The Value of Responding to Literary Texts

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

Learning through reading literature is fundamental to critical thinking and understanding. This lesson will explain some of the key benefits of reading and responding to literary texts.

The Reading Situation

Most children are interested in a good story, whether it is read or told by a parent or teacher, or even viewed on television or film. Small children enjoy imagining experiences and events outside of their own small world. In fact, most adults enjoy this aspect of fiction, too. We all need a bit of escape from the ordinary on occasion.

The Pleasure of Stories
world of fiction

Unfortunately, the act of reading itself can sometimes be so difficult for some students, both young and old, that the pleasure of fiction is hard to find. And, ironically, the very place where most of us learned to read--the classroom--can contribute negatively to the situation. Even if reading itself is not an issue, students often find that having to respond to books takes away the joy of the story. When we, as teachers, give them questions to answer, background information to learn, or quotes to memorize, the intention is to add to their understanding and enjoyment. But students do sometimes tell us that they just want to ''have fun with the story'' and not ''pick it apart''. And, of course, there is the dreaded and ever-present book report. Except for the few book lovers in the class, most students simply go to the library and grab the first book that looks easy.

Books Read as a Class

And then there are the books we assign to be read and studied by everyone in the class. One problem faced here is that it is difficult to find a text that will appeal to everyone. Another issue is the different pace of reading for each individual student. And, no matter how open we try to be with varying interpretations, students may still feel that they need to find the right meaning of the text.

Some Possible Improvements

So is there still value in reading and responding to literary texts for adolescents and teens? Of course there is! We just have to present the text in ways that let the students have some control over their experience of the text. Here are a few ideas:

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