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READING AS A WRITER

Rita van Haren

Monitoring and Assessment

Four Resources Guideposts

Read and Retell

First Steps Reading Developmental Continuum

Classroom Organisation

Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies

The Reading As A Writer strategy involves students with you, the teacher, reading and enjoying a text, exploring its features and conventions, and then transforming excerpts from the text into new texts.

Through the transformations you scaffold student understandings of what writers do and there is the opportunity to explicitly teach image building, spelling, language, sentence structure and punctuation.

However the focus of this strategy is on making meaning and enjoyment of the text. Also an increasing familiarity with the text enables students to read confidently and explore their own strengths as readers.

Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices

Strategy

Reading As A Writer

Text

Beowulf, an old Anglo-Saxon story,
retold by Claire Scott-Mitchell, Auckland: Shortland Publications, 1989

  • integrates the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
  • may be used with a variety of texts, including narratives, recounts, expositions and reports, and texts in the new social genres such as emails, business cards, web pages, leaflets, and powerpoint presentations
  • scaffolds reading and writing in all curriculum areas
  • engages students with texts which challenge rather than ‘talk down’ to them
  • encourages students to bring their background knowledge to the reading of the text
  • provides the explicit and ‘just in time’ teaching of image building, language, sentence structure, punctuation, spelling, and other text conventions
  • is an adventure story with suspense, violence and action in the battle scenes, all of which engage students, particularly boys, in years 5-9
  • has a complexity of language which challenges students, promotes higher order thinking and problem solving, and extends students to develop new skills with the assistance and support of the teacher
  • connects to English through a study of myths and legends
  • connects to SOSE through a study of early civilizations

 

Four Roles/Resources of the Reader

Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader, the Reading As A Writer strategy involves students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:

Code breaker

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • analyses words based on their spelling, sounds and common letter patterns
  • reads a text to and with other readers to hear the flow of written language and to help make independent reading more predictable
  • reflects on own reading strategies
  • identifies the conventions of text types, eg legends

Text user

Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions, eg:

  • uses an understanding of the purposes of legends, eg to entertain and to hand down customs, culture and ideals of behaviour, to predict the resolution of the Beowulf legend
  • analyses text features to scaffold the creation of new texts

Text participant

Comprehending written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • generates background understandings of the subject matter, eg Vikings, by talking about prior knowledge, exploring websites and looking at the pictures in the text
  • constructs meaning through the book orientation so that reading of the text becomes more predictable
  • uses pictures in the text to predict the storyline
  • predicts the storyline, language and text features
  • monitors predictions
  • draws characters based on language used in the text

Text analyst

Understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners, eg:

  • understands how the historical context of the text, eg legends and the oral tradition, affects realism and the positioning of the audience today and in the past
  • interprets characterisation, eg compares the drawing of Grendel with the language used to describe him and how these position the reader to fear Grendel and admire Beowulf
  • discusses a modern version of the legend, eg female Beowulf, female Grendel and warriors, an Asian context, modern communication rather than the bard through email, news releases and TV news

Four Resources Guideposts

Reading As A Writer Guideposts provide a useful assessment tool.

Implementing the Strategy

Reading as a Writer using Beowulf

Book Orientation

To engage your students in the text introduce the topic of the Vikings and the Beowulf legend. Consolidate understandings from SOSE and English. Make connections to other curriculum areas explicit. Draw on background knowledge by asking students what they know about Vikings such as:

  • horned helmets (refer to comic strip of Hagar); Vikings in fact did not wear horned helmets
  • rape, plunder and pillage;793 was the first raid on Britain
  • not all Vikings were plunderers and many travelled for trade and to find land to settle; there was a lack of good farming land in the north which had many fjords and forests
  • forests promoted boat building skills, especially fast longships with dragon heads which were also carried overland
  • the manuscript was written in 1000AD in Old English based on the sixth century story and can still be viewed today at the British Library. Background information about the text can also be accessed at www.bl.uk; type in Beowulf in the search

This information may be recorded on a K-W-L chart.

Seek out further information by visiting websites on Vikings:

www.mariner.org/age/menu.html
www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/vikings/
www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/
www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/compass/
www.ravensgard.org/gerekr/norse.html#hist
www.pastforward.co.uk/vikings/index.html

Address inclusivity and diversity by discussing legends and belief systems from other cultures, their similarities and differences, eg Aboriginal beliefs linked to creation and the environment, Greek and Roman legends focusing on superhuman strength, Chinese stories linked to creation.

Download Beowulf, an old Anglo-Saxon story, retold by Claire Scott-Mitchell, 1989, Shortland Publications Limited, Auckland. As the text is no longer available in print, you may copy the text for each student without infringing copyright.

