Connecting child's reading to own world

October 18, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

I'm reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin aloud to my son. We've been covering a chapter a day - which only takes about 15 minutes - for the last week or so. Even though he can read well on his own, I sense that he anxiously awaits this read-aloud time.

How do I know?

Oh, let's say I get the hint when he starts asking, "Is it storytime?" every time I turn around.

Monday's chapter showed how many irons Franklin had in the fire.

At one point, he ran a printing shop, published a newspaper, wrote an almanac, started a library, organized a fire department, ran a post office and acted as clerk for the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

My son couldn't wait to get to the chapter titled "Tamer of Lightning."

But along the way, we came across an unexpected piece of information.

Ben Franklin's youngest son, Franky, died of smallpox.


"What is smallpox?" my son asked.

I explained that it was a deadly disease that had been eradicated with immunizations. The blank stare told me to try again.

"That means it has been conquered because children were given shots to protect against the disease. I received the smallpox vaccine when I was 4, but you didn't because the disease has not been considered a threat."

Then I added, "Until recently."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, it's thought that some countries have stored the disease and may use it during wartime. So, our government is reconsidering a vaccine and trying to decide who should get it."

He looked back over the paragraph we had just read and quietly said, "I want the shot."

Then I told him that there are certain risks involved with the vaccine and we could talk to his doctor about it at his 8-year-old check-up.

OK, I admit, that chapter took longer than 15 minutes.

But something really wonderful happened in the process. We were making a connection between the text and the world around us.

Please turn to READING, C3

It's something reading teachers refer to as text to world connections. And it's one of three connections - the other two are text to self and text to text - we can help our children make while reading.

"In order to truly comprehend, we have to make connections," says Pam Michael, a reading teacher at Winter Street Elementary School. "I think a lot of people do it naturally."

Sometime between the ages of 2 and 4 children will be ready to make simple connections while listening to a story. They may connect the story to an experience they've had (text to self), to another story they've heard (text to text) or to something that's happening around them (text to world).

"We try to make meaning out of everything we encounter in life," says Rebecca Collinson, reading improvement teacher at Funkstown Elementary School. "We add new learning to it, but we have to start with a connection."

Select read-aloud materials that are above your child's reading level, because a child can think above his reading level, Michael says.

Text to self

The first connection children make with text usually is, "How is this like me?"

If something happens to a character in a story, can your child relate to that experience?

Make comments such as, "That's like the time you fell down and got hurt," or "Did anything like that ever happen to you?"

Try it with the book, "The Relatives Came," by Cynthia Rylant.

"It's what we call 'think alouds,' " Michael says. "We model it for the child: This reminds me of when I was a child and had to sleep on the floor when Aunt Ruth was here."

Text to text

One character may remind a child of a similar character in another book, or the child may start using this concept while making comparisons between series books - Clifford, Arthur, Berenstain Bears.

Collinson was recently working with a group of students who mentioned that a story reminded them of the Harry Potter books.

Michael says she sometimes shares the Native American folk tale, "The Rough-Faced Girl" with her students. Children often realize that the tale is like Cinderella, which gives Michael an opportunity to ask about similarities and differences between the two tales.

"Understanding one book can help them understand another," Collinson says.

Text to world

This is relating text to the world around you.

You read a story about a police officer to your child. The next day you're out and your child points to a police officer and says he's like the one you read about the night before.

You read a story about an airplane and your child tells you that an airplane hit a building and it fell down, a reference to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Or, you come across a reference to smallpox and you have an opportunity to discuss, admit fears and quietly reassure.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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