This post is adapted from a list of best practices in Reading and Learning to Read by Vacca et al., which I am happy to use as a reference in my lectures in reading.
Reading and writing are related processes. Practice in one area deepens understanding in the other and vice versa. Writing is a great tool for clarifying thinking about reading, and reading strengthens writing ability. Obviously students benefit from reading about writing and writing about reading. Here are a few ideas to get reading and writing connected in your classroom.
Use Journals and Technology for Written Communication
Have students write and respond to journals with a peer. This reinforces the function of writing: communication. Students have to focus on what they say in their writing not what they mean. They’re also exposed to new and potentially different ideas than their own. This can broaden their thinking, or at least give them experience in listening to differing viewpoints.
Incorporate technology into the journal process. While email seems like the quickest way to accomplish digital written communication, this is actually more easily accomplished through Google Docs, where all journal participants, including the teacher, have unlimited editing access to the document. Students can write to each other in real-time, best using the speed technology affords digital communicators.
Use Journals to Explore Texts
Reader response journals are a great tool to get students thinking and writing about texts. I like to have students make curricular connections to whatever topics we’re learning and use our class text as an “on your own” or independent practice with the content. For example, if I’ve taught students about theme, they can identify the theme from their book and use textual evidence to support their thinking. If we’re studying characterization, I have students select a favorite character and discuss the traits that character possesses.
Use “I notice” and “I think” prompts to get students to first think about the reading they’ve done and clarify and extend their thinking through writing. This connection is an important part of how students see value in reading and writing activities. When we include them and value what they have to say, students are more likely to see importance in the acts of reading and writing.
Additional Strategies That Motivate Students to Write
Giving students choice is probably at the top of every good educator’s list of how to motivate students. Students are different people and individuals–why would we assign identical writing tasks to all? Let students have as much of a say as the curriculum allows in their choice of what to read, what to write, and how and what to think about it. Celebrate the differences in our students by allowing and encouraging them to be divergent thinkers, and you’ll be rewarded with more plentiful and thoughtful writing.
As much as the content allows, make connections to student’s personal interests. While this will motivate students on a personal level, connections don’t stop there. Students need to see themselves in characters and in texts. Include texts with appropriate inclusion of characters who look and think like your students. It’s important for students to see women, people of color, and those who are differently abled, leading full and successful lives, and also struggling like all humans do. While this isn’t a fix-all, it is a step in the right direction.
Students today, now more so than ever, have a voice. Give them a platform so that voice can be heard. Encourage your students to take action about injustices they see, speak up about things that are important to them, and empower them to help others. When students have a purpose and a voice, nothing can stop them. Give your students the boost they need to join in on the dialogue. Teach them about student activists and the change they’re currently bringing about in the world.
Getting students to write about what they’re reading helps to clarify and deepen their thinking. For this reason, I’ve incorporated a daily journal into my practice. It’s always different, and often incorporates choice and student interests, but it’s consistently a bell-ringer so students come in prepared to think and write. This daily practice has strengthened their writing and close reading skills.
In what ways do you get students writing about reading?