Tag Archives: Teaching Readers

X-Ray Reading

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Roy Peter Clark’s X-Ray Reading: How the Secrets of 25 Great Works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing is a must read for teachers. Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute, has taught for more than 30 years and authored or edited 18 books. In this X-Ray Reading he encourages his readers to “put on their x-ray reading glasses” along with him and undress the text. This experience leads to deeper reading knowledge and deeper writing knowledge. Beginning with The Great Gatsby and working his way through contemporary literature, Clark spends time with the fine details and its literacy effects. He writes, “writing is a game of language connection and meaning.” Let’s play.

George Orwell said, “Good writing is like a window pane, a frame for seeing the world, a boundary that is hardly noticeable.”

What should we stop, notice, and note?  Here are some places to pay special attention:

The Opening Passage & Treasured Endings- These foreshadow the rest of the story. Great beginnings arc and hint at great endings with foreshadowing details. Clark utilizes The Great Gatsby to illustrate the strategic treasures of powerful endings and beginnings.

Lyrical sentences – “Long sentences that take us on a journey” (pg 46) whereas short sentences are the “gospel of truth.”

Intentional elaboration and Cliffhangers that propel the reader.

Symbolism –  Geography, names (“names are a tool to project and overview character”), and common objects with deeper meaning and or religious references. There is so much religious symbolism in literature and Clark tells all his readers to read the Bible to notice and note the religious symbolism.

Repetition or the “echo effect” – Not redundancy, but purposeful repetition and the variation of a word, object, and idea. Clark mentions language clubs and word associations to help be creative with repetition. Similarly, tropes and motifs that show up again and again are significant. Think of the powerful image of the green light in The Great Gatsby that emerges throughout the story with its literal meaning and connotations.

Word Choice, Punctuation, & Diction – “Structural, architectural concerns – the ways in which the patterns of language and imagery create the backbone of a narrative” (pg 22). Then look at “the feel and the effect of the writer’s vocabulary as a whole.” Clark references  American Scholar’s 10 Best Sentences in Literature as a place to begin studying the master craft of authors. The difference between “just the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.”

Nature, Setting, and Landscape – Places in the text where authors harmonize nature with narrative action and emotion and then places where nature is indifferent. Weather is part of the setting of the story and can be used symbolically. Weather is a character and metaphor that provides tension with the plot. His example of Zora Neale Hurston’s passage under the pear tree in Their Eyes Were Watching God transforms language and images of nature into symbolically rich passages.

Characterization – Clark says that it is important to torture your main character and make them suffer. He gives permission to his writing students to kill someone at the end. Details reveal the complexities of a character’s inner life. What characters are not doing is important, often more than their direction actions. Referring to Kurt Vonnegut’s advice  on the relationship between plot and character in narrative writing, “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for, every character should want something, and be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them” (pg 126). Harry Potter is one example of this test of character.

Time – Stories are about time in motion but there are moments when time seems to stop. As a writer you can freeze time or slow down time as with To Kill a Mockingbird during the court room scene and again with Atticus shooting the rabid dog. Look for places where the readers is eased into the complex because the author’s purpose is to make us see.

Titles – Clark cites as the most important element of stories

Clark wants us to OVER READ. He writes, “literature is about movie making with your notebook and choreographing a dance.” He is all for reading like a writer. He states, “To grow as a write, you should read the words of the writers you admire and look for ways to imitate that work” (pg. 184). Plus, incorporate the “reading of poetry to examine the beautiful compression of language, meaning, and emotion.”

There are specific chapters in the book that I will be sharing with my students to help them undress and close read the text. His chapter on Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” is great to read in conjunction with the short story and when my students begin reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I will share Clark’s x-ray chapter with them. If we expect students to read like writers then we must give them models what that looks like. They need opportunities to trace symbols across a text and see how writers play with words. Starting small with sentences, poems, and then short stories can help students crack open the masterful elements writers design.

Want more? Check out this podcast with Roy Peter Clark on Book Titans

 

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Let’s Get Ready to Battle . . . Battle of the Books

For the past three months my fourth grader has been engrossed in Battle of the Books. This annual events kicks off the beginning of March with a book party and students receiving a special package of story maps, books, and a book list. The 100 fourth graders are sent off on a mission to read as many books as possible for the battle that occurs the end of May. Each class battles against the other to obtain the title of “Book Champion” by answering questions identifying the books and authors for the 80 titles in a spelling bee – like event that parents are invited to attend with a celebration at the end.

The day of the battle, the entire fourth grade had read more than 1,400 books in that time frame and my daughter’s class of 17 students was the top class to read 509 books. For three months she was determined to read 40 books. Every night we would read an hour before bed and talk through the characters and stories. She was on a mission and the night before the final count, at 37 books she came home from school to powerhouse through three books to meet her personal reading goal. The books ranged from picture books to chapter books. I suggested reading the easiest books first (those with the fewest pages) before getting to Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons and C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It was intense the last week of the battle.

Amazed by the excitement in the air among the fourth graders the day of the battle, I thought how can I do this in my own classroom and make the Battle of the Books relevant in middle school. Already gamifying my classroom, why not add another layer with a school year long battle of the texts.

Battle of the Books

Click on the Image to view the entire book list for the Epic Book Battle

My list contains 100 titles – some still to be determined. The books are in order of the reading and writing units we have throughout the year. You will notice that I have included poems, books, essays, TED Talks, and even podcasts. Why not include a variety of texts for students to read and engage with. My students will have a notebook specifically for their reading notes and sketch notes. The directions for the notebook are below. I am using the directions from English teacher and podcaster, Brian Sztabnik Summer Reading Assignment for his students.

For every book you read you will keep two (or more) pages of notes/sketchnoting to organize your thinking about the text.  “How you organize those three pages is up to you. I know that this is vague and undefined, but look at it another way. I am empowering you to do what you feel is right. You have the freedom to do what you want. You can create whatever you want. All I’m asking you to do is create three interesting pages of notes about your reading experience. When there are little to no rules, the possibilities are endless. It is up to you to make it awesome!”

I am planning the last Friday of each quarter to hold a battle – of sorts. In Classcraft teams students will be asked questions related to the books. The team with the most questions answered correctly will earn treasure to use in class. The 4th Quarter the entire 8th grade class will battle all their classmates. The winning team of the epic battle will earn an even bigger advantage on your final exam.

For every 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 books read and notes completed, students gain XP and various prizes to be utilized in class for their benefit. The student that reads all 100 books . . .  well you will have to wait to collect your fortune! — As for my daughter’s class, there was one student who read all 80 books and won a $100 Amazon gift card. 

The energy and excitement during the battle among the fourth graders was contagious. I was amazed how many books the students read and their collaboration to work together during the battle supporting one another. This is something that I want to recreate with my students in the upcoming school year.

 

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