The Resistant Reader

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“Allergic to Literature” or “Averse to English” may be labels that loom over your homeschooler’s head, especially where classic literature is concerned. You want to provide a well-rounded literary education, but you can’t seem to break through the “Why do I have to read this? It’s so boring!” phase. As an English teacher, I know some tricks of the trade to change a resistant reader’s tune, and I’d like to share them with you!

How to improve your homeschool student's literature comprehension

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4 Steps to Improve Your Homeschooler’s Appreciation and Comprehension of Literature

Get into Context

Before ever peering at a book’s pages, a wealth of information awaits a reader. That information is a work’s context. Let’s break context up into three parts: author, setting, and genre.

  • Author – When introducing a work of literature, help your homeschooler grasp that the author intentionally and painstakingly sat down and wrote it. That author has a story of his or her own, and often, it is as fascinating as the work itself. Encourage your homeschooler to do research from a reputable source and answer the following questions:
    • What was the author’s life like?
    • How did he or she become an author?
    • How might personal circumstances have influenced the writing?
    • In what time period did this author live?
    • What were the author’s social, political, religious beliefs and ideologies?
  • Setting – Set your homeschooler on a quest to learn about where and when of the novel takes place: Russian Revolution? Tudor Dynasty? Reign of Terror? Industrial Revolution? So many remarkable works of literature involve locations and events that will spark your child’s geographical and historical interests while heightening literary sensibilities.
  • Genre – A work is classified as a particular genre, or type, because it contains key attributes. Set your homeschooler on a mission to gather as much information as possible about the genre of the work before reading it. Then, let the literary treasure hunt begin! Recognizing genre distinctions will delight the reader and illuminate the reading.

Make it Relatable

As your homeschooler is reading a new work, look for ways to make connections that relate it his or her interests, personal experiences, and favorite books or characters.

  • Interests – What’s your homeschooler’s passion? Tap into it! Sports fan? Relate the plight of a character to a batter who keeps striking out. Budding artist? Highlight an author’s use of figurative language and compare it to an artist’s color palette. Scientist or mathematician? Look at the structure of the work as a formula, equation, or experiment in which a character’s actions combined with environmental forces yield certain results. You get the idea!
  • Personal Experiences – What are some life experiences your homeschooler has endured or is still processing? Perhaps a character in the novel is experiencing something similar. What a perfect opportunity to discuss the loss of a loved one, sickness, rejection, joy, disappointment…the list goes on. As a teenager, I had a “lightbulb” moment while reading a required classic novel I was not particularly enjoying. The main character reminded me of a loved one whose actions I was struggling to understand and did not commend. Being allowed to get inside that character’s head helped me see my loved one in a new light and with greater compassion.
  • Favorite Books or Characters – What book or character is your homeschooler’s favorite? Is your homeschooler a Lord of the Rings fanatic but can’t stand Chaucer? Use the quest aspect of Lord of the Rings to make a connection with the pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales. The Bible tells us that there is “nothing new under the sun.” Literature inspires literature and if you try even a little, you will see similarities among a multitude of works, making it quite easy to elevate the comprehension of a new text with analogies of a familiar one. Speaking of the Bible, Biblical imagery is rampant in literature, so making connections to scripture and the life of Christ is simple. In one of my favorite literature lessons, we connected the works of Edgar Allan Poe to the Bible. The students were stunned as they saw the gospel message emerge from such darkness and despair.

Chart it Out

Visual and hands-on learners will love this step and all readers will benefit from it. It helps make the abstraction of literature more tangible and details more memorable.

Thanks to the work of Gustav Freytag, we know that stories can be dissected into five parts:

  • Exposition
  • Rising Action
  • Climax
  • Falling Action
  • Resolution (Denouement).

Before reading the work, your homeschooler should:

  • define the above terms (if not already familiar)
  • create a plot chart (see example)

While reading, encourage your homeschooler to:

  • use a highlighter to mark passages that seem important to the advancement of the plot
  • fill in the plot information on the plot chart in pencil where he or she thinks the events belong; the information can be written in short sentences, key words, or phrases

After reading the work, your homeschooler can:

  • go back and rearrange, expound, and complete the information on the plot chart
  • get creative; use poster board for a broader surface area and illustrate a scene for each of the five parts

Challenge the Reader

If your homeschooler has completed the previous steps, then it is impossible for him or her to be unaffected by the work. It’s time to journey beyond “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” and challenge the reader to answer some imaginative, out-of- the-box questions:

  •  If you were the author of this work, what would you have done differently and why?
  • Based on your research, why do you think the author chose to take the story in this direction?
  • What if you were the main character…would you have reacted similarly or differently in the circumstances?
  • If you changed the work’s setting, how would it be different?

Once those hypothetical doors are open, invite a more introspective look:

  • Did this work awaken or stir your emotions?
  • Did it help you understand others or yourself in a new way?
  • Did the work confirm or challenge your beliefs?
  • What do you feel you learned from this work?

Grab a Book and Go!

Great works of literature have the power to excite our imaginations and fill us with wonder while transporting us to worlds and eras we cannot visit in body. Where will your homeschooler
go next? May these four steps help you lead the way!

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