“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read with a child.” Dr. Seuss
How do you get a room full of 3rd graders to laugh outloud while still concentrating on a story? Read them something hilarious. A student at my alma mater, the Ohio State University, asked me to participate in the NEA’s Read Across America annual reading motivation and awareness program. It was started in 1998 on March 2nd as a celebration of Dr. Suess’s birthday and has grown each year since. I was asked to read to a class of third graders at Prairie Norton Elementary School where I had read to a class of first graders last year (Archie Griffin read there last year as well) and is also where I taught shortly after graduating and loved it. I didn’t read a Dr. Suess book this time, but with permission from the teacher, I gave the students a choice of books, one of them being Walter the Farting Dog by Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray, illustrated (terrifically) by Audrey Colman and of course they chose it. I told them to me it was a magic book and they had all kinds of suggestions as to why I would say that. I related that it was because of how magically it changed things on the day I bought it. Our family was at COSI and it was one of those days when no one could get along and some were pretty grouchy. On the way out, I found this book at the gift store and we shared it in the car on the way home. Soon, everyone was laughing so hard that they couldn’t be grouchy any more.
I asked the class who liked to read. The majority raised their hands and a few boys did not. (As you might have seen from other posts, there would have been more that don’t like to read if they were teens.) When I told them that I teach teenagers and adults to like reading better by reading faster, they seemed surprised that there are grown ups who take classes to learn to read better! I decided to not just read the book to the class, but to start with some of the comprehension building techniques we use in our courses. I asked them what they do before they start to read a book. They had some really good answers–read the title, the author, flip through it to see if you’ll like it, read the back cover and read the beginning. (In our course we call that the Overview.) I was impressed and told them they had some good teachers. (Their teacher in the back of the room smiled.) I shared that I had asked the same question of a high school student recentlywho said he just started reading it. Again, they were surprised. I suggested that maybe he hadn’t had their good teachers, or maybe he had forgotten what he’d been taught.
We did those things and then I read them the important dedication at the beginning of the book: “For everyone who’s ever felt misjudged or misunderstood.” To build on prior knowledge and get them personally involved, I asked them if they ever had a dog that farted. They giggled and some of theirs do. They were shocked to learn that my cat does–but I told them that nobody’s perfect. I asked them if they ever blamed anything they did on their dog–more giggling with some raised hands.
Sometimes I read the page and then showed them the picture and sometimes I showed them the picture first and for really great pictures, we took the time to look at them closely before continuing the story. During the course of the story, one of the boys raised his hand and suggested what might happen next. I asked the class what he was doing by guessing what might happen. They knew the answer–he was predicting or anticipating. I told them it was good to anticipate because they would then pay attention to see if they were right. And by looking for answers to questions, they would have better comprehension. As we got closer to the end, there were a lot of predictions. The children had fun finding out if they were right. When we were done, they passed the book around. While that was going on, some of the girls came up and were fascinated by my book earrings, my “So Many Books, So Little Time” shirt, and my book dickie. They said, “you must really like books!” As I was leaving, the students were back at their desks where they enjoyed answering questions their teacher asked them about the story. It was a great experience. Wonderful children, wondeful teacher Kelly Egbert and great school. And I hope that those boys who said they didn’t like to read, got a feel for how fun it can be.
Read Across America is designed to motivate children to read because children who read do better in school. NEA’s Read Across America also provides NEA members, parents, caregivers, and children the resources and activities they need to keep reading on the calendar 365 days a year. In addition to the 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators, and students preparing to become teachers who make up NEA membership, some 50 national organizations and associations give their support.
It might be too late to participate in this year’s annual event, but NEA’s Read Across America has resource materials which offer numerous opportunities for involvement in children’s reading throughout the year. According to their website, “the only thing you need to do is plan how, where, and when you will read to a child or teen in your life – everyday.” The Read Across America has a Fan page and Cause page on Facebook and also has the Read Across America Channel on Schooltube.com for videos.