Reading, Writing, Teaching

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The Legacy of Katniss, or, Why We Should Stop ‘Protecting’ Manhood and Teach Boys to Embrace the Heroine


Katniss Everdeen has a lot to answer for. Thanks to books likeTwilightandThe Hunger Games, the rapidly-expanding YA genre has experienced an increase in books with female protagonists — particularly in the subgenre of science fiction and dystopian YA, which often place these young women in the traditionally male position of warriors, adventurers and world-savers.

However, with that progression comes corresponding reaction — from articles like Sarah Mesle’s “YA Fiction and the End of Boys” from theLos Angeles Review of Booksto Robert Lipsyte’s “Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope?” from theNew York TimesSunday Book Review.

The article, however, that sparked my particular indignation came from a post on the YA publisher Strange Chemistry’s website. Written by author A.E. Rought, it was called “Top Ten Tropes in YA.” And here is number two on her list:

2. The protagonist is female. Let’s face it, the majority of lead characters in YA are girls. This is one trope [where] I actively seek the opposite. I love guy POV books.

First of all, that very statement, that the use of female protagonists is an overused literary device, is ridiculous. Last time I checked, half the population on earth is female. So saying “having a female protagonist” is a trope is on par with saying “having a human protagonist” is a trope, or “having a protagonist who inhales oxygen and ingests organic matter to live” is a trope.

Now, beyond the silliness of that author’s comment lies the deeper connotations of her argument.

The thing is, literary tropes are chosen and used by authors for a reason — because they’re effective (sometimes too much and too cheaply, which is when they become cliches). So labeling “masculinity-impaired” protagonists as a trope suggests that authors only write books with female protagonists when they have a specific reason for their femininity. Not because they could be an interesting character on their own, but because their gender plays a role in the story.

Continue Reading Here

(Source: knerdy)

Filed under reading lit books feminism katniss

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Learn. Teach. Repeat.: My CT just said that the tenth grade class is reading The Hunger Games




I remember reading the Odyssey, The Merchant of Venice, In the Penal Colony, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, A Clean Well Lighted Place, and The Crucible.

I am truly glad for the success of the series, but I feel like teachers have to consistently teach popular reading materials instead of a wide variety of literature. If you have a varied and structured unit plan for the book, that is understandable. But it seems that it is not pushing your students. Maybe almost dumbing it down? I don’t know…Anyone have any thoughts on this trend?

In many classes, the teacher has the choice of either assigning ambitious work that the students will never complete because it appears dry, or assigning academically ”trivial” work that students will be excited about because it’s more relevant to their lives. It’s a rare case when you can combine these situations.

Students are completely aware of this separation. I’d bet good money that most of them have a pile of books they have to read for school, then a separate pile of “fun” and leisure books that they read on their own time. While you’re in high school, those two piles never seem to overlap. Hell, most adults don’t even have overlapping piles. And that’s a HUGE problem.

Contrary to what so many people think, the point of English class isn’t to get students to read old classics. Sure, that’s a bonus that helps to contribute to a well-rounded education, but it isn’t necessary. What English class actually does is help students learn how to critically analyse writing, get in the overall habit of reading, and walk away from literature with a continuously new sense of realization each time. If your kid can become fully engaged in reading instead of just going through the motions, then you’ve been successful.

Books like The Hunger Games can help with this! Most kids know the story by now, they love the characters and they still get excited by it. Getting to bring this into the classroom is a godsend since they already know what they’re talking about. This allows teachers to dig deeper into the writing. You can get by with only a short explanation of the literal plot and character descriptions, then dive straight into the significance of each literary aspect. Instead of asking “Okay, so who did Katniss befriend in this chapter?” you can ask “Okay, so why might Katniss feel the desire to befriend Rue, even though they are technically enemies?” This is higher level thinking that forces students to analyze the book instead of parroting back details. It’s awesome when you’re working within time constraints. 

