Reading Strategies: Presents

I’m planning on doing a much better job working with literacy this year.  I want to find various texts—stories, songs, reports, novels, etc.—and backwards plan from them the phrases, making us be able to access a wider range of things.  If I’m going to be having a literacy based curriculum, I need to have a good amount of reading going on.  Klar!

I got a lot better at making up stories out of the key phrases, but the thing I struggled the most with at the end of last year was the actual reading of the story.  Granted, the books I had available for levels one and two weren’t high literature, but in the video study group I participated in there was a lot of good suggestions about how to get through those books.  Carla in particular was very diligent about finding a lot of ideas from literature that are real winners.  As I never got around to posting those at the time, I’d like to feature several of them here as a series of blog posts.  Basically, what do you do to make reading a novel more interactive? How do you go about making your own Teacher’s Treasure Chest to pick and choose from?

One of the easy “low hanging fruit” ideas that Carla found regards presents.  Once the main characters are pretty well established, a good discussion day topic (in between reading chapters) would be “What presents should you give to each character?”   I got to thinking about the recent discussion here about creating flawed characters to draw the students in (making sure to juxtapose your “perfect” students with the flawed characters—hat tip to Erin there).  OK, so your characters are flawed.  What gift can you give them that can help compensate for that flaw?

If your main character is a bit scatterbrained (I’m thinking of Thomas from Geld oder Liebe) does he need an iPad to help him coordinate things better?  Or would playing with all the Apps make things worse?  If the Tiger in O Wie Schön ist Panama is always afraid of everything, do you give him a bodyguard? A security blanket? A water pistol?  Going through all of the ideas the class generates could be a fun exercise.  Then that would set you up for later in the novel when the characters’ flaws come up again, and you could have a nice brain break talking about how they could sure use that iPad now, or what they would do in this situation with a favorite gift.

I was even thinking of this exercise for my classes in conjunction with the German tradition of St. Nikolaus and Knecht Ruprecht/Krampus.  Basically it’s Saint Nick as the good cop, and his dirty friend as the bad cop who gives the kids coal (or worse) if they’re bad.  I remember the part in Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Father Christmas shows up and gives everybody a gift to move the plot along.  We could have a recurring practice where Nikolaus and Krampus show up in every novel we read to help people out and/or give them a hard time.  That would be a fun twist to drop in December, at least.

6 responses to “Reading Strategies: Presents

  1. What a great idea. I can’t wait to have a chance to try it. I’m so glad you posted it.

    It’s a fun way to personalize the text for the kids, meanwhile getting them to really consider the character. I can see all sorts of spin-offs, with an actor brooding out loud, for example, about why it would be nice to have the specific gift, or maybe doing a time travel to a place where the gift is. Without getting too far off the reading, you can connect kids to it. And if a section of the text leads itself to such work, students could do the writing part of the Scaffolding Literacy plan around one of these spin-offs.


  2. My next thought is “What would that character have on his/her Ipod?” Kids so identify with music and musical groups and who listens to what…I can see this working really well…thinking..thinking…

    with love,


  3. Oh…this is starting to make me think that I could make a cheat-sheet list of relevant questions to ask when I need them…
    What gift would they need?
    What music would be on their iPod (for different occasions, even)
    What clothing would they typically wear?
    If they came to our town, where would they hang out?
    What would be their stock phrases?
    Who of you would choose them as friends?
    Where would they sit in the cafeteria?


  4. I think it was Carla again who talked about doing a variety of this where you could make a class collage for presents you give to the characters. You could have people bring in a picture that you would then discuss, gluing the pictures to a poster-board after (or even before) you’re done discussing that. This way that would give the ideas some permanence in the class moving forward. Not only would the kids see their presents, but at various spots in the reading, you could debate which present would be best to haul out of their backpack/pocket (big pockets!)

    Laurie, once you have established what is on a character’s ipod, you could then use that at various points while reading to have the person hum that song when they’re stressed, or traveling somewhere. If you’re doing enough music in the classroom, I’d imagine many of the suggestions would be from the catalog you are presenting, so that would be a way of recycling those songs while giving you a nice moment in the middle of a story.

    You could even take that idea and extend it back into the realm of story-asking, as a way of fleshing out a character to give them some personality. If you have them driving/flying/pogo-sticking their way to a location you could ask what they listen to on the way, then hum/rap/falsetto sing a couple of lines from the song while they’re traveling.


  5. I’d love to hear how thoughtful the students are with their gift ideas. I bet they can come up with very amusing gifts.

    I think it is a great idea and I’d love to try it out sometime too. Good luck with your new school year.


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