This week, my students and I have been practicing Reading with Expression, which is one of the easiest ways that I can determine if a student is comprehending what he/she is reading. As we've been practicing whole class readings with excerpts from our books; however, I've noticed that some students are continuing to read without any emotion. To help alleviate this issue, I've centered our reading and journal entries on identifying character's feelings in our texts.
Focus on Feelings
As I normally do on reading days, I give my students 15-20 minutes of reading time with books they've chosen to read (in my class, our reading days are on Thursdays and Fridays). Once their reading time is up, I explain to them that we need to work on improving our Expressive Reading because we're missing the FEELING part in our whole class reading practice.
I model this by reading a passage in monotone from my book The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon. I purposely choose a passage with narration and dialog to remind my students that our pitch should go up when characters are speaking and should drop during narration. In this excerpt, Brent's parents are driving him to a new rehabilitation center. As I read it, I read it in a monotone without any emotion.
Mom is saying something to Dad. The car is slowing down. I open my eyes. We are driving past a huge stone wall that has to be ten feet tall. There's something on top of it. What is that? Is that broken glass? It's got broken glass on top of the wall. They're taking me to a (expletive) prison or something.
"What is that broken glass supposed to do?"
"There's broken glass on top of the wall."
"Oh, I didn't notice it."
"You didn't? How could you not notice a bunch of broken glass on the top of a huge stone wall?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? Well, why is it there?"
"I'm sure it's just to keep people out."
"What? Keep who out?"
"I don't know."
"Jesus, you're taking me to a prison."
"We're not taking you to a prison."
"It looks like a prison. Are there Nazis in a tower somewhere?"
"Brent, it's not that kind of place. It's nice. It has a bowling alley."
"Great. Does the bowling alley have armed guards too?"
Then, at the top of a new page in my reading journal, I entitle it FEEL and write a response based on how the narrator (in this case, the author is the narrator of my book) like this:
Brent is anxious about visiting the new rehabilitation center (The duPont Institutute). This is the first time he's been there and his first impression of it is that it looks like a Concentration Camp. From Brent's thoughts and questions to his parents, you can tell he's extremely worried (and sarcastic as the conversation ends). His parents seem calm and unphased by the glass on the wall.
In this entry, I've identified how the narrator feels and why he's feeling this way. I even draw in emoticons (like those in the picture above) to help my students picture how Brent is feeling. Sometimes a simple step like this can help students process what the characters are feeling even further. To take this entry a step further, I add:
In my opinion, Brent seems to be over-reacting a bit. Clearly, he has some reservations about duPont based on how the "exterior" looks but he doesn't need to be this dramatic about it. His sarcastic comment at the end of the conversation is humorous.
Then, I explain to my students that knowing how Brent feels allows me to imagine how the "tone" of his voice sounds. Knowing this, I re-read this passage again, but correctly this time, with anxiety in my voice to capture how Brent is feeling and a calm, parent-like tone when his parents respond to his concerns.
If we spend a little more time identifying the narrator's (or any character's) feelings, this will help us when we're Reading with Expression because it allows us to practice making our voice match the meaning of the text. This not only gives us a better understanding of what we're reading, we also have a better idea of what our character's are experiencing (feelings that we may have experienced ourselves).
Student Practice: Read, Write, Share!
Once I've modeled this for my students, I have them write a journal entry about the part they read in class during our reading time. I have them use the FEEL journal entry, which must include:
- how how the character feels
- why he/she feels that way
- page number(s)
- how the student feels for the character
I allow 10-12 minutes to work this entry, then I call on a few students to share their entries.
Our next step is to go back to practicing Reading with Expression, but in a small group setting. I preface this activity with the following directions:
- One person reads at a time.
- Students listening must listen for 2 things this person is doing well and 1 thing this person needs to work on. (My students have a copy of What Makes Good Reading criteria and Problems with Expression for reference).
- When the student is finished reading, you may politely share your feedback. (I model a rude way and a polite way to do this so they understand).
- Then, the next person shares. Follow the same steps.
- If you finish early, read quietly or practice with another part.
As students practice, I walk around to each group and listen in giving guidance and feedback as I do. After each group is finished, I ask who had the Best Expression, and I reward that person for a job well done. For those students who struggle, we'll go back to whole class reading next Thursday and Friday and keep practicing. We'll also continue practice in small group settings as well.
I don't expect my students to read their books like actresses and actors read their lines, but I do expect them to change their pitch, rhythm, volume and tone to match the meaning of the words. I'd like to think that helping them identify and connect with the feelings of the characters in our novels will help them "hear" and "see" how their voices should sound.
For more on What Makes Good Reading, see READING ALLOWED: Making Sure The First "R" Comes First.
Portions of this article are © Copyright 1995-2012 by Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc., and are used by permission. For more information, and free teaching materials, visit www.ttms.org or contact Margot Lester at firstname.lastname@example.org.