past 21 years, finds that an ideal way to get students to appreciate great books is to have them learn to write one themselves.
So for the past 20 years every student in the Lower School (grades 1-5) has produced a book through the school’s “Writers Guild” program.
Each student writes and illustrates a book, then presents it to the school and their families at a tea and reception in the library. Professional authors such as George Ella Lyon also participate in the event.
“When students read their books, I hear that they understand what we are teaching about plot and character development and the rest,” Moloney said. “This is one of the most rewarding things I do as a teacher.”
The books are either laminated or bound so that the students and their families have the work as a keepsake.
The Writers Guild is popular with students, too. Said Moloney: “The kids get very excited when we start Writers Guild each year.”
Michele O’Rourke, a 17-year teacher at Sayre School, uses the Shared Inquiry Approach with Junior Great Books, which are thought-provoking stories using rich, challenging language.
Her students work in small groups – “literature circles” – and take turns reading the stories out loud two and even three times. Students then read the text and mark it up to prepare themselves for the final step – the formal discussion of the story.
O’Rourke gives, as an example, the story “Thank You, M’am” by Langston Hughes. The students might answer questions such as “How does Mrs. Jones teach Roger right from wrong?” or
“Why didn’t Roger run away?”
“The students have to stick to the text and be respectful, but this is a very safe environment. There are no right or wrong answers,” O’Rourke said.
The students enjoy getting involved in the discussion. “It’s amazing,” O’Rourke said. “These little kids coming up with such deep, rich thoughts. It’s a wonderful program and very rewarding.”
Each year her students form book groups to explore works such as “Island of the Blue Dolphin,” “Call of the Wild” and “Anne of Green Gables.”
Students meet to discuss the book, including new vocabulary and plot development, and to ask interpretive questions.
Writing projects derive from the books, Snider said. Students can choose a character and write a journal entry from that person’s perspective.
Students also enjoy deconstructing a chase scene from a book and then writing their own chase scene.
Inspired by the assigned work, students have formed their own reading groups in class.
“We now have a group of boys reading science fiction and a group of girls who have formed a Harry Potter reading group,” Snider said. “I really love that.”
“We look for well-written, compelling books with a good story and well-developed characters,” says Paula May, Director of Admission and Academics at TCA.
Along with assigning books for children to read, teachers also read aloud to students.
In every grade level, teachers read aloud books such as C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” series, “Misty of Chincoteague,” and even “Tales From Shakespeare.”
Reading aloud to children has many benefits, May said. “The students listen for character traits, they learn to follow the story line, they ask questions and they want to learn to read at a higher level.”
Reading the classics allows students to explore the consequences of decisions, whether justice was served and whether it was harsh or fair.
“Literature is stories,” May said. “We are storytellers innately, it’s what we do.”