How Do You Teach Kids to Love Books?
Oh, sorry. I don’t have the answer to that question.
Perhaps more accurately, I think there are a million answers to that question. I invite all of you to share some thoughts in the comments below.
But, in the meantime, let me share with you one answer: it came during something awesome this morning at our school.
In an annual tradition, each 8th grader selects a book. They must be given a pretty long leash, because I saw things from Nicholas Spark to J.D. Salinger to Michael Lewis to LeBron James. It is strictly their choice. Yep, that seems like a motivating place to start.
The first order of business, of course, is reading the book.
While doing so, students are asked to pick a character that they identify with. Again, seems like a smart move for a 13 year old who doesn’t likely have a long list of people in their household they currently identify with, right? I expect, as they are reading, they are scrutinizing the different characters, understanding their temperment, empathizing with their view on life.
Then, the students are required to write a monologue in that character’s voice. Not memorize text that is already written–no, no–they take on the voice of the character and write their own scene. They draft and redraft, practice and edit, because this is a monologue that they will perform, in character, at the school’s Wednesday assembly. They must consider their costume, their props, their mannerisms as they step completely into the character they have met and then given a real voice to.
At the assembly itself, the 8th graders stand like wax statues at their individual stations until other students visit and ‘activate’ them. Each student has a sign that says: “Pick up my journal to activate me” or “Press my binoculars”. They then dramatically deliver their monologue. And turn to a statue again.
Pretty cool, huh? I can assure you, this is not the boring ole’ book report from my grammar school days.
Okay, so what might have they learned?
1. To read and deeply engage with the characters. Hearing their voice, visualizing their clothes, envisioning their mannerisms.
2. To appreciate the written word. It is a thrilling call to take what they have read and extend the character in their own words. But probably also difficult too.
3. To take a risk. Don’t know many teenagers who are jumping up and down to have 300 people watch them act like a witch or a southern belle, but these kids took it in stride. They are role models for 300+ students coming after them.
4. To put flesh and bones on a book. A writer can be loved and revered, but it is our own imagination that fills in the blanks and makes the story uniquely ours.
This doesn’t even include the other kids who wandered around the gym, watching books and their characters literally ‘come to life.’ That seems to be a pretty creative way for kids to see books in a very fun light.
Me? I was just a fluke bystander. My kids weren’t performing.
But I couldn’t help thinking as I left:
What book would I have picked?
Which character? and finally…
Do they have any idea how cool this is???