I’ve got no issue with The Hunger Games being brought into classrooms. I’d rather see it with younger students, like in 6-8 grade, but I can honestly see it working out with 10th graders too. There is a lot of good material in there that can be used as a jumping point for other dystopian literature. Connect it with more traditional academic novels like The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood or Fahrenheit 451 by Bradbury. The struggle of society vs individual is going to be present most school books, so YA dystopian lit can be a fun introduction to that conflict for kids.

There’s really no sense of “having” to teach popular books, but a well-varied curriculum is always going to include different genres and newer publications. Why not take advantage of new YA reading crazes and let students get excited about their work?

(via knerdy)

Filed under reading teaching education reblog

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Strategies to Develop Children’s Understanding of Texts



It is essential that pupils have the opportunity to interact and engage with texts and move beyond literal comprehension. They need to consider questions that require them to deduce, infer, justify and evaluate.

Literal questions: repeating directly, or in own words what the text says.
e.g. Can you tell me what happened when/where/who? What are the main points in this non fiction text?

Inferential questions: reading between the lines, drawing out conclusions which are based on, but go beyond, the information given in the text.
e.g. Will Robbie stay or leave and what makes you think this?

Deductive questions: drawing conclusions from the information given throughout the text.
e.g. Explain … using two or more points to justify this. Where does it imply that?

Justification: finding evidence in the text to justify responses.
e.g. What in the text makes you say that?

Evaluative questions: making critical judgements relating to the text.
e.g. Is this a successful piece of persuasive writing? What makes you think that? Does this passage succeed in creating suspense? Why/How?

Discussion questions and statement prompts

What makes you think that? 

What do you think? 

What words give you that impression? 

How do you feel about…? 

Can you explain why…? 

Do you agree with …’s opinion? 

Do you like the bit where…? 

I wonder if… 

Is there anything that puzzles you? 

I’m not sure what I think about… I wonder what the writer intended… 

This bit reminds me of… 

I would hate to have that happen to me - would you? 

I like the way the writer has… 

Are there any patterns you notice (e.g. familiar story structure, images) 

I wonder why the writer has decided to…

Prior knowledge activation

Activation of prior knowledge can develop children’s understanding by helping them see links between what they already know and new information they are encountering.

Brainstorming around the title, chapter heading, picture on the front cover (these can be written, oral or drawn) 

Word association chain around key word in title or an image in the text 

Ask for memories around key word in title or an artefact (this reminds me of … it makes me think of) 

Filling in a mind-mapping, concept mapping or other grids/proforma (e.g. the first column of a KWL grid).

Prediction/group prediction

The children read the text a section at a time as they do so the teacher encourages them to explain what is happening, predict what will happen next, predict how it will end, revise their earlier predications in the light of new evidence found in the text. This can be oral, or children could make written predictions/revisions in a reading journal.

Constructing images (visualising, drawing, drama)

During and after reading children can sketch what they see, undertake freeze frames of key moments in a story and make models based on the text .e.g. creating the Borrowers living room in design and technology sessions.


Model skim reading a text. Then encourage skim reading or rereading and ask for oral summaries 

Go through a text paragraph by paragraph highlighting the key sentence/sentences in each 

Children can be asked to write brief summaries at the end of each chapter outlining key events and further insights into character and plot

Talk to Author or characters

A text is provided (with wide margins). Questions to the author are written in the margin, for example ‘Who was this? Why did this happen?’ The teacher models the process initially and then the children try

Reading Journals

A reading journal provides pupils with an opportunity to reflect upon and respond to text; it also provides teachers with useful information about pupils’ thinking processes and comprehension as they interact with text. It also offers opportunities to develop a written response to a text.

Format of reading journals may vary. It may depend on age and experience of pupils or the approach of the teacher.

