Overview | What does it mean to be literate? How do our reading experiences shape who we are? In this lesson, students reflect on a formative reading experience and use it as a springboard for tracing their reading lives by creating timelines to reflect past and present experiences. They culminate the personal reading history project through reading, writing and/or discussion.
Materials | Student journals, handouts
Warm-up | Tell students you are going to lead them through a guided meditation meant to help them recreate an important reading experience in their memory.
Begin by asking them to close their eyes and put their heads down on their desks. Turn the lights down or off. Read this script, giving them a few moments to reflect after each prompt:
Today, we’re going to take a trip back through your life as a reader. In your mind, put aside the reading you’re doing for school and go to a place where you have positive feelings about reading. …
Maybe you are being read to or maybe you are reading yourself. …
Try to settle on a single memory … and dwell in it.
What book is being read? What does it look like? Feel like? Are the pages thick or thin? Are there pictures? What colors and images stand out? What does it smell like? Where did this book come from? How did you happen upon it? Did someone give it to you? Did you borrow it from the library? If you chose it, what attracted you to it?
Now, look around. Where are you? Indoors? Outdoors? Cuddled up on a couch or lying in the grass? Are you comfortable? Are you warm or cold?
How old are you?
Are you alone or with someone else?
How do you feel?
Now listen. Who is reading? A parent? Grandparent? Sibling? Try to remember the voice. Is it quiet or loud? Soft? Animated?
Or, are you reading to or by yourself? What sounds surround you? Are you aware of any as you read? Do you imagine any as you read?
What characters do you meet as you become immersed in the world of the book? Are they like you or different?
Where does the book take you? Is it a real place or an imaginary one? What do you remember about the world of the book?
How do you feel reading this book?
How do you feel when it ends?
Slowly bring yourself back to the present day. What sticks with you still about this reading experience?
Next, turn on the lights and ask students to open their eyes. Then, ask them to open their journals and freewrite about the memory they just experienced, incorporating as much detail as they can recall. If you’d prefer, you can do this exercise with the lights on, having them freewrite as you guide them through the script. In either case, the point is to write to think — assure students their work here will not be collected or graded.
Invite students to share their experiences. Ask: What kind of reading experiences remain etched in your minds? Why are reading experiences powerful influences? What does it means to be “well read”? What reading experiences are considered seminal for educated people? Why? What does it mean to be literate? What is cultural literacy? Information literacy? What other kinds of literacies are there?
Related | In her essay “I Was a Teenage Illiterate,” the novelist Cathleen Schine discusses how she found herself “illiterate” at 26 and explores the reading experiences that shaped her:
At the age of 26, when I returned to New York after an inglorious stab at graduate work in medieval history on the frozen steppes of Chicago, I had a horrifying realization: I was illiterate. At least, I was as close to illiterate as a person with over 20 years of education could possibly be. In my stunted career as a scholar, I’d read promissory notes, papal bulls and guidelines for Inquisitorial interrogation. Dante, too. Boccaccio. . . . But after 1400? Nihil. I felt very, very stupid among my new sophisticated New York friends. I seemed very, very stupid, too. Actually, let’s face it, I was stupid, and it was deeply mortifying, as so many things were in those days. But I have since come to realize that my abject ignorance was really a gift: to be a literarily inclined illiterate at age 26 is one of the most glorious fates that can befall mortal girl.
Read the essay with your class, using the questions below.
Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:
- What exactly does the writer mean when she says she is “illiterate”?
- Who was Dostoyevsky? Why does Ms. Schine blame him for her state of affairs?
- On the other hand, why is she grateful to him?
- What other books have been influential in Ms. Schine’s history as a reader?
- What do you suppose Italo Calvino meant when he said that a work read at a young age and forgotten “leaves its seed in us”? What are some books that have left their seeds in you?
Activity | Explain to students that they will create timelines chronicling their reading history. Lead them through the process of brainstorming and drafting using the handout My History as a Reader (PDF), and then using their drafts to create polished pieces that reflect who they are as readers.