Scaffold student reading of the text by flicking through it, referring to the pictures and using the actual words of the author as you discuss how:

  • legends were passed down by word of mouth in the oral tradition; people loved ‘tales of valour sung by the bard’ (refer to picture on page 2 and describe mead horn)
  • the story changed so Grendel becomes a man-wolf, a ‘night stalker’, ‘troll kind’, magical for ‘no weapon could pierce their scaly hides’ and he is able to ‘cast fear among Hrothgar’s warriors’ (refer to picture on page 4). Discuss why such changes might be more common in the oral tradition
  • to pronounce words such as Heorot, Hrothgar and Hygelac. Ensure students are comfortable with saying them
  • the Geats travelled from England to the Danes in Denmark by referring to a map of Europe

This ‘picture flick’ is essential to scaffold student reading of the text as using the actual words of the author increases student familiarity with the language of the text.

Prediction

Ask students to write a prediction of the story based on the Book Orientation/ Frontloading and the pictures (2-3 sentences). Ask them also to record five words/phrases/sentences which they think might occur in the text.

Share predictions in pairs and then students who feel confident may share with the whole group. Encourage students to provide positive feedback to other students about their predictions.

Reading the text

Reading the text aloud to students provides access to texts which they may find difficult or boring. It is a pressure free activity which allows readers to hear the flow of written language and which will help make independent reading more predictable for them. It is important also to focus on enjoying the story.

Read about half of the story aloud to students. Students should have their own copies of the text. Ask students to comment on whether their predictions are correct and how they are the same or different to the text so far. This may be scaffolded through discussion. Students may then change/add to their original predictions.

Finish reading the text and again discuss predictions and reactions to the story.

Reread some of the sections in which Grendel is described. Ask students to help you find them. Ask students to borrow some words from these sections to describe Grendel.

After listing the words students could use them to write a description of what Grendel looks like as well as what he does in Hrothgar’s hall. Encourage students to use the actual words from the story rather than the picture. (2-3 sentences or more if they like). Ask them to underline the words and/or phrases they have taken from the text. By referring back to the text students are gaining increasing confidence to read the text independently.

Then students could draw their own pictures of Grendel and compare and contrast them to the pictures in the text.

Transformations

The transformations of the text involve three components:

  1. Deconstructing selected excerpts from the text, rearranging words and phrases, sentence order, discussing meaning, language features, image building, spelling, language, sentence structure and punctuation.
  2. Reflecting on reading strategies
  3. Creating new texts through modelled, shared/guided and independent writing

i. Deconstructing selected excerpts from the text

Use this stage of the transformations flexibly depending on student need. Not all steps need to be implemented for all texts nor for all students.

Select a significant paragraph from the story. For example:

‘Up came Grendel,’ said the speaker,
‘hating the sound of joy and laughter.
His attack was so swift that no one
heard a cry. In the first light of morning
all that was left of thirty warriors was blood,
splashed on the floor and walls,
and the monster’s grisly footprints
staining the floor.’
  • Type out the excerpt on an A4 page, following the setting out as above and drawing the lines. Provide each student with a copy. Read the selected text with the students. Students can also volunteer to read the passage aloud in pairs or larger groups. Reading in pairs offers further scaffolding to the reading of the text. Place the passage in the context of the story – what has happened before and after.
  • Ask students to cut up the paragraph in strips – one line of text per strip (the drawn lines can help guide the students as they cut up their strips); jumble and rearrange. Students may refer to the original text as often as they wish to help them reorder it.

    paragraph in strips

  • Identify phrases and blocks of meaning and cut them up further. Eg the sound of joy and laughter is one block of meaning. Another is In the first light of morning. Write who, what, where, when, how on the back of these smaller strips. For example In the first light of morning is a ‘when’ and Up is a ‘where’. The sound of joy and laughter is a ‘what’. Model the identifying, cutting and writing for the students and allow them to copy you through each step. It is important not to labour this step by focusing too much on grammar and detracting from the focus on reading and making meaning.

    paragraph cut up with blocks of meaning identified

  • Ask students to rearrange the smaller strips so that the paragraph is different from the original text but still makes sense.

    blocks of meaning reordered

  • Discuss any changes and whether the meaning is retained. Point out that writers construct paragraphs by including many who, what, where, when and how. Discuss which ones move around easiest without changing meaning.
  • Take out words. Do they affect meaning? Which words can be taken out without affecting meaning?
  • Play a card game in which the teacher or one student reads words/phrases in a random order; ask the other students to find them and place them in that random order. The emphasis is on decoding the words/phrases correctly.
  • Mix up the words/phrases and identify them as they are called out randomly again. Race against time.
  • Ask students to arrange the words again as they are used in the original text. Point out what writers do by discussing image building, variety in sentence beginnings, emphasis by placing words at beginning, use of connectives and punctuation. These ‘just in time’ teaching activities will engage students. However take care not to detract from the focus on reading and enjoyment of the text.
  • Refer students to the typical language features of the narrative, eg action verbs, past tense, first and third person, descriptive language etc. (Reference Derewianka, B. 1990, Exploring How Texts Work, p.42).
  • Extension Activity: While this transformation focuses on excerpts from the text, more able students may also be able to discuss how the excerpts fit in with the whole text and focus on text organisation (orientation, complication and resolution).

