Reading Response Exercise #21: Comprehension and Prediction

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Do you wonder what will happen next in your reading? Why? What has the author done with the plot or characters that makes you want to know more? Given what you already know about the story, what do you think will happen next? What has happened in the story to lead you to expect this?

Write or discuss your response.

For Pre-readers: Read the story at least halfway through then stop. Ask your pre-reader for their response to this week’s questions. Discuss their ideas. And don’t forget to ask them what they think will happen next. When done predicting, finish the story. Have fun together!

Play With Your Words Prompt #22 Let Your Imagination Take Flight!

Have you ever been at the top of a tall, tall building and looked down into the streets below? Or maybe you’ve stood atop a high cliff and peered down into the valley. The view you get from a place like this is called a “bird’s eye view.”

Imagine a setting; it could be a busy cityscape, the highest tower of a cliff-top castle, a hover-port above a moon base, or a steep mountainside overlooking a green valley.

Describe the setting you see before you. What does the landscape look like? What do the buildings and rooftops look like? Are there streets, rivers, parks? What do the people look like? What kinds of animals can you see? And how do they all look from above?

Write a bird’s eye description of this place. Consider not just what you see, but how it feels to be looking down from your vantage point. What does the air smell like, taste like? What do you hear? Make it so vivid your reader can feel as thought he or she is there.

Staying Up Past Midnight to Finish a Book

The other night, I stayed up until 1:00 A.M. to finish a book I’d been reading for about two weeks. It was a long book, 820 pages, but gripping. Bedtime rolled around, and I looked to see how many pages were left to the end. There were thirty-ish of them, I don’t remember the number precisely, but I lied to myself and said I can finish tonight and still get to bed at a reasonable time. So I finished reading the novel.

Immediately, I regretted it. I was done with the book. (Fortunately it is part of series that quite obviously is not finished. However, it was published in 2009, and I’m sure the author is going to need some time to write the next door-stopper.) I was sad. Sad!

Why?

The characters I had come to love and their fascinating story was over, at least for a while. I had been enjoying it so much! It had become an eagerly anticipated part of my evening routine. I hated to see it end.

So how did this author grab my attention and hang onto with a death grip?

First, with her characters. I love the main characters in this series. It started out with just two, but now includes a whole extended family and friends. Earlier in the series I sometimes got annoyed when the story shifted to secondary characters, but now I love so many of them and am still fascinated with those I may merely like or tolerate. How did she manage this? The characters in this series are passionate. There are things and relationships they either greatly value or greatly desire. They are very human. They can be admirable, inspiring, frustrating, even offensive, but not a one of them is all just one quality.

In addition, the depth of historical detail really makes her world come alive, and she takes you to such interesting places—a colonial printer’s shop, an American fort on the brink of falling to the British, a ship pursued and boarded by a British man-of-war, Edinburgh, the Scottish highlands, the homes of French aristocrats, Philadelphia at the time of the American revolution, British army camps and American army camps, and the heart of a family whose patriarch is dying. It is fascinating.

Lastly, she leaves me hungry. As an author I am often tempted to “spill all the beans” in a novel. Picture book authors are encouraged to leave spaces in their stories for the illustrators to do their work. But even novels can benefit from this “hole-y” philosophy. The author of this novel leaves things hanging. It’s not just a matter of cliff-hanger chapter endings (which I also firmly believe in). It probably helps that she has subplots and subplots and subplots. However, it is the way she manages them that keeps me wanting more. She may stay with one plotline for a series of chapters before jumping to a different set of characters and their struggles, and often when one subplot is winding down, she’ll leave it before playing out the full resolution. When she comes back to those characters, it’s clear the past issues have been resolved off-stage and the story is moving on. She even ended the novel without resolving all the plot threads.

I can imagine her working feverishly until her editor says, “Just give me the novel. I don’t care if you’re done. We need to publish this book.”

This leaves me, the reader, in a very precarious position. What if this author drops dead before the series is complete? The thought is deeply disturbing. Can I move on without knowing how the lives of these people I have come to love have played out? (Note the author has convinced me they are people, not characters.)

Dear author, please take care of yourself. Eat your vegetables, take your vitamins, and exercise (only not so much it cuts into your writing time). I and many others eagerly await that next book. Thank you for doing what you do so well.

Reading Response Exercise #20 Setting—World Building

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, think about what you have read.

Writers of fiction, even of contemporary, modern-day fiction, create make-believe worlds and place their characters in them. How does the author of your text make his or her story seem like it takes place in a real world?

Quote some words or phrases from the text that show how this author did this.

Write down or discuss your response.

