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Teaching Reading Strategies with “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty I use the short story “The Sniper” by Liam O’Flaherty to teach reading strategies at the beginning of the semester because it is high interest and relatively short. The focus of this activity is to model good reading. The steps I use are as follows: 1. Discuss the difference between active and passive reading mentioning the types of behaviors that result from passive reading (skimming without processing, distraction, skipping unknown vocabulary at the expense of narrative comprehension, etc.). Introduce the students to the active reading strategies in the form of a bookmark that they can use to remind them as they read. 2. I like to use Jim Burke’s Interactive Notes which can be reproduced from http://www.englishcompanion.com/pdfDocs/interactivenotes.pdf. This method is less intensive and threatening than annotating. If you don’t like the notes or are short on paper, you can have the students draw three columns on a sheet of notebook paper and label them: Before, During, and After. 3. BEFORE: In the first column, have students set a purpose, preview, establish prior knowledge, and make predictions by prompting them with questions. (See completed sample activity below.) For example: a. What is our purpose for encountering this text? What do we want to gain from it? Based on our purpose for reading, what is important? b. Just by looking at the pictures, title, and author’s name what predictions can you make about the text? c. What do you already know about the text, the author, or the subject? 4. DURING: Before starting ask the students to write down any connections and questions that come to mind as you read the story aloud in the second column. Stop at different points in the story, and model your own questions, connections, and inferences, encouraging them to write them down. Encourage them to draw the setting in the column if they need to see the building in order to understand where the characters are in relationship to each other. Stop again at especially descriptive sections (like the gun shot wound description), and ask if they can see it. If they agree, ask why. (See completed sample activity below) For example: a. When I read the words “civil war”, I don’t make the connection to a war in Ireland. What does it remind you of? b. How would you describe the sniper? Why do you think he is the way he is? c. Every time I read this story, I still wonder why he would choose to light the cigarette, knowing it might mean giving up his location. Did you wonder this too or do you know what he might have been thinking? 5. AFTER: Once you have finished reading, ask the students for their initial responses. As you address them, categorize the type of response. I do this part of the lesson with less prompting because I want to see, and want them to see, what types of responses they have naturally without influencing them. If the discussion never gets off the ground, then I ask questions. For example: Student Teacher I thought the story was boring. Good, you are making a judgment about the story. Can you be more specific about why you feel that way? Did anymore make any contradictory judgments? How do you feel about the way the story ends? I still don’t understand this… Great, asking questions is important in every stage of active reading. Why do you think you are confused? Does anyone else feel this way? Can anyone clear up the confusion for us? Maybe we should summarize the plot quickly by determining the key events. The story reminds me of this movie… Great! Anytime you can connect the text to something else you are familiar with can help you understand the text better. Does anyone else have any other connections to this text? (Silence)… Okay, so what? Meaning, why is this story important? Why do you think the author felt it was worth writing? Remind the students throughout the activity that some strategies can be used before, during, and after reading such as predicting and questioning. Depending on the length of the text, this process can become more fluid. This activity is only effective if the concepts are reinforced and referred to by the same words. Following this activity I use more specific activities, and have the students focus on one or two skills at a time. For additional information and some great activities to encourage active reading, check out the following websites: http://www.greece.k12.ny.us/instruction/ela/6- 12/Reading/Reading%20Strategies/reading%20strategies%20index.htm Website that provides several different activities teachers can do to encourage good reading http://www.sasked.gov.sk.ca/docs/ela20/teach5.html Thorough website about reading and different strategies including vocabulary decoding http://www.readingrockets.org/articles/82 Jim Burkes’ list of things to do before/during/after reading Sample Active Reading Chart for “The Sniper” Before During After (Purpose) I am reading this I didn’t realize other countries have had Shocking ending! story to practice reading civil wars. I think civil war must mean a strategies, so I must try to pay war within a country. Sometimes I feel cheated closer attention to the story when stories end this way. I and my thoughts when I am Ascetic? Fanatic? feel like the author has reading. tricked me and in some ways “…the eyes of a man who is used to looking left me hanging. (Prior Knowledge) at death.” Snipers – sharp shooters and This sounds important because it tells me I wonder what would come soldiers so much about who the sniper is and what next now that he knows what his life has been like. he did. How does he feel? Movies and TV shows about What would his family think? war Why is he on the roof? The thing that interested me WWII, WWI, Civil War in I wonder why he chose to smoke the the most is the mental and America cigarette. emotional stages the sniper goes through and how that is (Predictions) Who is shooting at him? related to anyone who lives O’Flaherty sounds Irish with war. Armored car = Saving Private Ryan The story will probably be I think my reactions and my about a sniper during a war. “Gray monster” helps me visualize the car quick sympathy for the sniper are very surprising. Why do I The picture makes me think it How does the woman know he is up there? care about him and hope he will take place in a city. doesn’t get shot even though When he shoots the woman, it disturbs me; he shoots the woman? I don’t yet, I feel sympathetic towards him. I am even know what he is fighting rooting for him. Why? for. I was afraid he was going to try to dig out I think O’Flaherty is making the bullet with his knife. a statement about war and the effects it has on people. How is he going to get off of the roof? I find his escape plan confusing and have trouble visualizing it. Maybe I’m reading it too quickly because I’m in a hurry to see if he lives. I think his joy at shooting the other soldier goes back to his fanaticism. I notice that the story slows down when he shoots the other sniper because it starts to feel like the slow motion part of a movie. I am surprised that he feels remorse. Him almost shooting himself is strangely funny to me and to him. Why does he want to see the body?
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