Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Business of Children's Books: Activities for Reading Guides

Developing activities for reading guides is both fun and challenging.  While discussion questions speak quite directly to the themes and plot of the book and perhaps touch on the author's intention or the larger role of the book as a literary work, activities can leap from there into many different realms.  I think about activities quite clinically, as I do questions.  That is to say, I consider the quantity of activities, the page length, the age and grade level to which the book is directed as I frame my activity set.  Sometimes, as I write discussion questions, ideas for activities begin to take shape. Sometimes I'll try create an activity and realize what I'm trying to get at is something better considered as a simple question, so I'll move the notion there.  For me, it helps to think of activities and questions as fluid and interrelated.

In general, I divide my activities into two basic categories:

1. Activities tied quite directly to the novel and literature.  Such activities would include diary entries written from characters points-of-view; analyzing the text in terms of chapter headings, settings or other stylistic elements; writing the "next chapter" or outlining a sequel for a the novel.

2. Cross-curricular, interdisciplinary, or multi-media activities.  Such activities would include creating artwork (e.g. word collages, imaginary movie posters); researching and presenting information on the historical period in which a book takes place, or a particular subject to which the book refers; holding classroom debates or organizing school-wide activities inspired by events in the novel.

I think it's good to have both types of activities in your guide as different kids will hook into the story in different ways.


1. Brevity is good.  Include some activities that are very short, simple, and clear.  EXAMPLE 1: After you have finished reading the book, write a letter to the main character explaining why you agree or disagree with a choice they have made and what you would suggest they do next. EXAMPLE 2: Imagine you are the publisher of this novel.  Make a brainstorm list of five great titles for the book.  If desired, take a class vote to choose the best title (including the title the book was given).  CONVERSELY, if you find you have written a 20-line activity suggestion, go back and rewrite to make it half as long.  No activity for a marketing-focused guide should take longer to read than to do.

2. Kids are media savvy.  You do not have to give a great deal of explanation when suggesting kids write a mock blog entry, create a book trailer, or use PowerPoint or other presentation software.  Writing media-based activities acknowledges kids' technical abilities and shows them how to connect books to the high-tech academic world in which they live.

3. Encourage readers to write both about the novel and about themselves.  Ask kids to write about a time when they found themselves in a situation similar to the protagonist; to write journal entries, newspaper style articles, a book review; even to write suggestions for the author.  This connects readers to the story and shows them how a book can help them think about their own reality.

In sum, the goal of good reading guide activities is to help connect kids to the book they have just read, to make them want to read more by the author or in the given series, and to realize that thinking about books after reading them can be fun.  If you have fun writing the activities, I think this is a pretty good sign, too!


Suzanne Williams said...

Great suggestions and examples, Stasia. Sometimes I include discussion questions and activities on my website for various of my books, but I haven't done that in a long time. If/when I finally devote some time to it, your post will really help!

Molly/Cece said...

I love this here. You have some awesome suggestions for analysis. Brilliant. Molly

Stasia said...

Thanks for your comments, Molly & Suzanne. Suzanne--please let me know if you decide to add new activities to your website as I'd love to check them out! Stasia