More Than Just Words…
To coin an age old expression, “Sometimes a rose is just a rose." For the young reader however, deciphering its larger symbolism,
recognizing the significance of its color, smell, texture and how it relates to the setting and characters within the story is key to a stronger understanding of the work being read. It is the foundation necessary for a lifelong appreciation and love of reading. How does the burgeoning reader reach this point of understanding? These five simple steps will help guide your young reader to achieve this precious goal…
Visualize - Paint the picture: Visualization is an excellent tool toward greater comprehension of reading material. As readers mature, the concept of seeing what they have read makes a seamless transition from words on paper to an image in the mind’s eye. This visualization brings clarity as well as individual interpretation unique to each reader. Some will see a brilliant red rose, new and fully bloomed, while others will see it as pink, slightly browned around the edges, and beginning ever so slowly to fade. As facilitator of this first step, it is important to guide readers to recognize subtle nuances of writing which offer a clearer message being sent by the author. Although important, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are not the sole factors for the reader to notice. In fact, recognizing the placement of these words, along with the style and tone presented by the author are of equal importance.
Pause - Be in the moment: Writers write so the reader can seek refuge within the words, find solace in the message, or simply escape to a place never before imagined. Becoming lost in the essence of the story allows the reader to become a part it. When the reader no longer focuses on each word, but reads through the individual words, participating within the passages and ideas, the full essence of the work has been embraced. On the surface, points one and two are mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary, it is a development over time, allowing the work into the student’s imagination, and not allowing the student’s imagination into the work. Hanging on every word works only if every word is worth hanging on to!
Feel - Embrace the emotions of the characters: Encouraging students to take time to understand the characters offers opportunities for readers to relate and identify with them. Are these characters protagonists, antagonists, or secondary figures? Stepping back and pondering the basics of who, what, where, when, how, and, why these characters exist in a group discussion fosters insight into a myriad of possibilities held within the interpretations of those reading the material and allows for open dialog and spirited debate.
If in doubt - check–or use a dictionary! The steps thus far are fruitless if the words' meanings are misunderstood or unknown to the reader. Students reading a work containing terms which have been previously unseen need to feel secure in simply looking up the word. Assisting them with a list of possible new words and meanings, prior to beginning the work is a fabulous first step. Supporting the use of a dictionary for words not placed on the list is a perfect second step. The learning process is reinforced by not only providing the necessary tools of the original list, but also by having dictionaries readily available. Leaving several blank spaces at the end of the original word list, encourages the student to write any words he or she finds on the same sheet, broadening vocabulary and comprehension.
Fear not! - If it is worth reading, it is worth reading well! It takes a student time and patience. The same time and patience offered by a caring and receptive teacher is often all that student needs to make the wondrous journey from simply a reader, to a student of literature and an admirer of the written work.
The journey of reading is one of joy and discovery, filled with all the mystery and intrigue a good book can provide. Aiding young readers in developing this invaluable skill is truly one of the greatest gifts a teacher can bestow.