A journal could include:

A set of personal goals for reading 

A list of texts read with commencements dates 

Thoughts or feelings, recorded in response to reading 

Drawings of setting, characters or events 

Phrases or words that have excited or puzzled the reader 

Suggested changes the reader would have made if they had been the author 

Comments on characters illustrations, diagrams, layout or language used 

Glossary of technical terms with their meanings

It is important that both teachers and children understand the purpose of journals. They can be shared in whole class time or group time. Journal work can also provide purposeful homework activities.

Story maps or story charts

Children draw a ‘map’/chart of the events in a story.

Structural organisers

Recognising the structure of non-fiction texts and then mapping the content in different ways. Draw a diagram, grid, flow chart etc to show information e.g. life cycle of a butterfly.

Character development

Imaging how a character might feel; identifying with a character, charting the development of a character over time in a longer text.  There are many strategies that require children to make explicit response to and knowledge of a character. These include:

Feeling graphs or maps showing how emotions develop throughout the story 

Hot seating 

TV interviews. Compile a list of questions to ask if you were to interview the character 

Drawing characters and surrounding the drawing with phrases from the text 

Writing thought bubbles for characters at key moments in the text when they don’t actually speak 

Relationship grid with each character listed along the top and down the side. Each cell represents a relationship to be explored 

Speculating on actions and motives e.g. asking why did, what if? 

Character emotions register. This involves creating a 5-point emotions scale with pupils for the possible range of reactions at certain specific points in the story (for example from ‘mildly irritated’ to ‘incandescent with rage’). Pupils then rate characters on the scale.

Identifying themes/information

The author’s chair - Child takes on role of the author, answering questions about the book and justifying what ‘they’ have written 

Draw strip cartoon/story board identifying 4/5 main points from story or information 

Highlight words, phrases which link together to build a picture of character or mood, or setting and so on 

Write a blurb for the book 

Identify facts and opinion and consider how they are woven together - highlight facts in red, opinion in blue

Reading for multiple meanings

Rank characters according to criteria e.g. most powerful to least powerful, kindest to meanest. 

‘The roles we play’. In an outline character shape pupils record all the different roles they play in a story - e.g. daughter, friend 

Identify and discuss any differences or additional information to be found between text and illustrations 

Give the text only or pictures only from a multi-layered picture book and ask children to tell the story/read the prose story before reading the complete book. Discuss any changes in their perceptions and responses. Any changes? 

Retell a scene from the point of view of a minor character within it 

Justify the actions of a ‘villain’. 

Problem solving. Stop at the point where a character faces a problem or dilemma. List alternative suggestions from the group. Consider the consequences of each suggestion. Arrive at a group decision

Looking for/challenging a consistent point of view

Genre Exchange - ask children to transpose something from one written genre they have just read into another written genre 

Criteria rating certain scenes at a crucial point - mostly likely to happen/least likely to happen, mostly likely to be true, least likely to be true 

Story comparison charts. Several versions of a story are read (e.g. Cinderella tales) and a comparative chart is completed

Relating texts to person experiences

Say what they would have done at certain points in the story 

Chose the funniest, scariest, most interesting moment from a story or information book. Justify their choice 

Response journals (ongoing throughout the reading of long books) 

Relate to other books by same author or on same topic, read by the group or individual. Discuss similarities or differences.

Preview vocabulary

The teacher provides a list of words relating to the book/topic. The meanings of the words are then discussed before reading.

Building banks of new/interesting words

As children read they mark or note on post-it notes or in vocabulary journals any new words/words they are unsure of. After reading the group discusses ways of working out the meaning. 

Why did the author decide to use the word whispered instead of said - or raced instead of ran? Discuss and record choices of words made by the author. 

Making dictionaries and glossaries

Children can find words whose meanings are unclear e.g. technical words, dialect words, slang and so on. They then investigate the meanings and create text specific dictionaries or glossaries.

Filed under reading education texts questioning teaching english

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One of my first big school projects was on banned books. I believe I was in 5th or 6th grade and I started reading all of them, trying to figure out what rubbed people the wrong way.

