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Parents can let children express themselves in book reports

October 19, 2007|By LISA PREJEAN

I've heard some interesting student discussions on the value of book reports.

"Book reports help us understand how a book is put together."

That's very true. A well-written book report will examine plot, setting, characters and style.

"Book reports are hard to do because they're so short and the books are so long."

It is a dilemma. What do you leave in? What do you leave out?

"Book reports are good because they help our grades."

A child who struggles to do well on reading tests might excel when asked to write about a book he has read.

Some children complain when given an assignment to write a book report, but most children seem to enjoy the process.

Being able to take someone else's work and evaluate it provides children with an opportunity they don't often have.

They can decide what the author did well and what the author didn't do well.

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The best part is that there are no wrong answers. Opinions are neither right nor wrong. They are based on feelings.

Most children have no problem expressing how they feel about a wide array of subjects, written matter included.

In my third-grade classroom this fall, we are doing bookmark book reports on all the books we read. These miniature book reports are unique because everything has to fit on a bookmark. On one side of the bookmark, the students draw a picture to illustrate something from the book. On the other side, the students write the title, author's name and a one- to two-sentence description of the book. They also rate the book with one to five stars, with a five-star rating being the best.

After completing a bookmark, the students give a miniature oral report on the book. I ask whether anyone else in the class has read the book. Then we talk about whether the book should be recommended to others.

We don't have these discussions every day, but often enough to show that reading is important and that a love of reading can be shared among friends.

The exercise also is a good way to prepare younger students for the more formal book reports to come. The simple task of finding an author's name, the publishing date and the number of pages is a valuable foundation.

I was thinking about this as I proofread my seventh-grade son's most recent book report. I'm careful to exercise restraint when it comes to evaluating my own children's writing. It's important for the work to be done in their words, their voice, their style.

Sometimes parents want to take over a child's work and redo it. That tactic should be avoided because it makes the child feel inadequate: "Mom and Dad think I can't do anything right." Or, it makes a child expect others to complete their work: "Well, if I don't do a good job, that's OK, because my parents will fix it."

Our role as parents is to read the rough draft and catch spelling, grammar or punctuation errors and to make overall suggestions.

For example, in my son's book report, he did a wonderful job of retelling the highlights of the book. However, he avoided evaluating the author's presentation of the story. I encouraged him to write what he thought would make the book more interesting. I didn't tell him what to include or where to put it, just that an evaluation was needed.

When reading your child's book reports, keep these questions in mind:

1. Does the report describe the setting, where the story takes place?

2. Does the report describe the characters in the story?

3. Does the report describe the plot, the main subject of the story?

4. Has the student shared what he thought about the book and whether it is a worthwhile read?

5. Does the report include the title of the book and the author's name?

Did you laugh at the last one? Sometimes the most obvious things are the things we - or our kids - forget.

I'm still waiting for my son to tell me who wrote the biography he read on Henry Ford.

Hopefully he'll remember to put the author's name in his book report.

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

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