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Reading Strategies Applied To Reading Communities


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									      Reading Strategies Applied To Reading Communities

                                                                      Margarida Coelho

                                               Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão
                                                 do Instituto Politécnico de Portalegre


Reading Communities do not easily conform to a pre-established model: they emerge in
different contexts and try to answer a whole different variety of issues and problems. In
order to address this rich potential diversity, the 5 one-hour Modules/ Sessions here
presented aims at suggesting a set of various activities directed at different types of
Reading Groups. Thus, a session may suit a group who, for a number of reasons, has
more difficulties in reading, whereas one other session may be adequate to a group of
people with a high literacy level.

In common, the suggestions here listed wish to present a number of ideas to facilitators
of different types of Reading Groups and try to escape the relevant but more common
meeting structure of plot summary, review of particular interpretations, and
comprehension questions. As we understand it, the key task of any Reading
Community, more than aiming at reaching the summary and comprehension of the text,
must question it, build upon it, and take us a step further in our current understanding of

Before presenting the sessions, there are a few common sense ideas that, despite their
obviousness, all the mentors/facilitators of Reading Groups should bear in mind.

   Reading group mentors are facilitators, not the centre of the reading communities.

   Flexibility is a key to success. The ways in which we can talk about a novel or short
    story is limited only by our imagination.

   The tastes and interests of each particular reading community should be considered
    carefully. The facilitator should suggest activities, which can be highly structured or
    open ended- both types being “right”.

   No reading group meeting is alike. However, as each particular session relates to the
    previous and to the subsequent sessions, there are strategies and activities which
    tend to recur, and some tasks which tend to be done at various points with each
    book/short story. Having this in mind, make sure that you aren‟t either „using up‟ or
    duplicating activities you would like to save till later or repeating the ones you have
    often used.
    The feedback you received from the participants in previous sessions should be
     – Are there some task-types that your group is particularly keen on?
     – Were there activities that didn‟t go so well?
    (A Post-Session Record sheets for each session should help us record this

    The necessary resources for each session should be prepared in advance (objects,
     drawings, worksheets, Powerpoints…).

    The Reading Group meetings are a privileged time for its members to explore
     possibilities and develop understandings as opposed to recounting already acquired
     meanings. The members‟ understandings should be a key focus of the session, so the
     facilitator should encourage doubts and questions more than absolutes and not be
     afraid of picking up on what participants say rather than following a pre-set agenda.
                                       Module 1

Title: Reading Aloud

Key Ideas:

Reading aloud fosters, among other things, the opportunity of
  developing language skills,
  expressing opinions,
  debating and broadening our overall experiences
  developing our competence for appreciating the written text.

Guided reading activities help participants
  become better readers,
  improve comprehension and interest during reading,
  encourage predicting,
  help with selecting what is most important from a text, and with organizing the
     new information encountered
  help prioritize what is most essential and to connect this information in some sort
     of meaningful and organized way.

Objectives / expected outcomes:
  Help participants to focus mentally, raise questions, and stimulate discussion.
  Enhance the idea of „belonging‟ to a group or community.
  Previewing (learning strategies to know about a text before really reading it).
  Skimming to get an overview of the content and organization of a text.
  Acquiring knowledge in an informal and sociable context and develop one‟ own
    language, literacy and communication skills.

Procedures (brief outline):
1. Choose a text to read aloud. Limit yourself to a text (or a selection of it), which takes
   no more than 10 to 15 minutes to read.

2. Briefly introduce the text to the group. Invite predictions about it (the title, the
  images, some key words, etc…). Anticipate and highlight key points (more complex
  concepts/ uncommon words/ etc.) or issues raised in the text.

3. Section off the text by paragraphs or some other means. Invite volunteers to read
   aloud different sections.

4. As the reading progresses, stop at several places to emphasize certain points, raise or
   ask brief questions, or ask for examples. Allow brief discussions if members show an
   interest in a certain part.

5. The Read-aloud session is followed by discussion. You should allow time and space
   for spontaneous reaction and comments. Examples of questions to be raised:
       What new information did you get from what was just read?
       What do you think about (…name of character)?
       What do you think may happen next?
       What is significant about what we just read?
       How does what we just read relate to our lives / to what you or we have previously

      Variations and Follow-Up Activities:

1.            Do the reading yourself if you feel it will enhance the presentation of the
     text. Vary reading modes: each "taking turns" in reading aloud allowing others to
     follow along; have the text on the screen of the computer, already divided into
     “chunks” to read; invite someone to read aloud for the group; bring a record of
     someone reading aloud…

2. Stop at planned points during the read aloud to discuss with participants. Consider
   asking participants to
   retell what they have heard;
   use context to guess word meaning;
   paraphrase what they have heard;
   relate to what they have heard;
   reflect on what they have heard;
   describe aspects of what they have heard;
   predict what will happen next;
   make links between the read aloud material and earlier class learning;
   suggest alternative endings.