 

ii. Reflecting on reading strategies

Many underperforming students perceive themselves as ‘failed’ readers. It can be very powerful to help these students revalue their reading strengths and gain an accurate view of their reading. By explicitly teaching reading strategies you provide students with an explanation for their reading behaviours, and help them clarify what they are doing well and what they need to change.

Reading strategies include:

  • using background knowledge to help make meaning
  • using context to make predictions
  • while reading, confirming, modifying or rejecting predictions
  • monitoring own reading with questions such as: Does it make sense? Does it sound right?
  • using graphophonic cues such as common letter patterns to decode words
  • recognising miscues that disrupt meaning
  • rereading
  • reading ahead
  • rereading text before an unknown word, then beyond the known word, before focusing on print details within the word

Ask students to jot down places in the text that give them problems as they read independently or ask them to tape themselves reading aloud. Discuss these individually or in Guided Reading groups and explore specific strategies which the student thinks will help. These open discussions also demonstrate how proficient reading strategies always focus on meaning and the purpose for reading.

In the Guided Reading group, you might ask: How did you handle that part of the story? What did you do when you came to that word? Why does the author use that language? As you explore answers to these questions with your students, they add to their repertoire of reading strategies.

Language activities

Refer to the Beowulf text and First Steps Spelling Books to create activities which explore:

  • word origins
  • word building
  • common patterns in words
  • features of the narrative

Spelling

Ask students to choose five words from the story which they or other students might find difficult to spell. Tell them to write the words in a spelling journal and note any special features of the word. Complete First Steps spelling type activities on the words.

More transformations

Ask students to choose other paragraphs and repeat the transformation activity.

iii. Creating new texts through modelled, shared/guided and
     independent writing

The third aspect of the transformation is to create an entirely new text using the patterns in the original text as a model. Modelled and shared/interactive writing allows you to scaffold the activity further as well as explicitly teach the text features.

  • Modelled writing is when you demonstrate writing a text for your students, thinking aloud to show how writers make decisions.
  • Shared writing is when you, the teacher, construct texts with the students and the teacher has control of the pen.
  • Guided writing is when you share the pen with your students.
  • Independent writing is when the students construct their own texts individually or in small groups.

After creating some texts with the students through the modelled/shared/guided writing process, ask them to construct their own texts individually or in pairs. This scaffolding through shared/guided writing supports higher order thinking in the independent creation of the new texts.

For example the following paragraph was used as a model.

Together they reeled and staggered through the hall, upsetting benches and tables, crashing this way and that, so that not even the Danes in their quarters remained asleep. Even the walls seemed to heave with the shrieks and groans of the monster – but Beowulf fought in silence except for his gasping breaths.

Examples of shared/guided constructions of texts based on this excerpt from Beowulf:

  1. Together they served and volleyed throughout the match, thrilling spectators and officials, stretching this way and that, so that not even the players on the next court could concentrate. Even the nets seemed to shake with the glares and protests of Ivanisevic but Rafter played in silence except for his gasping breaths.
  2. Together they sang and laughed throughout the night, telling stories and jokes, remembering this and that so that not even the guests in the next room remained asleep. Even the walls seemed to shake with the laughter and shrieks of the two – but their neighbours fumed in silence except for their frustrated sighs.

A shared/guided construction based on the excerpt used in the first transformation activity:

  1. ‘Up came Linh Than,’ said the coach, ‘hating the sound of puffing and pounding feet. His approach was so swift that no one heard a breath. By the time the race had ended all that was left of thirty runners were tired bodies, sprawled over the track and Linh Than’s triumphant cheers echoing through the stadium.’

Creating new texts

The transformation activities will increase confidence in writing particularly in using more complex language and sentence structures. Scaffolding of text organisation will add to this confidence and support students to transform their texts further, eg transforming a narrative text into an information text such as a newspaper report.


References

Derewianka, B. (1990). Exploring How Texts Work. Rozelle, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association (PETA).

Education Department of Western Australia. (1994). First Steps Spelling Developmental Continuum. Melbourne: Rigby Heineman.

Education Department of Western Australia. (1994). First Steps Writing Resource Book. Melbourne: Rigby Heineman.

Gray, B., Cowey, W. & Graetz, M. (1998). Scaffolding Literacy Workshop Notes. The Schools and Community Centre, University of Canberra.

Kemp, M. (1987). Watching Children Read and Write. Melbourne: Nelson Australia.

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