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Literature guides


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I don't know how old your kids are... so it may be that they shouldn't be *studying* literature, but just working on gaining fluency in reading. Any literary analysis you want to do can just be in the form of questions as they read like... "What do you think of this character?" or "What do you think happens next?"


But as kids get older, they need a vocabulary to discuss what they read, to explain why they didn't like the book, or what they think the author might really be trying to say. You might like to look at the book "Deconstructing Penguins" to get some ideas about how to encourage your kids to think more critically about the books they read.

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I think that when children are older and "study" literature people often question why it is important. I have always enjoyed English and literature so, I might be a bit biased. I think that it is very important because it teaches them how to analyze. They analyze literature by identifying themes, symbols, etc. Later in life, they have the skills to critique and analyze writing. It may seem unimportant but, I think that it teaches lasting skills.

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Lit analysis teachers people to lok at things in the context (or the time/place of the setting, of the experience of the author, or the audience), how to write more effectively (by thinking about why a certain passage is powerful to you), how to think critically about the message presented, and in general teaches folks to look at the world with depth and thought and not just breeze thru at 400 wpm.


So yes, I view this as important life skills. In the K-3 crowd, mostly you're just discussing the characters, setting, plot, etc. As they get older, it means considering the book in contact of other things they've read (maybe it gives a different perspective), think about WHY that's different. By middle school you're in the core "compare and contrast" ages. By High school you should be analyzing books with more depth, supporting with quotes/examples, and tying into cultural/societal/historical contexts.

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A story really becomes your own when you discuss it with someone. It's more than just getting the plot and moving on, it's making it mean something to your life. That's what great books do, but it tends to not happen when you just read it and don't process it.


Now you don't need a "literature study guide" to help you do that, you just need to ask your kids to tell you about the book and ask them questions and discuss it (or maybe have them write a narration, depending on their age). But some people who don't have that experience of discussing books with someone else find literature study guides helpful in knowing what to ask their children or how to start discussing it, or in doing other things related to the book to learn more about the people or time or story or whatever. It just expands the book's reach, so to speak.


But, while I ask my kids to tell me about pretty much every book they read (mostly to make sure they read it!), I do not "study" every book. That is a recipe for learning to hate reading, IMHO. I just pick the most worthy ones, and focus on those. Some books (for example, The Hobbit) I let them read first, and just enjoy, then later go back and read it aloud together or more slowly and study it more in depth. Some books really are just for fun, but many are deeper than that and they can really get into your soul, but not if you don't process them. It's like gobbling down food as fast as you can, or taking your time and enjoying every bite. There is a time for everything. :)

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I am planning to do our first literature "study" on just one book next year, (4th grade) largely as a way to engage my ds in the book more. He tends to zip through a story and be fuzzy on the details, especially if the book was not to his taste. I hope that using a "study" format will help him get more from the assigned reading and give us a starting point for discussions. As we continue through middle school I will add more formally studied assignments to help begin developing critical reading skills he will need in high school.

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I'll just nod my head at everyone else's responses. Books can be enjoyed on so many levels and a good lit study really helps the student to delve deeper: allegory, relevance, perspective..


For example, one of the books my son read this year for a lit study was Sign Of The Beaver. Now, the writing is below his reading level and it's a lightly controversial book with its treatment of Native Americans in the setting. BUT, it was a great introduction to how an author can perceive events and how that colors writing. We got to the Giver and that brought up discussions about society, fair not meaning equal, government oversight...


It's fine to just read good books. A person should also take the time to really think about a book now and then, though.

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Please tell me why one needs to "study" literature. Why not just read and/or listen to good books? I really am curious and considering adding this to our days.



As human beings, we "study" literature in order to learn more about what it means to be human. To search for Truth, in order to be able to learn from it, grow, and apply it to ourselves. To learn from the mistakes, choices and actions of others. To experience through reading what we may never be able to experience in our own lives. To gain a greater appreciation for other peoples and cultures, places. To touch the past -- and potential futures.


Studying literature is interactive in a way that "just reading and/or listening" to good books is not. To "study" is to wrestle with the author and his/her ideas -- to look for the deep and hidden things that even the author may not be aware was in the work. And it is to be willing to *apply* what we discover, to be even willing to be changed by the literature.


When we "just read/listen", we are still separate from the book. It is entertainment and diversion. It is easily set down -- and set aside from our minds. To "just read/listen" is only an external activity; there is no internal discussion or wrestling, no making the ideas of the book "ours".


Just want to add -- in NO way knocking "just reading" either! There is definitely a time and a place for "popcorn" -- for entertainment, diversion, pleasure. Especially after a long day, or a long semester, involving much mental effort, we NEED to be able to relax and enjoy some books just for fun!



I don't know what ages your DC are, but I wouldn't suggest formal literature study until middle school or high school. To be able to analyze anything -- literature, logic, history science, etc. -- requires a certain amount of development of critical thinking, abstract reasoning and logic skills that the average student begins developing around age 14 (some earlier, some later).



What can be both enjoyable and helpful now (elementary ages) is to ask *occasional* questions during read alouds. Not only does it make the reading more interactive and memorable, it also helps your children develop those critical thinking and reasoning skills:


- Why do you think he/she did that?

- What do you think will happen next? Why?

- What would you do if you were that character? Why?

- Oh, I loved the sound of that sentence! Let's read that again!

- Wow! That was so _________ (creepy, exciting, sad, etc.)! What words were used to make us feel like that?



But don't overdo. Overstudying, or starting formal study too soon, can kill a love of good books. And in case it helps, here is Susan Wise Bauer's thoughts on literary analysis and how/when to do it.


May you and your family have wonderful reading adventures now, and, at the right time and in the right way, wonderful conversations with The Great Books all together! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Edited by Lori D.
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