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How to read literature

The common approach to literature in many classrooms is to give the child a worksheet with a number of questions about the text. But, whose questions are they?

Giving a child a set of questions that he did not ask, nor was even thinking about sets an unnecessarily arduous task before him, and actually leads him away from contemplative reading toward cold analysis.

An alternative approach to literature is to guide the child toward asking his or her own questions before introducing questions not asked by the child.

The point is to work, as the parent/teacher, from the perceptive level of the child. By setting questions in front of the child before the child has even spoken, you gain no idea what the child gleaned from the story. Rather, you frustrate, discourage, and induce anxiety upon your child.

Once you draw out the perceptions your child acquired from the story, then you are able to assess and ask the appropriate questions that will form a link from your child’s understanding to the story.

Always begin by asking your child to name 2 or 3 characters. He will always select (1) the characters that he remembers, and (2) the characters that he is most interested in.

Second, have your child list 3-5 things each actor/character did.

Third, pick one actor and select one action done by that actor.

Fourth, take the actor and the action and frame them in as a question beginning with the word “should.”

This question is crucial because it marks the difference between looking for an answer in the unfamiliar territory of the story as opposed to drawing an answer from the child’s own moral character. Here you are able to assess your child’s moral development from the answer they give to this simple question.

For example, we can look at Charlotte’s Web.

Name three characters from Charlotte’s Web.

· Wilber

· Charlotte

· Templeton

List 3 things each character did.

· Wilber: talked, cried, asked for help

· Charlotte: talked, spun a web, helped Wilber

· Templeton: ate, brought Charlotte words, complained

Pick one character.

· Charlotte

Pick one action.

· Helped Wilber

Now, should Charlotte have helped Wilber?

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