Category Archives: fiction reading

Diagrams help students read

“Scaffolding” is an educator term to describe teacher actions to help students  learn something new.  Scaffolding could be a series of questions meant to prepare students for what they are to read.  Scaffolding could be a timeline of a topic—say American history—to show where a subtopic—say the Civil War—fits into the big picture.

Scaffolding can also be simple diagrams to help visual learners, ESL students and students with comprehension issues understand what they are about to read or write.  These diagrams help students “see” the organization of a reading passage, or they help students “see” the structure of a paragraph or essay they are about to write, providing clarity.

For example, suppose a student needs to read a biography of Coretta Scott King.  To help the student see the organization of Mrs. King’s life, the teacher could draw a color-coded diagram of important activities in Mrs. King’s life.   Take a look.

This diagram is a simple visual pattern following Mrs. King’s life, more or less in chronological order.  With a little help, the student might see that Mrs. King’s life was private until she married; then her life became public as she worked with her husband on civil rights matters; then her life became even more public after his death as she led efforts to honor him and she spoke and wrote about ongoing civil rights matters.

If each box of the diagram is outlined in a color which corresponds to a portion of Mrs. King’s life or activities, the overall organization of the essay becomes clear.   Color-coding the information is important because it helps visual learners “see” how the reading passage breaks down into smaller chunks.

Whether it is Junie B. Jones’ fear of school buses or why polar bears face a bleak future, a diagram showing students what they will read before they read it allows them to see the big picture and each subtopic in the order in which they will read about it.  For children learning English or children with reading comprehension problems, a diagram can help them understand and remember what they read.

What’s the right age to read Harry Potter?

Harry Potter turns 31 tomorrow, July 31, a good time to ask if there is a right age for children to read the Harry Potter books.


When the books were first published, Harry was 11, and The Sorcerer’s Stone was more fantasy and magic—owls who delivered mail, a sorting hat, photos who talked—than menacing evil.  No need for concern.  But later books focused on evil and Harry’s fight to conquer it.  Much tougher reading.

The first book came out in 1997; the second in 1998; the third in 1999; the fourth in 2000; the fifth in 2003; the sixth in 2005; and the seventh in 2007.  Kids who read the first book when they were eight couldn’t read the fifth book until they were 18 and, presumably, mature enough to handle its content.

But today, voracious eight year olds can devour the series in a month or two.  Should they?

Here are some suggestions to consider if you have a child coming of age to read Harry Potter.

Book one:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone  Lexile 880 (grades 5-6 reading level)

Harry turns 11.  Kids usually like to read about child characters who are slightly older than they are, so readers 8,  9, 10, and 11 years old (usually, third, fourth and fifth graders) might enjoy the first book.

However, a child’s reading level needs to be considered.  Some third graders are just starting chapter books while others have been reading chapter books since kindergarten.  Lagging readers might miss out on much of the meaning in Harry Potter books because of a lack of vocabulary or difficulty with inferences.  For them it might be better to wait.

Precocious readers, on the other hand, might be able to handle the first Harry Potter book with ease.  Two scary parts (a troll fight and a final fight between Harry and Voldemort) are a little scary, but not scarier than what children have been exposed to in the evening news or in video games.  They will miss some of the cultural differences between British writing and American writing (such as a cupboard in London being a closet in the US) but they will still understand what is important.

A child’s emotional resilience needs to be evaluated too.  If children suffer nightmares from TV shows or scary picture books, Harry Potter novels might not be a good choice until the children are older.  Or you could tell them when they start the first book that by the end of the last book Voldemort is dead and Harry is alive.  But that takes some of the suspense from the reading.

Book two:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets  Lexile 940 (grades 5-6 reading level)

If a child can read book one, that child is ready for book two.  It has another fight scene at the end, but in other ways The Chamber of Secrets is a fanciful children’s story like book one.

Book three:   Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban  Lexile 880 (grades 5-6 reading level)

Ditto for books one and two except that the concept of a serial killer is introduced.  This concept foreshadows events in a later book.

