This is the first in a series of posts related to the six Strategies covered in my book Practical Reading Strategies. You can buy a copy of the book here.
The six Reading Strategies offer a way of teaching reading for meaning which goes beyond simple comprehension or teacher-led questioning. Making Connections, the first Strategy, lays the groundwork for everything else.
First of all, Making Connections is about knowing the students. Building a relationship with your students and getting to know their personal contexts will open up new avenues into reading any text. Billman and Pearson (2013) call this the “resources that [students] bring” to the classroom that can be used as a “bridge to knowledge domains they have yet to discover”. Fisher and Frey (2013) refer to the process as “activating prior knowledge” and again stress the importance of leaning on students’ own worlds in making sense of texts.
There are three types of connection that students make when they read texts:
Text to self: Links to their own personal experience. Arguably the most important connection.
Text to text: Links to other texts they have experienced, including fiction and nonfiction, written, visual, and film texts.
Text to world: Links to their knowledge of the world around them including local, national, and global events and issues.
The following example of text to self, text, and world connections comes from Practical Reading Strategies:
Texts can remind us of events from our own lives. I’ve never been part of a lottery that throws me into a fight to the death like Katniss Everdeen, but I have been responsible for looking after a younger sibling, and I know what responsibility feels like. I also learned to shoot a bow and arrow at school, and I’ve been on wilderness camps where we’ve had to use survival skills.
Sometimes when we are reading new texts, we are reminded of texts we have seen and read before. Texts can include other books, films, television, fiction and nonfiction. For example, when I’m reading The Hunger Games, I’m reminded of other dystopian books I’ve read, such as the Divergent series and Lois Lowry’s The Giver. It also reminds me of television shows like the Netflix series Shadow and Bone and The 100.
Stories are based on real-world events, even fictional narratives like The Hunger Games. Some parts of the novel remind me of the real world, like the class divides between the different districts, the corruption of the people in charge and how the games is almost like a microcosm (a miniature version) of a bigger conflict like war.
Making Connections in the classroom
Drawing on a students context or their knowledge of existing texts works in any classroom. Whether the student is studying a new concept in science or maths, a period in history, or a new text in English, it is a good idea to activate their prior knowledge.
I use lots of annotation exercises in which students are encouraged to make notes on extracts of the text, focused on one or more of the “text to-” connections. For example, students might complete a “text walk” activity focused on text to self connections, or a coding activity where they highlight all three. Making Connections can also be used as a way to “lighten the load” of teaching the context for new texts, especially by using short extracts from intertextual fiction and nonfiction.
Concept maps and brainstorms are also useful tools for Making Connections, with students able to clearly visualise the connections between self, other texts, and the world.
Practical Reading Strategies contains clearly explained activities for Making Connections and the other five Strategies. Join the mailing list for a free PDF extract from chapter one, including a sample activity.
Billman, A., & Pearson, P. D. (2013). Literacy in the disciplines. Literacy Learning: The Middle Years, 21(1), 25-33.
Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2013). Background knowledge: The overlooked factor in reading comprehension. New York: McGraw Hill Networks.
Keene, E, & Zimmermann, S (1997). Mosaic of thought. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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