Resources and ideas for exploring books and inspiring young readersJune 6th, 2018
Some great teaching resources and tools are available to help you create readers in your classroom or school library. Ideas and resources such as reading communities, thinking and planning tools, and teacher notes can provide catalysts for exploring books in depth and inspiring young readers.
Building reading communities
Is it your natural instinct, when you’ve found a book you love, to want to share it with someone else? Maybe you compare the book to others by the author or in the genre, or talk about how the book made you feel or think? Perhaps you read aloud a favourite part, or press the book into their hands and urge them to read it too?
Sharing reading enthusiasms and interests, and talking with others about what you found entertaining, surprising or moving about books is one of the strongest ways to join and build a reading community, and is true whether it’s a chat with a reading friend, at a monthly book club meeting over wine, or in a classroom with students.
Here are a few resources that could enrich and inform those 'book-ish sharings', or inspire new ways to dig deeper into fiction through discussion and activities.
Holding it up to the light
Just one proviso — it is essential to retain the pleasure of reading. We’re talking about enhancing the reading experience, giving new insights and contexts, and not about spending so much time picking a book apart that the delight and spark of it all are extinguished.
Poet Paul Janeczko warns about the Autopsy School of Poetics where a poem is analysed until there is nothing left to talk about, 'and there are no survivors in the class', and former US Poet Laureate, Billy Collins, in his poem Introduction to Poetry similarly bemoans those who torture a poem to death instead of simply 'holding it up to the light'.
Opening the book
Let’s start with the National Library Services to Schools Open the Book Thinking and Planning Tool.
These templates are designed to help teachers and librarians facilitate discussions with students about books. The range of question prompts invite readers to look closely at various elements of a book — the text, illustrations, or book design, and to consider how they add to your understanding and enjoyment. The questions are not intended to be a checklist, but rather a menu to pick and choose from, catalysts for noticing, reflecting, and discussion.
Using resources from publishers
Many publishers offer supporting material and teaching notes about their books with ideas for classroom activities or prompts for in-depth discussion and exploration of a particular title. Go online to search for particular titles and 'teacher notes' and you may find a mix of suggested classroom approaches, library or book club ideas, activity sheets, biographical author or illustrator information, and more.
As a starting point, have a look at what’s on offer from the following:
- Teacher notes that don’t kill the book — Gecko Press
- Teachers notes — One Tree House New Zealand's page includes a Level 1 internally assessed Achievement Standard 90852 (1.8) ‘Connections between Texts’ template from an author and English teacher, Denis Wright.
- Teachers notes — Penguin New Zealand
- A helping hand for teachers and librarians — Walker Books Classroom
- Resources for teachers and librarians — Candlewick Press.
As well as teacher notes, publishers often provide templates for fun activities, from colouring pages, word finds or simple puzzles, to crafts or ways to celebrate bookish anniversaries. When my niece was seven and busy reading the Junie B Jones series by Barbara Park, we spent a happy afternoon cutting out downloadable Junie paper dolls and clothes (pdf, 1.95MB) and laminating the dressed dolls to use as bookmarks. For my brother-in-law who adores peas, this Mini Grey one page book is the only recipe book he will ever need!
Harnessing the creativity
The reader is the shadow of the writer and the writer is the shadow of the reader.
— Harry Hood
Reading and writing are inextricably linked, and Kate De Goldi and Susan Paris, editors of Annual and Annual 2, have made the connections explicit and accessible with a set of free, comprehensive, relevant teacher notes to support students’ own writing. See also the Annual website.
These amazing teaching notes harness the creativity of the various writing forms showcased in the two Annual anthologies and suggest ways teachers can use them as mentor texts or frameworks to inspire and encourage students with their own creative writing. These teacher notes are the next best thing to taking a creative writing workshop with Kate in person!
Exploring the backstory
For some readers, knowing the backstory about a book adds to their reading enjoyment. What was the author’s inspiration for the book? Was it something from their own life? What technique and materials did the illustrator use and why? Is there a video of them at work? What hidden clues are there for an observant reader to discover in the pictures? What’s the story’s own story of genesis and publication?
- Apparently, The Very Hungry Caterpillar was almost called 'A Week with Willi Worm' — if so, would it have become the modern classic that’s sold a copy a minute since it was published in 1969?!
- Have you noticed the little white bull terrier that appears in all of Chris Van Allsburg’s sophisticated picture books?
- Did you make the connection with Buster Keaton and his pork pie hat in Lane Smith’s It’s a Book? And how about the inspiration from William Steig, Maurice Sendak, and Ruth Krauss?
- What did you think of that scratchy 'burnt stick' font in Fox by Margaret Wild, illustrated by Ron Brooks? Perfect, isn’t it!
How to use resources — further thoughts
How do you use resources such as these for discussion, background, or writing inspiration in your own practice?
In the classroom
- When do students have time to share and discuss their reading with their peers?
- How are they guided in this? What are the catalysts and scaffolds for thoughtful discussion?
- How is the school’s reading for pleasure culture developed through regular book discussion and activities?
- How explicitly is literature used for writing inspiration, frameworks, and models?
In the library
- How do students make connections between books and related online resources to enhance their reading experiences?
- How are your keen readers taken to another level through conversation, book club activities, and reading challenges?
For your own professional development
- As a teacher or librarian, where do you go to find out more about children’s and YA literature?
- How do you share these resources and discoveries with your students and other staff in your school?