The often ignored connection between reading and writing skills in children
Children in school study their textbooks and write to let the teacher know what they have learnt. If they are unable to write what they know using good language, the teacher is going to have trouble assessing their understanding. Research indicates that avid readers turn out to be better writers.
At the Young Readers' Club, we were reading the book Homer On The Case by Henry Cole, a fantastic book in which a homing pigeon witnesses a series of bizarre robberies and tries to alert the humans. We along with Homer, the homing pigeon witnessed the first robbery in the story. A woman lost her gold bracelet to a rat and no one noticed until the woman raised a cry. A little further down on the page, we read this dialogue, "Now that lady is messed up!" he said. "I wonder who pulled her chain?"
We read that and paused. One of the readers asked, "Wait a minute. Didn't we read that the rat stole a gold bracelet? Now this man says, 'chain'!" The others sat up now evidently confused. Did they miss something? They looked at me for a clue. "Could it be an idiom perhaps? Since we know for sure that it was a bracelet that was stolen," I asked.
The sounds of the keyboard being typed quickly could be feebly heard. Someone shot up with the answer, "It is an idiom and it means to irritate or tease someone. For eg. I pull my friend's chain and he pulls mine." Now that we knew that this was an idiom, we went back to the same spot and reread the sentence. Then it occurred to us that the contextual clue staring right at us was, "Now that lady is messed up!" She was angry/upset that her bracelet from her purse was missing. That was a hard one to guess though especially in the context of a bracelet being stolen. Nevertheless, the group found it interesting that the author would choose that expression for this particular scene in the book.
Choosing the right words/expressions to create an impact while speaking or writing
The English language has umpteen number of words that convey the same meaning. However, given a particular context, some words/expressions do better in terms of how they sound and how well they convey the intended meaning. As in the example of Homer On The Case, drawing a contrast between simply saying, "The lady was upset" and "I wonder who pulled her chain?", it soon became evident that the choice of the latter expression had more power.
Consider this sentence. "They trotted carefully around the dead body, afraid of something that they did not know." The same could be written differently. "They trotted carefully around the dead body, terrified if any sound may just bring a ghost amidst their presence."
Writing gives the individual the time to think and experiment with several possibilities and narrow down to the best possible way to communicate something. This is particularly useful while contributing in group discussions as well as while preparing for speeches.
Reenforcing this approach to simply write what comes to children's minds and then contemplating how it could be written differently, enables them to make connections with writing styles they may have encountered while reading. To facilitate this process, what helps immensely is enabling children to share their observations either in verbal or written form. Analysing a writer's choice of words is a complementary approach that paves the way to quality writing.
What children learn as readers reflects in their writing and vice versa
Nine year old Pallavi (name changed) was flabbergasted after seeing a book character make a wrong decision when it seemed so obvious to her as a reader. As she shared her reaction, she came to the realisation that she knows more than the character and hence is able to see the error in the decision. Twelve year old Sania (name changed) wrote in her notebook while reading Wings of Fire by T. Sutherland, that she found the war disturbing and how it made her feel sad. As a writer, this young reader understands the impact of a war element and it is possible that she will use it sparingly as a tool in her writing. On the other hand, ten year old Ashish (name changed) drew inspiration from action fantasy books and chose to include suspense filled scene in his story about a glorious fight between good and evil!
Ideas to attempt the creative writing section in English exam paper at school.
Everyone of the readers mentioned above drew inspiration from what they had read and enjoyed earlier in their writing. Pallavi for instance over time appreciate the feeling she experienced as a reader- a feeling of power which she may want to deliver to someone who reads her stories. The older readers, Sania and Ashish, chose to use their observations in different ways. It is only logical to concur that these children will go back to books that they have read to draw inspiration especially when they have a time constraint within which they need to weave a story. Such a situation would typically arise in English exam papers, especially in high school. The older they grow the higher the expectations from their writing. The more children read, the better they get in expressing themselves in writing.
The more children read, the better they get in expressing themselves in writing.
Note of caution: Important to sensitize children early on about plagiarism early on. While one can be inspired by someone's imagination or writing, it is wrong to copy their ideas verbatim and call it one's own writing.
The often ignored connection between reading extensively and being able to write coherently.
Children's fiction these days have brilliant ways of interweaving school subjects such as history, political science, geography and the various sciences in to marvellous and engaging stories. While this connection contributes immensely to generating interest in the young readers, when encouraged they also take a step back to appreciate how concepts are written clearly with suitable examples. This has much to do with the choice of words and how they are used to convey the intended message to the reader. Students often tend to lose marks in the exams even though they know the concepts. The reason tends to be the choice of words used and how that choice sometimes distorts the intended meaning completely. Talking about the choice of words in what we read and the impact it has is good reminder to students to use the right choice of words in their writing as well.
Talking about the choice of words in what we read and the impact it has is good reminder to students to use the right choice of words in their writing as well.
Learning to appreciate and reject writing approaches
Every well known writer has fans and people who dislike their writing. Encouraging children to think about why a recommended book did not satisfy their reading needs helps them reflect on how they could avoid the same with their own writing. Writing is work in progress for everyone, child or adult. We are constantly evolving as writers. Thankfully there isn't a zenith as afterwards there would be nowhere to go.