In their final timelines, they should include all types of experiences with reading that have shaped who they are as readers today and illustrate the timeline using meaningful images, such as book cover art for favorite books, photos of characters or readers who have inspired them, elements of locations that they have visited or would like to visit, etc.
When students have finished their timelines, post them around the room and encourage wandering. Ask students to look for and note commonalities in their classmates’ work. You might even hang blank sheets of paper underneath each one so that students can post comments.
Reconvene as a class for discussion. Ask: What reading experiences have been most influential in your life? How were you encouraged and discouraged to become a reader? What did you learn about yourself by creating your timeline? What did you learn about classmates by looking at their timelines? What did your classmates’ timelines make you think about? Do you consider yourself “literate”? Why or why not? By what definition? Is it important to you to be “literate”? Why or why not?
Going further | Here are several ideas for taking this activity further:
- Students use the freewriting they did during the warm-up and their timelines as the basis for crafting short autobiographies of themselves as readers. They might use “I Was a Teenage Illiterate” as a model for their autobiographical essay, starting, as Ms. Schine did, with an assessment of themselves as readers today, then delving into their pasts as readers (using their timelines), discussing formative reading experiences, and finishing with a look forward to their possible futures as readers. Alternatively, they read Chapter 1 of Italo Calvino’s “If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler” and use it as a model for writing about their own reading histories, focused on one book that had a powerful impact on them.
- Students bring in an influential children’s book or excerpt from a novel to share aloud with classmates for a read-around, along with the relevant section of their autobiography.
- Lead a field trip to, or encourage students to visit, your school or local library or bookstore so that students can browse books that interest them. Then, have students create lists imagining their futures as readers. What books do they dream of reading? Why? Encourage them to think about what kinds of literacy they value and build their own personal reading list to reflect those values.
- Circulate a variety of book lists, such as the College Board’s 101 Great Books, the American Library Association Booklists, Listology’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die or one of the “Great Books” lists. As students browse the lists, discuss what kinds of works are included and what or whose values these lists reflect.
- Start an independent reading project in which students undertake one or more of the books they have dreamed of reading.
Standards | From McREL, for grades 6-12:
1. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process
6. Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts
7. Uses the general skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts
8. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Life Skills: Working With Others
1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
Arts and Communication
3. Uses critical and creative thinking in various arts and communication settings
4. Understands ways in which the human experience is transmitted and reflected in the arts and communication
5. Knows a range of arts and communication works from various historical and cultural periods
Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.
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Essay on My Personal Reading History
718 WordsDec 25th, 20103 Pages
Personal Reading History When I was a younger I don’t remember if I was read to or not, but I read a lot of books. I enjoy reading books because they allow me to reach new heights in my imagination. At my age many kids say that reading is boring and is for losers. I think it’s cool to read and will continue to read throughout my life. I have read many different types of books from fiction to biographies. The longest book I ever read was a book called Dragon Rider by Cornella Funke. It was five hundred and thirty five pages! When it comes to reading I am a superstar! When I’m reading I am able to get a moral lesson from what I read, so it ends up helping me in the long run of my life
I have had numerous amounts of positive…show more content…
She also taught me to finish something if I started it, and that carried over to my reading. If I start reading a book I always finish it and do my best to understand it. So, she instilled what I know about reading and she influenced the way I read. She always told me, when I was younger, to pronounce my words right so that when I get older I would pronounce my words right. All that she has said to me and taught me when I was coming up as a younger child helped me get to the level of reading I am on today and also to the level of understanding I have of all the words I read. Without her encouraging me in this way I would have had problems understanding things that I read and wouldn’t be as smart as I have grown to be. I am very thankful of how I was brought up as a kid. When I’m reading, it doesn’t really matter where I read. When I’m reading I go into a different world and get to a place where I feel as if I’m part of the story and can relate to the main character and what he or she is going through. Also, when I’m reading I think the best place for me would be where it’s quiet because I find it easier to concentrate in silence. I also read better when I’m upset because it gives me an outlet to release anger and allows me to get my work done. All throughout my life, I’ve had many good experiences reading. When it comes to reading, for me, good reading just comes