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Reading Strategies Applied To Reading Communities Margarida Coelho Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão do Instituto Politécnico de Portalegre Introduction 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 it. 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 considered: – 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 information) 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 read? 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 process. Objectives / Expected outcomes: Providing group members with an opportunity for enjoyment and social engagement. 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 covered. 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 ridiculous. 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 here. 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 emotions. 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 book. . Variations and Follow-Up Activities: 1. Divide the members of the group and have them draw to maps to be confronted when concluded. 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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