Where have all the bookworms gone?

Do you remember the days when you curled up in a chair with a book (anything from Tom Sawyer or Little Women to The Final Diagnosis) and a plate of munchies, oblivious to the rest of the world, especially calling parents? The book-reading child is slowly becoming a rare sight. The place of pride that the storybook occupied is being taken over by the ubiquitous television and the computer. This is not to say these are ‘bad’ per se, but I’m sure you’ll agree that the book is indeed something special. As teachers, maybe we could do something to polish up its image and restore to it some of its fading glory. We could encourage our students to read, to ‘reawaken’ them to the pleasures that good books bring.

True, television has some very obvious advantages. But they demand nothing from the viewer except a little bit of attention. Reading, on the other hand, is a process of ‘creative interaction’ between the reader and the book. Understanding depends both on what is presented to the reader (the text) and what knowledge of vocabulary, grammar and the world the reader already has.

Reading also offers the reader the opportunity to build a variety of mental pictures, to exercise the imagination, and to make each book a uniquely personal experience. Moreover, children who read extensively are usually good users of language. So perhaps we could pass some of our own excitement about reading on to the children in our classrooms. Since it may be difficult to motivate children to actually pick up books and start reading it may help to make each reading exercise a ‘fun’ activity, and to delink it from syllabus-oriented activities. Here are a few ways to get your students to read:

1.    Read out part of a story to the class and ask them to guess the rest. After you awaken their interest, tell your students where they can find the book to read the rest.

2.    Photocopy a couple of interesting chapters from a good book and distribute them in class. Get groups of students to act out parts of the chapters, and when they start asking questions about the characters give them the name of the book and tell them where to find it.

3.    Introduce a situation from a well-loved book and try and get children to build a story around it. Then tell them that it is already written and can be read.

4.    Every week put up, on a corner of the board, the title of a book that is available in the library and a brief outline (without revealing the plot). This may be a good way to expose the children to good titles.

5.    Teach the children how to use the library. In class, tell them how a library is organized and how to go about searching for books. Introduce them to reference books like encyclopaedias and dictionaries.

6.    Develop a small class library, with books suited to the level and interest of the class.

7.    You must yourself develop a keen interest in children’s literature and get to know as much about it as possible. This will equip you to identify books suitable for your class.

Needless to say, you will be able to transfer enthusiasm to your students only if you are an enthusiastic and avid reader yourself!

This article first appeared in Teacher Plus, Issue No.31, July-August 1994 and has been adapted here with changes.

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