Are you working with a preschooler? Ask the child to tell you if the world of the story feels real or not. Ask the child to tell you why he or she gave a particular answer.

Play With Your Words # 21—Voice Exercise

Look at the picture below.

Write a first person account of this dog’s vacation. Remember a first person account can only include the experiences, observations, thoughts, and feelings of the narrating character. Everything is filtered through his or her lenses (or sunglasses :-)—Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Consider your character’s manner of speaking, word choice, and worldview.

Now write at least a page telling the story of this trip as this critter would tell it.

When you are done, share your writing (with friends, family, writing partners or here). Compliment the strengths in each other’s writing.

For parents and teachers of preschoolers, ask the child to tell you the dog’s story. Write down what he or she says. Read it back to the child when done, pointing to each word as you say it to reinforce the connection between the written and spoken word.

Have fun!

P.S. A word about the image. I cut this advertisement out of a magazine, years ago to use as a writing prompt. Unfortunately, I cut out only the picture. I have searched the internet hoping to find information about this ad. I would so love to give the photographer or company this ad represented credit for their work. If you know who they are, please let me know.

Teachers’ File Drawer: Corny Quatrains

Valentine’s Day is coming next month, and this is one of my favorite lessons I taught for Valentine’s day. It’s a “one-shot” lesson. We just spend the one day on it. Because of that, it often provided a fun break in the midst of a longer unit. It also provided a mini review on some poetry terms.

To start, present your students with this old gem:

Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.

Ask your students if they can identify what form this poem takes. Hopefully someone will come up with the term quatrain or stanza. If no one does, move on to the next step.

Remind your students that poems can be written with a specific rhythm or rhyme schemes, and that poems can be divided into stanzas. It helps to liken a stanza of poetry to a paragraph of prose.

Ask your students how many lines in the initiating poem? Obviously, they’ll say, “four.”

Explain that stanzas with four lines are called quatrains. In addition teach or remind your students of the term couplet and explain that a stanza written in couplet form would have two lines. You may introduce the terms tercet (a three-line stanza) and quintain, quintet, or cinquain (a three-line stanza) in addition if you wish so that your students will understand that not all poetic stanzas have to take the form of a quatrain.

Next discuss rhyme schemes.

Go back to the original poem and ask the students which lines rhyme with which. Show them how to note the rhyme scheme by labeling each line with a letter denoting its unique end rhyme. Go over the original poem and label the lines together.

  • Roses are red,      A
  • Violets are blue,   B
  • Sugar is sweet,     C
  • And so are you.   B

Explain that a quatrain can have other kinds of rhyme schemes as well, for example AABB, or ABAA…

If your students are keeping learning journals, you might have them jot down the terms stanza, quatrain, couplet, and rhyme scheme along with their definitions as you introduce this material. However, please try to keep this introductory material to less than half the class period, because the second half of the lesson is where the fun comes in.

Write a couple of corny quatrains as a class. Start your first one with the traditional “Roses are red…” line.

Then write a second one starting with a different noun/adjective pair. Here’s one I wrote:

Candy is sweet,
Chocolate divine.
Please say you will
Be my valentine.

Now by this point, inevitably, someone in the class will get silly and suggests a not-so-nice valentine. That’s okay. Keep your sense of humor.

Then…challenge your students to write their own corny quatrains. First, require them to write something sweet (after all we began by talking about corny quatrains). Then allow them to write something “sour”—one of those not-so-nice valentines.

Remind them that good poetry plays with sound and rhythm, and employs specific word choices to express strong ideas with a minimal number of words.

Then pass out an instruction sheet that includes both the instructions and scoring criteria for the lesson.

Let your students write and share their quatrains with their neighbors. When you’re down to ten or fifteen minutes of class time, invite students to share their quatrains. This is usually a lot of fun, and after the first brave person or two shares, everyone else wants to as well. Praise the strengths of the quatrains shared.

Collect the quatrains and score according to the following criteria:

  • 1 Sweet Quatrain:   3 pts.
  • 1 Sour Quatrain:     3 pts.
  • Ideas and Content: 2 pts.
  • Word Choice           2 pts.—Lesson total: 10 pts.

Reading Response Exercise #19: Theme/Author Purpose–Stretch Out Your “Feelers”

Read for at least twenty to thirty minutes. When you are done, reflect on what you’ve read.

How do you think the author of your text felt as he or she wrote what you read? What was the author’s goal in writing the way she did? What words and phrases did he use that led you to believe this?

Write down then talk about your response.

For parents and teachers of preschoolers, read the book aloud and ask the child (or children) the first question of the reading exercise. Discuss your answers.