Book four:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire  Lexile 880 (grades 5-6 reading level)

Two minor characters die in this book right in front of the reader’s eyes.  Also, children learn that some people cannot be trusted when one such person tries to lure Harry away.  The tone of this book is darker than the previous three, and for that reason precocious first and second graders probably shouldn’t read it, and sensitive third and fourth graders might not be emotionally ready. As a parent, you should be prepared to discuss the themes of death and trustworthiness with your children before you let them read book four.  I recommend waiting until fifth grade or middle school for this book.

Book five:   Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix  Lexile 950 (grades 5-7 reading level)

Someone Harry loves dies in this book.  Its tone is about the same as book four, that is, darker than in the first three books.  Harry is 15, indicating that readers should probably be almost that age too.  Postpone this book until middle grades for most children.

Book six:   Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Lexile 1030 (grades 6-8 reading level)

Book six is too tough for elementary school children and even for some middle grades children.  Harry, 16, must take on enormous responsibilities and he has no one to protect him.  No place is safe.  Another scary idea is that people exist who murder for the heck of it—not for a rational reason but just because. At the end of the book a pivotal character dies a terrible death at the hands of another pivotal character. Harry vows to avenge his friend’s death.

Book seven:   Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2  Lexile 980 (grades 6-7 reading level)

More deaths occur, but none so chilling as at the end of book six.  A reader who can stomach book six can stomach book seven.  Read during late middle grades or high school.

A few students in my class read quickly. What do I do to keep them on task?

You could prepare a quiz ahead of time on the reading selection. Let the quiz focus on the pages to be read.  Ask students to raise their hands when their reading is done, give them the quiz and watch.  Since the quick readers are often gifted students, ask questions not at the knowledge level, but at higher level thinking.  Ask inference questions too which everyone finds tough.  Ask students to write not only the answer but the page and paragraph or line number which proves their answers.  Collect and check the quizzes to know if the quick readers are skimming or truly gaining knowledge.

dhild running with book in hands

You could ask quick readers to outline the reading passage. If it is nonfiction, then the outline could name the way information is presented, such as chronological, problem and solution, cause and effect, or whatever is appropriate.  Then the students could write one sentence per paragraph describing the information in each paragraph.  If the reading selection is fiction, then the outline could state the type of writing, such as description, dialog, action, or whatever is appropriate.  Writing one sentence per paragraph might not work for fiction, but one sentence per scene or character might.  The point is for the students to prove to you that they comprehend what they have read.

You could ask students to choose five words from the passage that they don’t understand or that they think their classmates might not understand and use a classroom dictionary to look them up. Then students should write each word in sentences to show what the word means.

You could ask students to write one (or two or more) questions about the reading which require thoughtfulness to answer. Collect them, shuffle them, and then use them for class discussion or homework.

Notice that all of these assignments focus on the original reading selection and either extend or deepen students’ understanding of it.  Students need only paper and pen and possibly a dictionary to do the work.  If you have the extra assignments printed up to use as needed, you can pass the appropriate one out any time a student finishes early.  And most of the ideas work well in science and social studies classes as well as in ELA classes.

Of course you could always have early finishers take out books and read them.  If the books’ Lexile numbers fit the students’ reading levels, this works.  But it does not enrich the reading lesson, and it could cause resentment among the slower readers who might feel punished for their slower progress.

My middle grader needs to read Romeo and Juliet next fall. It is so HARD to understand. How can I help?

Reading Shakespeare is reading a foreign language to 21st Century English speaking people who struggle with 400 years of changes in pronunciation, meaning, and even the existence of many words.

Reading a children’s version of a classic can help establish the main ideas and character relationships.

Even so, educated English-speaking people are expected to know Shakespeare.  Words from his plays are quoted or alluded to more often than anything except the Bible in Western literature.  Shakespeare is to the English language what Lincoln is to American democracy.

So how can you help a student to read Shakespeare?

