Wonderful literature is a necessary complement to learning no matter what methods we use to educate our children. But for those who rely on a literature-based approach, it is particularly important to process what we read.
If you wish to move items from your surface, short-term memory to long-term storage, you must process them in some way. Each person has his unique way of going about that, but the important point is that it must be processed in the mind. Simply hearing or seeing is not enough except for certain rare individuals.
Dr. Ruth Beechick, The Language Wars and Other Writings for Homeschoolers
Here are six ways to interact with the books we read and get the most from literature-based studies:
The simplest and most direct way to interact with literature is to tell someone what we have read. We have to understand what we have read before we can explain it to someone else. In the process of narrating or explaining what we have read, we have to organize the material. In the process of organizing the material, we are processing the subject matter in our minds.
Many times these narrations simply bubble up out of a child without any encouragement other than an open and interested expression on Mom’s face. For others, a bit more encouragement might be needed.
“Tell me what you read” is a rather broad suggestion and can be intimidating. But if we have been reading ahead of our children, we will likely already know what type of prompts will elicit an interested response.
The objective is not to test that our child has read the assignment, but rather that he has understood and processed what he has read.
It has been said that you can judge how much a person knows about a subject by what he can tell you about it. Likewise you can tell how much someone understands what he has read by how well he is able to narrate it to you.
30 Narration Ideas
If you are new to narrations, you might find our 30 narration ideas helpful for getting started.
Around our house it is always obvious if someone has really enjoyed a book — he or she can’t stop talking about it! So many times these discussions about books we have read will be natural rather than contrived occurrences.
But if really want to get the most out of these discussions, we will need to read the book, too. Then we will be ready to listen to our child’s views and interests about a book, but we will also be prepared to share our own observations — mentoring our children to question and measure everything they read in light of God’s Word.
3. Mark a Book
There are many ways to mark a book:
- Make simple notes in the margin reflecting points of agreement or disagreement.
- Underline key passages as we read along.
- Write down questions in the margin that the author has answered in that portion of the text.
- Write a brief summary of each paragraph, section, or chapter in the margin.
- Write definitions over unfamiliar words.
- Create summaries in the back of a book after reading.
Marking a book is one of the most interactive ways of reading. The processing involved assures real learning is taking place.
7 Ways to Mark a Book
An essay by Mortimer Adler, How to Read a Book, makes the case for marking a book and explains the role this plays in activating the mind. He includes seven ways marking a book can be done. Highly recommended (and free) read!
Highlighting a book as we read helps us remember those concepts and ideas presented by the author that we do not want to forget. Highlighted passages can be compiled into notes after we have finished the book — a great opportunity to review!
For years when reading a borrowed book I used a pen scanner to capture important passages. I would later transcribe my notes into a readable format. Another option is to use a Post-it note to mark a page you want to return to later.
5. Write a Review
Wouldn’t you love to be able to hold in your hands a written record of every book you had ever read along with the thoughts you wrote down afterward? Not only would such a record be an interesting review, it would also be a reflection of the growth in your lifelong learning pursuit!
Reviews don’t have to be the typical “why I liked/disliked this book,” but can include notes on issues taken with the author’s point of view, plot devices that worked (or didn’t), endings you would have preferred, or how the pace of the book fit the topic.
When I write down my thoughts after reading a book, I tend to retain the information better. When I have reflected after reading a book, what I have read will stay with me much longer than those times when I have read a book and simply closed the cover.
14 Forms of Writing for the Older Student: Book Review
Find out what makes a great book review.
6. Keep a Notebook
There are countless ways to keep a literature notebook. I typically use OneNote and create a page for each book read along with notes, transcribed passages, and other thoughts.
Even the youngest students can maintain a literature notebook with a page for each of their favorite authors, a list of the books they have read, comments reflecting their thoughts, and other notes.
Literature notebooks can also be grouped by historical period or literature type.
10 Ways to Use Notebooking: #3 Literature
Ideas and resources for keeping a literature notebook.
Language Arts the Natural Way: Narrating
Explores narrations and provides tips for using this tool.