As promised in my last post I’ve provided here a few practical strategies for connecting your writing and reading programs:
- Use the same terminology for writing and reading. When writing fiction, students should use the words of literary analysis: character, setting, plot, theme, and so forth. So, too, when reading nonfiction, students should use the traits of writing: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. By using a common vocabulary throughout the language arts curriculum, you not only avoid confusion but also help students see themselves as writer-readers and reader-writers.
- Use the same graphic organizers for writing and reading. The graphic organizers that help students gather details during prewriting can also help them analyze details after reading. For example, if students use a Venn diagram to prepare to write a comparison-contrast essay, have them also use a Venn diagram to analyze a comparison-contrast essay. Graphic organizers, after all, are mind maps—ways of making thinking concrete. Using the same strategy to synthesize ideas as to analyze ideas helps students understand that reading and writing are opposite vectors of the same process.
- Write the forms you are reading, and read the forms you are writing. Plan your reading and writing time to complement each other. If you are reading short stories, write short stories. If you are writing expository essays, read expository essays. Each activity deepens the other. A student who has read “Tyger! Tyger!” by William Blake may love it, but the student who has written “Wombat! Wombat!” in satirical response understands the poem from the inside out—and will never forget it.
- Use literature to demonstrate writing techniques. Use literature to show the traits, concepts, skills, and techniques students are using when they write. For example, when you want students to learn how to create narrative tension, introduce excerpts from short stories that use this technique. Then lead a discussion of how the authors do what they do. When teaching about answering objections, select editorials that do just that and discuss how the answers strengthen the writers’ positions.
- Use writing to explore literary techniques. When students not only learn about literary techniques but have to use them in writing, they internalize the concepts. So, if you want students to understand a literary technique such as foreshadowing, have them write a paragraph that uses foreshadowing. When you want students to learn about symbolism in a piece of literature, have them create their own symbols and use them in a short piece of writing.
- Be the bridge. In the end, though, the best integration of reading and writing in your classroom comes from you and your students. Programs can only go so far. They are repositories of models and assignments, but you and your students are the reader-writers and the writer-readers who bring the language-arts community to life. If the books get in your way, shove them into a corner and sit down with your students and just write and read, read and write. Words are your friends.