  • Buy your son his own copy of Romeo and Juliet so he can write in it. The No Fear Shakespeare series which prints the original Shakespearean version on the left and a modern paraphrasing on the right, is good.  So are other annotated versions.
  • Keep and annotate a list of characters which your son can use as a bookmark. Shakespeare populates his plays with many characters.  List Romeo and his friends, for example, and identify them (hot-tempered, funny, talks in puns, or mixes up words).
  • Read Shakespeare as you would read poetry, with pauses at punctuation, not at the ends of lines. Shakespeare wrote in verse.  Some of the lines end with a period or comma, and you should pause there.  But many lines end without punctuation and should be read without a pause until the next punctuation mark, usually in the next line.  Reading this way will help with understanding.
  • Rewrite the words in normal word order if they don’t make sense the way they are written. In English, we usually have a subject–verb-direct object word order.  But Shakespeare sometimes uses a direct object-verb-subject word order.  “Never was seen so black a day as this:” (Romeo and Juliet, IV, v) puts the verb before the subject.  The quote makes more sense if you read it as “No one has ever seen a day as black as this.”   If there is not room in the margin, rewrite on tiny post-it notes.
  • Supply missing words. Just as we leave out words today (Haven’t seen y’in a while), so did Shakespeare.  Since his original audiences left out or shortened the same words he did, there was no problem to understand what he meant then.  But now, 400 years later, you need to write in the missing words or parts of words. Shakespeare contracted words to keep the meter of the verses and because his generation used those contractions.
  • Identify pronoun antecedents. Identifying who or what the pronouns refer to helps with understanding.  If your son owns the copy of the play he is reading, he can draw arrows to show relationships.  Or you can highlight using matching markers.  Take, for example, this quote from Romeo and Juliet (the boldface is mine):

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou her maid art more fair than she:

“It” refers back to light.  “Who” refers to the moon.  “Thou” refers to Juliet.  Both “her” and “she” refer to the moon.  Drawing arrows helps.

  • Paraphrase confusing verses. The above quotation can be rewritten as, “But wait.  What is that light starting to come through the window from the east?  That light is Juliet, the sun.  Rise up, beautiful sun, and overshadow the envious moon which is already growing dim. The moon realizes that you, Juliet, are more beautiful than it is.”  Not as elegant as Shakespeare’s words, for sure, but the rewrite in modern English is easier to understand.
  • Figure out metaphors. Shakespeare used lots of them.  Encourage your son to write them in the margins of his book.
  • Identify allusions. Just as authors today refer to Shakespeare, Shakespeare referred to the Bible, to British history and to ancient Greek and Roman myths.  Again, annotate.
  • Untangle wordplay. Shakespeare delights in puns and words with double meanings, especially words whose secondary meanings are sexual.  Some children need help understanding the secondary meanings.  Write the meanings in the margins.
  • Use a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. Even though almost all of Shakespeare’s words are still in use today, some are not, or their meanings have changed over the centuries.  In dictionaries, such meanings might be listed as archaic.  A long list of such words can be found at shakespearehigh.com
  • Reread some parts several times. Once your son has analyzed words, phrases and verses, another reading will make more sense.  And if he reads aloud, the play will make even more sense.
  • Watch a good film or stage play after you have analyzed the written play. Even then it might take some getting used to the British accents (if it is a BBC production) and to the unfamiliar word patterns.  But Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted out, not read on a page, and will come to life when acted.

Books for your child to read this summer

To maintain your child’s reading level during the summer and to avoid the summer slide, make plans now to stock up on good books.

Below are hyperlinks to lists of books appropriate for child readers. However,  the grade or age suggestions might not correspond to your child’s reading level.  Check out books in nearby grade levels too.  If your child is a precocious reader, keep in mind that books recommended for higher grades might not contain suitable content for a younger child.

boy reading on the floorAnother place to find good lists is from your child’s school or from your public library.  In the summer, children’s books tend to fly off library shelves. Reserve books now before your name goes on a waiting list.

