OPINION

Fairweather: Teaching your child reading comprehension of fictional books at home

TOMMY FAIRWEATHER

If you have been reading aloud to your child or been telling stories, you have been teaching the child story structure. By listening to the stories, children intuitively know that stories have a beginning, middle and end. Sometimes it takes discussing and modeling specific parts of a story to help children improve their comprehension of chapter books.

Begin by explaining that all authors create plots for their books. Each plot has a beginning, a middle (where the problem to be solved by the main character is introduced) and an ending that helps indicates the problem is solved. Most authors use their plots to “teach” something to the reader.  Plotlines generally fall into three categories — man against man, man against himself, and man against nature. An easy way to teach this is to get a copy of a fairytale and read it with your child. After reading the tale, discuss the plot with the child.  (Example: Three Pigs go off in the world by themselves).  Middle-Problem (Pigs need to build a house that will keep them safe from wolf. First house was made of hay fails, second one was made of sticks also fails. Ending — last house was made brick and it kept all three pigs safe from the wolf.) Have your child identify the beginning, middle and end in another fairy tale.When they begin their own stories after this lesson ask them to show you their plan for writing that includes the beginning, middle and end.

When your child begins to read chapter books, he/she will not know the plot of the book until it is  completed. Therefore, you should teach that each chapter of the book also has a plot. These small plots contribute to the overall plot of the book.  When your child reads a book, have the child write in a notebook the plot of each chapter. When the child finishes the book, these summaries can be reread to piece together the plot of the whole book.

Characters are important because the plot is revealed through the thoughts, dialogue and action of each character. The author furnishes clues by providing each character with specific traits.  These include: physical, mental, social, emotional and sometimes spiritual traits. The author provides most of the defining traits of each character early so the reader gets a mental picture of the character to keep in his/her mind while reading the book. The mental and social traits make the character come alive.  The emotional traits provide clues to how the characters will respond to changes as the plot evolves. 

To help your children learn to be aware of this, encourage them to keep a Character Journal. As the text is read, the child should write down notes in the journal that describe the character’s traits, and how the author revealed these traits either by narrative, use of dialogue or describing the actions of the character. When the child starts writing his or her own story, character charts can be made that include all the traits given to the main characters.  The child also decides how the traits will be assembled into the story using narrative, dialog or written descriptions of the actions of the character.

The time and place of the story enhances the plot. To teach this to your child, take any fiction picture book, and as you turn the page, discuss the place of the setting and time of the story (past, present, future). For his/her own writing, have your child sketch a picture of one setting. Next, the child writes a description of the setting in his/her words. Then you draw a picture from the child’s description. Next, you compare your drawing with his/her drawing. Upon viewing the differences, the child begins to realize the description might need to be expanded. 

Once your child has learned the parts of a chapter book, comprehension will begin to improve.  Reading and writing are truly intertwined. When the child is able to write stories, his or her comprehension of the structure of most writing will improve.

Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.