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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.

It’s  called the “Automated Wax Museum”.
It’s about kids loving and appreciating books.

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???

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this post. It is so important for kids to have heroes. Reading biographies and taking it a creative step further – presenting in character to classmates – is a good way to learn about ups and downs that even the most successful people have had.

    March 24, 2010
    • It’s like the most engaging sort of empathy there is–walking in someone’s shoes. Thanks Jane!

      March 25, 2010
  2. Amy #

    This is a fantastic idea! My mother, who taught middle school for a very long time, would have loved this.

    March 24, 2010
    • The teacher, who introduced it, made the entire audience laugh when she was talking about teaching her 7th grade class about symbolism in Lord of the Flies. At one point, a student raised his hand and said: “Do you know there is a Facebook group called ‘My teacher gets more out of the book than what is really there?” Times have changed!

      March 25, 2010
  3. Wow, this is awesome! I love hearing about new ideas that encourage our teens to read. I’m passing this one on to my daughters teacher. Thanks for sharing! Kristin

    March 25, 2010
  4. I LOVE this idea! Waaaay cool!!

    March 26, 2010
  5. Okay, your reply to Amy–hysterical! Guess there’s a Facebook page for everything.

    Having been a voracious reader from a very young age I simply cannot imagine a world without books. Most of what I know comes from books and most of my best “vacations” and “voyages” came from immersion in a book that took me to another place and time. The only way I can think to hook a child on that kind of lifelong passion is to find the right books. There are millions out there, one size doesn’t have to fit all. And as noted in your Library post, a 20 hour trip with no TV or iPod makes books so much more appealing.

    March 29, 2010
    • Well, as you point out, it was a lot easier for all of us to love reading growing up when we didn’t have an iPod or a GameBoy to distract us!!

      March 30, 2010

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