Grade 1

Goodreads grade 1 reading list
Greatschools grade 1 reading list
Scholastic ages 6 to 7 reading list
Educationworld geade 1 reading list
ALA grade K to 2 reading list

Grade 2

Goodreads grade 2 reading list
Greatschools grade 2 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to 10 reading list
Educationworld grade 2 reading list
ALA grades K to 2 reading list

Grade 3

Goodreads grade 3 reading list
Greatschools grade 3 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to10 reading list
Educationworld grade 3 reading list
ALA grade 3 reading list

Grade 4

Goodreads grade 4 readinglist
Greatschools grade 4 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to 10 reading list
Educationworld grade 4 reading list
ALA grade 4 reading list

Grade 5

Goodreads grade 5 reading list
Greatschools grade 5 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 5 reading list
ALA grade 5 reading list

Grade 6

Goodreads grade 6 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 6 reading list
ALA grade 6 reading list

Grade 7

Goodreads grade 7 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 7 reading list
ALA grade 7 reading list

Grade 8

Goodreads grade 8 reading list
Educationworld grade 8 reading list
ALA grade 8 reading list

Grade 9

Goodreads grade 9 reading list

Grade 10

Goodreads grade 10 reading list

Grade 11

Goodreads grade 11 reading list

Grade 12

Goodreads grade 12 reading list

Pride and Prejudice for babies? Anna Karenina for toddlers?

Several publishers have begun offering pint-sized versions of literary classics like Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick and War and Peace for infants, toddlers and primary grade readers.

mobyFor $6.99, Cozy Classics (http://www.mycozyclassics.com/books/) offers Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.  These board books pair one word per page with one image.  Moby Dick, for example is reduced to these 12 words:  sailor, boat, captain, leg, mad, sail, find, whale, chase, smash, sink and float.  The illustrations are photos of felt-made scenes, giving the books a fuzzy feel.

For $9.99 Baby Lit (https://babylit.com/collections/books/Classic-Lit) offers board books such as The Odyssey, Jayne Eyre and Anna KareninaAnna Karenina?  A novel about a annakmarried woman who has an affair, is ostracized by society, becomes paranoid and commits suicide?  Yes, but the Baby Lit version focuses not on the story but on the fashions of 1876 St. Petersburg—ball gowns, parasols, gloves and military uniforms.

For $16.95 KinderGuides (https://www.kinderguides.com/) offers four classics (more to come) for children of six years old or older.  oldmanThe books, which are sanitized guides for the original novels, include Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 2001: A Space Odyssey, On the Road, and The Old Man and the Sea.  Each book contains a summary of the original story, information about the author, key words and characters, and a quiz.

 

Summer reading book lists by grade and age

To maintain your child’s reading level during the summer and to avoid the summer slide, make plans now to stock up on good books.

Below are hyperlinks to lists of books appropriate for child readers. However,  the grade or age suggestions might not correspond to your child’s reading level.  Check out books in nearby grade levels too.  If your child is a precocious reader, keep in mind that books recommended for higher grades might not contain suitable content for a younger child.

boy reading on the floorAnother place to find good lists is from your child’s school or from your public library.  In the summer, children’s books tend to fly off library shelves. Reserve books now before your name goes on a waiting list.

Grade 1

Goodreads grade 1 reading list
Greatschools grade 1 reading list
Scholastic ages 6 to 7 reading list
Educationworld geade 1 reading list
ALA grade K to 2 reading list

Grade 2

Goodreads grade 2 reading list
Greatschools grade 2 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to 10 reading list
Educationworld grade 2 reading list
ALA grades K to 2 reading list

Grade 3

Goodreads grade 3 reading list
Greatschools grade 3 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to10 reading list
Educationworld grade 3 reading list
ALA grade 3 reading list

Grade 4

Goodreads grade 4 readinglist
Greatschools grade 4 reading list
Scholastic ages 8 to 10 reading list
Educationworld grade 4 reading list
ALA grade 4 reading list

Grade 5

Goodreads grade 5 reading list
Greatschools grade 5 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 5 reading list
ALA grade 5 reading list

Grade 6

Goodreads grade 6 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 6 reading list
ALA grade 6 reading list

Grade 7

Goodreads grade 7 reading list
Scholastic ages 11 to 13 reading list
Educationworld grade 7 reading list
ALA grade 7 reading list

Grade 8

Goodreads grade 8 reading list
Educationworld grade 8 reading list
ALA grade 8 reading list

Grade 9

Goodreads grade 9 reading list

Grade 10

Goodreads grade 10 reading list

Grade 11

Goodreads grade 11 reading list

Grade 12

Goodreads grade 12 reading list