For some students, independent reading is a time of joy and discovery. For others…not so much. Try as you might to get students to choose books that interest them, sometimes they simply have a hard time maintaining focus or relating to the characters. It may be a matter of forgetting what they’ve read or connecting all the details in the plot. In any event, empathizing or connecting with characters needs to happen in order to truly comprehend what the story is about. Here’s one way to increase reading comprehension skills.
Conduct An Interview
A surefire method for getting into a story is to get into a character. Getting to know a character sometimes requires reading between the lines and “imagining” how the character would react in a given situation, or what would make them sad, angry, or happy. As all great writers know, the interview process is the best way to get to know someone. While obviously students can’t interview the characters in the books they read, they can play the role of interviewer. Here’s how to get them started.
As students read their book, have them choose one character they’d like to get to know better. Then, as they get involved in the story, have them think of questions they would like to ask the character they chose. For example, if the character seems to be excited about an event in the story, a question could be, “What makes you happy?” More question suggestions are:
1. Who are your friends?
2. What do you like to do after school?
3. What makes you sad?
4. Do you have a pet?
5. What makes you mad?
6. Do you like sports?
7. Describe how you felt when (some event in the story) happened.
8. How did you solve a big problem in your life?
9. What advice would you give a friend that had the same problem?
10. What kind of job would you like to have when you grow up?
11. What do you see yourself doing 10 years from now?
12. Do you fight with your brothers and sisters?
13. What state do you live in?
14. What is your favorite color?
15. What does you Dad and Mom do?
16. What is your favorite color?
17. What is your favorite subject in school?
18. Can you play a musical instrument?
19. If someone granted you one wish, what would your wish be?
20. What is your favorite food?
Then have them write the replies as the character would answer them. The answers to the questions may or may not be in the book, but by paying attention to how a character reacts in situations in the story, you can imagine how he or she may react to other situations. The above questions will keep students focused as they watch a character develop throughout the story.
Create A Wanted Poster
Once students have completed their interview, have them created a “Wanted Poster” of the character. Have them draw the character as best they can. Or they can illustrate a scene from the book and draw a “generic” looking character. The poster describes what “crime” the character is accused of. For example, “Last seen selling candy to raise money for new game uniforms” couldn’t be called criminal but it does give insight. Then write a physical description, age, and date of birth.
This activity is best suited for upper elementary and middle school students but can be adapted for literature classes at the high school level.