3. Choose several words from the short story in advance (You should choose words that
   tell about characters, setting, problem and solution of the short story). Ask the
   members of the group to use the list of words chosen to
  a) retell the story either orally or on a sheet of paper provided for that and which may
     look roughly like that:
      This story is about …
      This story takes place …
      The main character of the story is … who …
      The problem in the story is when …
      At first, the…
      Then the …
      The problem is solved when…
      I especially liked/disliked …

     b) predict what is to happen and then, after the reading aloud time, confront and
       compare what they expected with what they have read. Draw conclusions. (A good
       idea is to read a seemingly traditional story, with an unexpected ending)

4. Depending on the group you have and on the story to read aloud, it might be a useful
   strategy to let the participants first look through the story for two or three minutes and
  quickly get the sense of the content. (Previewing is a reading strategy that may help
  members of the group to read faster and understand more)

                                      Session 2

Title: Playing games with books

Key Ideas:
There is a wide range of activities we can use in order to provide an accessible way into
reading. Reading Group meetings can involve its members in active, hands-on activity
that may include games, music, photography, cartooning, crafts, film-making,
performance, storytelling and trips out to events, bookshops and a range of other
venues. Reading becomes „a starting point‟ activity and leads the way into other
mediums and other forms of interaction. Other books/readings may come out in the

Objectives / Expected outcomes:
  Providing group members with an opportunity for enjoyment and social
  Reacting to opinions stated by others and expressing your own opinions.
  Following rules established by the community one belongs to.
  Giving participants the opportunities to engage in an activity that reproduces the
    light atmosphere of playing a game, and makes it easier and less stressful to react
    to other people‟s opinions.

Procedures/Brief outline:
1. The participants are invited to talk about the book by playing a game. The connexion
   between books and games can be addressed to briefly at this early stage of the
   discussion (“word games”; readers and writers; detective stories, etc.)

2. The first game is introduced. There is a special “pack of cards” on the table, each card
   having an image / a drawing or a symbol representing or suggesting a theme in the
   novel. Each participant is asked to draw an “image cards”. The card is used as a
   prompt for a general debate. The person who draws the card can “pass” his/her turn
   and not comment on the card. Two rounds should be enough.

3. In the second card game, there are quotations of the novel (the quotations should refer
   to turning points in the book). The procedure is the same.

4. The final step is a card game built by the participants themselves. Each of them is
   given two blank cards where they are to write either an adjective describing a
   character, or a sentence from the novel which particularly (in a positive or negative
  way) impressed them. The task done, the cards are all shuffled, laid on the table,
  drawn and the discussion begins.

5. Before closing the session, the facilitator should make sure the major key topics were

   Variations and Follow-Up Activities:

1. Instead of playing the game using cards, you can use the Powerpoint software for
   presenting, one after the other, the sentences / words/ images / quotations/
   provocative reviews /etc. to be discussed.

2. The final game, the one built by the participants themselves, can be replaced by a
   guessing game: each participant writes / says two words which identify, for him/her
   personally, one of the characters in the novel. The others try to identify who the
   character is, and they agree or disagree with the connection suggested.

                                       Session 3
Title: A Literary Poster

Key Ideas:
A reading strategy that helps with comprehension of a text is the ability to visualize, of
turning words into images. Having the book with us, we can always check with the text
when necessary, to complete the details.

Besides, by conveying into a product such as a poster or any other form of
representation, the impression and knowledge you got from reading a book, reading
groups facilitators can emphasize to the members the idea of how important it is to “say
it in my own words” ( self-image improves).

This type of “craft-making” (just like play-acting, or journal/ letter writing, for example)
aims at reinforcing the "subjective" feeling of responding or reacting to a reading and
appeals to people‟s creativity.

Objectives / Expected outcomes:
   Arguing for or against a book you read (or part of it);
   Creating interest in others in reading a book;
   Visualizing what you read;
   Explaining your choices, as well as the thinking behind your visual representation;
   Summarizing;
    Identifying with characters;
    Sharing your work or your ideas with the other participants.

Procedures/Brief outline:
1. General discussion about the book (main themes/ characters/ turning points in the
   action/ conclusion/ setting/ …). You may want to ask members to share those things
   that stand out in that particular book or that they thought were funny, scary, or
2. Ask the group members to think of all the events that have happened in the novel and
   to suggest how they would “draw” or compose a Poster which would include those
   key elements. The aim of the poster to “build” (either with real materials or only
   virtually) should be determined in advance by the facilitator or by the participant
   himself: promote the book; summarize it; highlight a key event; redraw the cover;
   rewrite the blurb, etc.

3. Allow time and provide materials for the participants to perform the task.

4. Members share their work and explain to the others the reasons which led them to the
   choices they made (for a particular sentence/ colour/ character/ setting/ form…)

    Variations and Follow-Up Activities:
1. All the activities suggested may be either real or virtual, ie, instead of really picking
   up the pencils or any other materials and actually doing it, group members may only
   describe or argument for the type of drawing they would make,.

