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Teaching Literature Stage by Stage

Besides being relaxing and enjoyable, reading good literature offers a number of benefits to learners. It also builds a common experience among the reader and listeners; it provides models of excellent grammar, fluency, and writing; it helps develop critical thinking skills; and it offers the opportunity to understand and discuss problems. Reading literature can benefit all ages, but some of the best practices in teaching literature vary by the age of the student. Here are some tips and ideas for teaching literature at each learning stage.

Starting Out

Preschool - 1st Grade

Very young children need to learn all subjects in a natural, easy-going way. Think of how they learned to walk or talk, and use that model for teaching literature as well. Lots of fun and lots of praise!

Here are some activity suggestions for this stage:

  • Read aloud from a variety of excellent picture books.
  • Invest in a book of nursery rhymes. There are many versions available, and they are great for reading aloud and memorizing.
  • At this age, repetition is key. So, even though you may not want to stomach the 10,302nd reading of a favorite book, do it anyway. Your child will learn a lot about reading, grammar, voice inflection, and fluency through this repetition.
  • Read predictable books with a chorus or repeated section of text that your child can chime in on.
  • Let your young child lead the way and don’t frustrate him. If your child gets antsy or wants to change books, go for it. If you choose a book and your child isn’t interested, put it away and try again in a few weeks or months.

Getting Excited

2nd - 4th Grade

By the Getting Excited stage, your child should be able to listen to longer texts over periods of time, beginning with short chapter books over a few days and moving onto longer chapter books as they progress toward the Beginning to Understand stage. Children at this age will begin to discover favorite genre and series.

Although you may have a voracious reader on your hands, don’t neglect reading aloud. Choose books slightly above the child’s reading level when possible. Your child will continue to learn inflection, fluency, and vocabulary by listening to you read aloud.

Here are some tips for this stage:

  • Be selective in choosing your books. While an occasional “sweet” doesn’t really hurt a child, “meat and potatoes” is important to growth. Choose well-written books by authors who are passionate about the subject, and look for literature that touches the emotions.
  • Use pre-reading questions and discussion to activate your child’s background knowledge about a story. Give enough information to help your child understand the book and pique his interest, but don’t ruin the story!
  • Expose your child to a variety of genre and styles. Homeschoolers tend to read a lot of historical fiction and nonfiction, but don’t forget poetry, dramas, science fiction, fantasy, and mysteries.
  • Even as you move on to longer chapter books, don’t dismiss the power of a wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated picture book to teach concepts at this age.

Beginning to Understand

5th - 8th Grade

As your child enters middle school, she will be able to enjoy longer novels with more mature themes. These are prime years for modern fiction and humor. Here are some tips for maximizing enjoyment while learning:

  • Continue to read great literature from a variety of genres.
  • Even though your child may be an excellent reader, continue to read aloud or have your child listen to audio books.
  • Connect literature to other subject areas. Read about historical figures and famous scientists. Have your student read from primary sources (documents, letters, journals, etc. written within the time period, such as the Declaration of Independence) that connect to the book they are reading.
  • Teach literature genres, elements (such as character, setting, and plot), and techniques (such as alliteration and metaphors).
  • Use literature to teach writing genres. Reading a variety of great literature will improve your child’s vocabulary and writing skills.
  • Occasionally have your child do a project associated with what he is reading. There are hundreds of ideas online, such as creating a map or drawing of the story’s setting, making a poster about a character, or writing a different ending to the story.

Learning to Reason

9th - 12th Grade

By the teen years your child will probably have very strong opinion about many things, including what – or if – she likes to read. What your child reads can be important and influential as she approaches adulthood and considers attending college.

Most high school students read a variety of classic literature as part of their language arts courses. These will likely be assigned as part of your curriculum if you have purchased one. If you create your own curriculum, be sure to choose a variety of literature and consider matching book themes and topics to other subjects your teen is studying.

Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Discuss, discuss, discuss! Great books can be used to open up wonderful conversations with your teen about any number of subjects in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way.
  • Use literature to explore character, worldview, and morality.
  • Consider helping your teen start a literature club, where a number of students can discuss books they are reading.
  • Continue to read aloud to your teen, even at the high school level.
  • If you are going to have your child read Shakespeare or other older literature, try taking turns reading, or listen to an audio version while reading along.
  • Watch film versions of classic literature, either before or after reading, to enhance your teen’s understanding of the book.

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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