I believe that project was reoccurring for years because it fascinates me why people would ban things. I also enjoy how the list changes over time and for different age groups. And how many of these books I read as a requirement for school.

As it is “banned book” week, I am sharing the ALA list with you all.

I have read 15 of these, which means I have lots more reading to do. (Also the numbering is mega weird or I am too tired for it to make sense to me.)

Filed under banned books ala teaching education reading literature

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“The Casual Vacancy is set in a small community, which involves writing characters who are adolescents all the way up to people in their sixties. I loved nineteenth century novels that centre on a town or village. This is my attempt to do a modern version. As a writer you have to write what you want to write; or rather what you need to write. I needed to write this book.

(via englishteachingtoolbox-deactiva)

Filed under JK Rowling The Casual Vacancy books reading literature stories novels book club

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A few people from my major and a teacher we all had last semester are doing a book club this year. We’re starting off with The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I’m really excited about it, since I haven’t read it in a year. I’m also really pumped to talk about it with other people. I think we may plan a group trip to the movie when it comes out!

I guess this is a really pointless post, but I’m really into this whole book club thing.

Filed under books reading

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So I just got into a fight with this soon-to-be freshman about reading. He told me he hates books, because you just sit there. I gave him a lecture, a literal lecture, about how there is absolutely no valid excuse as to not like reading. I understand not liking to read certain books, but in general there is no excuse. If you say you ‘hate it’ then you are just lazy and lack imagination. Even if you have dyslexia, I get that it’s frustrating, but it is completely 100% possible to learn to overcome it. So that’s still not a valid excuse. There just is absolutely no reason to hate reading entirely.



And then after I finished my lecture, I realized that I have no life.
But it’s cool
I’ve got books.

….I cannot believe that someone would say this seriously.

I can think of dozens of legitimate reasons not to like reading.

  • It’s too difficult
  • It’s too expensive
  • It’s too time consuming
  • It’s too passive
  • It’s too sedentary
  • It’s too solitary
  • It’s too abstract

And yes - Each and every one of those is legitimate. 

Having a learning disability is not simply a “frustrating” experience that can be overcome with hard work. I’ve worked with many students who will likely remain illiterate for the rest of their lives. They’re wonderful people, but combinations of learning disorders, problems with vision, problems with vocabulary and speech, problems understanding chronology, etc mean that no amount of hard work or dedication will improve their reading level very far. They have to work with the skills they have and those skills often do not include reading books.

That freshman who doesn’t like to read because you just “sit there”? That’s a valid concern. He’s likely a person who requires more socialization and interaction in his entertainment. Reading by yourself can be a very isolating experience. Because no matter how much you want to believe it, the characters in a book aren’t real. They can’t hold a conversation with you or react to your decisions. That can make all the difference in the world to some people who are more extroverted and need human interaction in order to raise their energy levels.

Reading for leisure is a form of entertainment just like any other. While “reading” itself spans a huge amount of activities in our daily life (we read while driving, on the Internet, texting, etc), the hobby of “reading” has a more limited scope that isn’t universally appealing. Not every person in the world is going to enjoy it. Simply saying “I don’t like it” is a perfectly legitimate reason, just like saying you don’t enjoy playing tennis or going to the movies is legitimate. Are you lazy and unimaginative because you don’t see the beauty and joy of playing the sousaphone every day? I should hope not.

I get so horribly tired of people who think of reading as a monolithic experience. Just because you (and I) enjoy the process does not mean that other people are required to. It’s doesn’t mean that they are worth less because they choose to spend their time in a different way. It doesn’t mean that you have the right to control and judge their behavior.

And this post was seriously tagged “Fuck you”? Really? A person makes a statement about his own personal preferences, which have zero impact on the rest of the world and do not interfere with anyone else’s well being, and you respond with “Fuck you”? Goddamn it, bookworms. This is why we get beaten up in school.

Reblogging for the commentary.

(via knerdy)

Filed under reading books education critique