2.The activities to suggest, depending on the groups we are mentoring (age/ interests
  already shared/ main purpose for meeting …) may be:
   drawing;
   creating a bookmark with drawings or any other type of craft that sums up/makes
      me remind of the book or promotes the book;
   suggesting a new image for the cover of the book; suggesting a new text for the
      blurb on the cover, etc.

                                       Session 4

Title: Strong Profiles

Key Ideas:
Taking sides and expressing one‟s opinion when you are among a group of people is not
always easy. However, when you feel you „belong‟ to a group and there is no evaluation
pressing falling on you, you feel more comfortable and confident to express your
thoughts. A reading group can be a supporting group in this sense too and offer people
the environment and the opportunity to „say it‟.
Objectives / Expected outcomes:
  Analyzing cause and effect;
  Summarizing;
  Making generalizations;
  Making inferences;
  Making connections;
  Encouraging participants to listen to and respond to the ideas of others.

Procedures/Brief outline:

1. Use this activity with novels/short stories where the characters‟ personalities, either
   because of the positive or the negative profile they display, occupy the centre of the
   discussion about the book. Have reading group members choose from the novel one
   or more characters whose attributes can be highlighted either in a positive or in a
   negative manner.

2. Ask them to draw a profile / supply information about the characters chosen,
  including information about his/her physical features, strengths and weaknesses,
  hobbies, relation with others and with nature/the city, and so on.

3. Ask them to describe one or two scenes or situations, which, according to them,
  reveal that character‟s positive or negative profile. Allow time for discussion and
  enhance as much as possible quotations from the text to support the ideas expressed.
  Very often returning to the text and re-reading a certain passage brings a slightly new
  focus on situations.

4. Close to the end of the session sum up (or ask participants to do it) the ideas
  conveyed by the participants about the negative or positive profile of a character.
  Stress the elements that came out of the discussion and which introduce “new
  perspectives” on the character.

    Variations and Follow-Up Activities:
1. Instead of concentrating on character, this type of activity may focus on themes or
   key concepts deeply present in the text.

2. Use this activity to provide participants with a template for Books Reading Comment
   which may be quite useful to “organize” their readings. In this Log they would note
   down their particular reflection on character descriptions, summaries and points of
   view, as well as other things they find interesting or adequate. Agree with them if that
   Log is to be kept as personal data or if it is to be brought for the following Reading
   Group Sessions, as possible discussion prompt.
                                     Session 5

Title: Mapping meanings, motions and emotions

Key Ideas:

Some books we read are woven in a smooth way and let our thoughts run about without
much fuzz.

Others, on the contrary, span along their pages a whole set of emotions and changes;
they make us face such strong challenges that our attitudes, our (un)consciously held
beliefs, and our positions on certain issues, can be seriously disturbed.

Drawing a map of the different the settings, major events, and significant lines of
meanings and emotions that structure the novel (and the readers) is the task we suggest

Besides that, the map to be drawn of the book (Heart of Darkness, or Lord Jim, by
Joseph Conrad would be good options) can show both the characters‟ and the readers‟
routes of meanings and emotions inside the book. How do these two paths relate to each
other? How do they progress? Which obstacles are overcome? Is there ever a „green
calm valley‟ in the map of the book?

Objectives / Expected outcomes:

    Reflecting on challenges to your beliefs and values and examining your personal
     responses to those challenges.
    Considering someone else‟s arguments on a topic and being able to argue for or
     against them.
    Confronting, reformulating and refining or changing our own interpretation.
    Reacting to others' ideas and reach new interpretations, which continue to be
     treated conditionally, always subject to further development.
    Engaging in a rewarding activity that makes us think about ourselves, improves
     self-confidence, stimulates the development of a sense of inclusion and belonging
     and brings enjoyment.
    Working as a team member to solve problems.

Procedures (brief outline):
   1. Members of the group are invited to reflect briefly on the settings, major events,
      and most significant lines of meanings present in the book.
   2. Suggest the task to be performed: creating a double map of the physical and of
      the emotional/spiritual journey taken by the character(s).
   3. Have a A5 sheet of plain white paper and start by drawing some key landmarks
      on the map plan.
   4. Outline the physical movement of the novel: where did they go from…to, etc.
    5. Focus now on the emotional development of the character and ask the members
       of the group to draw a map (using colours? Symbols?) of the character‟s
    6. Elicit the groups‟ own reactions to those emotions and conclude by suggesting
       members to draw (as a post-reading activity) the map of their own emotional
       journey, were they to live the story of life experienced by the character(s) in that

    Variations and Follow-Up Activities:

1. Divide the members of the group and have them draw to maps to be confronted when

2. Have a map with the physical movements of the novel already prepared. Let the
  group decide if they agree with the suggestion and when a consensus is reached have
  labels / post it notes /small cards with adjectives describing the emotional
  development of the character. Jot them on the table and let the people choose them
  and assign each to a specific place. Allow time for arguing and reaching agreements.

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