|Responding to reading - studying books independently|
This guide is written for teachers and students in Key Stages 2, 3 and 4. It will show you how to write a response to books you have read, with a clear structure. The guide comes in two versions. One is more straightforward, and should be accessible to most readers. The other is closer to the kinds of things you should write about, if you are preparing work for assessment, especially teacher assessment of reading in Key Stage 3 or of GCSE coursework in Key Stage 4. Although I have assumed that students will respond in writing, the guide could be used to produce a spoken response, or a mixture of speaking and listening, written and pictorial responses.
Writing about books - basic guide
This guide briefly outlines a number of responses you may make to the book(s) you have chosen to read. Before you can do these, you will need first, of course, to read a book or books of your choice. Your teacher will advise you about suitable books if you are stuck, but you are encouraged to choose for yourself. It is important to choose books which you can understand and enjoy. Important words or phrases appear like this. Try to use these terms in responding to these and other books. If this guide seems to easy for you, try the more advanced guide on this Web page. Feel free to use things from either guide.
Introduce your book
Start by giving very basic information, such as:
Any book will contain a number of different characters - make sure you spell this in the standard form. (We use people for real, living men and women, and characters for those in stories - but often the two words are mixed up.) You can choose several of these characters, both major and minor characters, and describe them. You should write about
Alternatively, you can write about an episode (a specific passage of events or action), as if you are a particular character, trying to show how he or she sees things. In this case you will write in the first personal pronoun forms: I/me and we/us.
Locations and settings
Some books are set in interesting places, either real or imagined. Using information from your book or a reference book or Web site(for a real place) you can draw maps or plans of these places. Describe or draw some of the more interesting features.
Retelling the narrative
You can choose an episode from the text, and retell it in a different way. A first-person story can be changed into a third person account, and vice versa (the other way around). You could write the episode as a play script for a stage, feature film or television dramatisation, using stage or camera directions, as required. Another way of doing this is to create a story-board for the episode chosen, or create a comic strip.
If you find this work hard, you could copy out a favourite passage very neatly, illustrate it and briefly write why you have chosen it.
Sequels and prequels
Some books end in such a way, that the reader is left to guess what happens next. Others end with the main characters able to take part in another story. Some writers deliberately write books in series like this (Sweet Valley High, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Famous Five, Harry Potter stories). You may like to continue the story where it ends, or begin a new story. Alternatively, you could write a story which shows what happened before the events of the book you have read. Try to write in the style of the original.
Some books are based on real events or a real historical situation which forms the background to the story. You can carry out research on these details, and present this information in any way of your choice.
Use your book to find out things about language or show your knowledge of language. You may use it to study forms of grammar, or differences in language from different times or different places.
Make a judgement
What is your overall opinion of this book? Is it good - for you, for lots of people, for older or younger readers? You may like to give a mark out of ten or a star (*) rating. Try to summarize your opinion in a short and clear sentence:
A Stable for Jill is a great book for girls, but some boys won't like all the stuff about horses and riding.
Presenting your work
Think about how you would like to do this, and discuss it with your friends and teacher. Is the work to be mostly written, spoken or a mixture? Will you write and draw by hand, or use computer software to help? If you want to do oral work will you make a live presentation or recording onto tape or other media? You might like to present your work in the style of magazine reviews you have seen or as an item for a TV or radio broadcast - for example, a Blue Peter feature on the latest book by a popular writer. (For those outside the UK, Blue Peter is a long-running children's magazine programme braodcast by the BBC.)
Writing about books - more advanced guide
This guide suggests some simple approaches which will enable you to write about any work of fiction which you have read on your own. Depending on the kind of book, different parts of the guide will be more or less important, but these should be fairly obvious. If any suggestion is not helpful to you, ignore it. This guidance is aimed at young readers in Key Stage 3 of the English and Welsh National Curriculum. But it will be suitable for students who want to prepare written or oral coursework for GCSE exams. If you find it too hard, use the basic guide above - or use suggestions from both.
Your reading habits
You may wish briefly to say something about these, about the books (if any) which you enjoy, how and why you chose the book(s) about which you are writing.
Introduce the book
State clearly the title (use inverted commas or italic type if word-processed) and the name of the author. Do you know any other of his/her books? Are they of a particular kind or genre (such as horror, romance, thriller, whodunnit and so on). What is the book about?
Don't try lengthy or detailed retelling of story. This is of little value (your teacher would rather read the book directly). But there is a skill in giving a summary, so long as this is really brief (no more than a page of type or writing). If you find yourself writing then and next a lot, you are going wrong.
Who are the principal characters? What are they like (personality, appearance, lifestyle, habits, gestures and so on)? How well-drawn are they? Are they sympathetic (likeable) to the reader or unattractive? Do we identify with them or not? How often are they present in the narrative?
Setting or situation
The novel or story you are reading may be set in an interesting location (an alien planet, a remote island, a crime-ridden city) in the past, present or future. It may also deal with some organisation or institution, such as a criminal gang, a business or a school. Try to describe the physical location(s) and the general situations in which the characters are depicted (shown), as far as the author has explained these. Do they affect the mood or atmosphere of the book? Would you like or dislike inhabiting the imagined world of this novel?
This is hard, but worth attempting. A theme is an idea, belief or attitude which runs throughout a story (in music, a theme is a melody which keeps returning in a longer work, like a movement in a symphony). The story may well be examining an important idea, such as why some people are outsiders (alienation) or why relationships fail. You may need to discuss the book with a friend, parent or teacher to see what this theme is. If you can do so, explain the theme, giving examples (evidence) for it.
(Technically, you can ask if the book is written in the first or third personal pronoun forms, or, briefly, in the first or third person). How does this make the story more vivid and immediate, or enable us to get a more global view of what is happening to everyone. Are we involved or detached?
This is mainly a matter of lexis (vocabulary or choice of words and phrases) and sentence structure. Does the writer use a colloquial (chatty, like speech) style which resembles real talking to the reader, or is it more formal, literary and precise? Is the style witty (containing humorous comments) or ironic (things don't always mean what they seem to on the surface)?
What are your favourite episodes or scenes in the book? Comment on some of these and why you like them?
Make a judgement
What is your final opinion of this book? Would you recommend it, and, if so, to whom? Try to give reasons for your judgement.
Use of evidence
This is important. Always give examples or refer to details in the story to support your comments. You may use quotation, too: lots of short quotation (where the point of quoting is obvious) is better than very lengthy quotations of less obvious relevance. Note that in standard English usage quote is a verb (you quote from the book) while the noun form (what is quoted) is quotation. However, you need not use either word: just introduce with a colon (:), and enclose what you quote in inverted commas.
Using information and communication technology
You may wish to use ICT to help you do this work. Here are some ideas for you to try:
If you have other ideas which you think I should add to this page, then please contact me.