Teaching Reading and Writing Through Children’s Literature
reviewed by Karen L. Eichler - 2004
Title: Teaching Reading and Writing Through Children’s Literature
Author(s): K. Sue Bradley, Jack Bradley and Shirley Ermis
Publisher: University Press of America, Lanham
ISBN: 0761826432, Pages: 161, Year: 2003
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Reading the book Teaching Reading and Writing Through Children’s Literature, brought back memories of a handbook I received from our district’s reading consultant during my first year of teaching. I am a packrat who has a hard time throwing away anything that might be classroom useful some day, so I still have the booklet “Reading Games and Activities for the Middle Grades,” which was published as part of the Ginn Basic Reading Program, in 1964. The premise that games are important in language acquisition and developing literacy skills is still alive and well, as evidenced in the book compiled by Bradley, Bradley, and Ermis. This compilation of ideas for adding some fun and spice to literacy instruction is intended for pre-service and in-service teachers and could become a handy desk reference for language arts activities, as was my book of activities from Ginn.
I recognized many of the activities that I have used with many students, but there is a major difference between the way this collection of games and activities is focused that reflects current research in literacy acquisition and learning. Each activity requires print materials such as picture books, or books representative of all literature genres, which addresses the importance of teaching literacy skills contextually, not in isolation. By using the contexts of children’s literature, young readers are encouraged to integrate the language arts—integrating reading, writing, listening, speaking and thinking. By developing their enjoyment and appreciation of text and non-text stories, children build language awareness, the key to literacy.
An important feature of this collection of literature based activities, is the research connection that prefaces each chapter. For example, Unit 1 begins with a discussion of the behaviors that precede conventional literacy as young children learn that “…print represents a message and must be sensible as spoken language, and understand the concepts represented by the language used to talk about print” (Heilman, Blair, and Rupley, 2002, p. 59). “An important aspect of learning for children is the acquisition of a wide range of language functions, to serve different purposes in various environments” (Ruddell, 2002, p. 44). Seven types of language functions are discussed:
Books can give children the medium through which to simulate these real-life experiences, and beginning in early childhood, experiences with print awareness build a strong foundation for learning letter and word concepts. Literacy learning requires a language-rich environment, handling books, listening to stories, playing with words, rhythms and rhymes; hearing and repeating patterns and logical sequences; and talking about reading and writing as oral language develops. Titles of predictable books are provided for dramatization and learning print conventions through imitation.
Unit 3 again calls for the use of picture books for the development of word recognition, word identification, and morphemic analysis. Rather than specifically linking book titles to each of the activities, the practice exercises can be applied to any Big Book or picture book. There is a well-established connection between a student’s vocabulary and the ability to comprehend what is read, but effective instruction must place new words in meaningful contexts. Literature provides this connection, and there are activities such as word mapping and keeping a vocabulary log during silent reading. A modified CLOZE lesson can be used with a few words omitted from any reading passage to make use of context clues.
The remaining units address the increasingly complex skills of comprehension, using reference materials from the dictionary to the internet, and the application of all these important literacy skills in using literature for composition and writing mechanics. Strong connections are made among reading, writing, listening, and thinking skills applied in the contexts of good literature. Finally, the language learning is applied in all curricular areas.
In the last unit of the book, the authors apply current research on interdisciplinary instruction and comprehension and include activities emphasizing the use of language learning as a social and constructive process for meaningful purposes. Most of these activities could be adapted to all the elementary and middle level grades, and the charts and graphing can be done with computer software. This is suggested in the brief preface to Unit 8, but the technology connections are not specifically developed as the activities are described. There are specific book titles suggested for classification and categorizing activities related to math and science, and provisions for multiple intelligences are also included. Many of the activities will be familiar to the experienced teacher, but the book was designed to be a source for pre-service teachers. As such, it will provide a very useful summary of the stages of language development for new teachers and ways in which to encourage students to develop literacy skills by enjoying literature. It would also be a useful tool to share with parents who would like some at-home strategies for extending language learning.
Heilman, A.W., Blair, T.R., & Rupley, W.H. (2002). Principles and practices in the teaching of reading (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill.
Ruddell, R.B. (2002). Teaching children to read and write: Becoming an effective literacy teacher (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.