A Year of Reading: Reading Around
In Dr Kornel Kossuth’s fifth post for us as he continues on in his challenge to promote reading for pleasure during the school day, he discusses the benefits of themed reading with children.
When we think of school reading, we tend to think of a class reader, a novel or novella, that is read and discussed throughout a term. Sometimes this might be a short story collection, but we are generally all very book-bound (and whether hardback or paperback is up to everyone to decide for themselves).
Last year I introduced the idea of themed reading. So, rather than look at a novel or short stories by one author, we look at various writing all to do with one theme, like cities or ships. This means pupils are confronted with non-fiction, fiction and poetry in rapid succession, but all linked by a common thread.
Apart from introducing the pupils to a wide range of genres and styles, I think the theme-based work allows pupils – and teachers – to approach texts very differently and to see connections that may otherwise not have been obvious. It can also help the art of writing no end to compare two descriptions of similar events, say a storm at sea (with or without the ubiquitous shipwreck), and discover how authors treat one and the same happening very differently, depending on focus, plot and genre. An excellent little book in this respect is Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style, which I use regularly, both as warm-up exercise and a bit of fun as well as a more serious look at how to form reader expectation and event horizon.
Part of the themed approach is to make children realize that often it is not so much the story that is important, but how it is told. Children, so bound up in narratives, take a while to learn that the story is often of secondary importance; it’s how it’s told that is much much more interesting.
And every year the themes challenge and invite me to find new texts, new ways of telling old stories, new forms for old words. So, this year the start of term is the mad rush it always is, with all the resolutions, promises and plans to improve. In addition, it is also a hunting for texts, a leafing through anthologies, a trawling through piles of books, a skimming of ideas off the pages to find something sight-stopping. And the joy of this literary quest is not least that while I am engaged in it, I am also planning and working for my teaching. That’s the beauty of reading: its enjoyment is also work. Where else do you get work that fulfilling?
Kornel Kossuth has loved English since a young age and began teaching it to children ten years ago. Before turning to teaching, he was a lawyer and (briefly) a diplomat. A published poet, poetry busker and poetry blogger, he is also the author of a number of English resources and is currently working on textbooks for years 7 and 8.