________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 18 . . . .May 12, 2006


Talking, Writing, & Thinking About Books: 101 Ready-to-use Classroom Activities That Build Reading Comprehension.

Jo Phenix.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2005.
128 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 1-55138-183-4.

Subject Heading:
Reading (Elementary).
Reading comprehension-Study and teaching (Elementary)-Activity programs.


Review by Gina Varty.

**** /4



Sir Richard Steele said:
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.

The Tattler, No. 147.)


In these days of increased daily physical activity, especially in grades 3-8 classrooms, this book provides 101 exercises (activities) to engage even the most reluctant participant in all aspects of the reading process. Right from the first line of the Introduction, Jo Phenix, a workshop leader and consultant who has taught every elementary and high school grade, sets the pace (parameters): “Every activity in this book starts with reading.” She then continues by describing the equipment (resources) used: novels, short stories, picture books, poems, scripts, magazines, newspaper articles, films, videos, television and advertisements. Then follows the form of participation: individually, in a small group, or with the whole class. Finally, the goal is in sight: “The goal of the activities is to enhance comprehension.” In order to score (demonstrate comprehension), a participant (reader) must be able to apply information from a text to new situations, either real or imaginary. The author suggests many ways of achieving this goal: by rereading parts of the text, skimming for specific information, rehearsing and presenting an oral reading, or reworking the text in a different format. It is in working through the exercises (activities) that

they will be asked to go beyond the informational levels of reading, to reflect on what they have read, to analyze and interpret, to make judgements and comparisons. They will be asked to use their imaginations to hypothesize, predict, expand on the text, generate new ideas....They will learn...that a reader identifies with characters, wonders about motivations, senses mood, predicts possible outcomes, imagines settings and scenarios, develops tastes. This is the long-lasting learning they need to become fluent readers.
     The 101 ready-to-copy activities are arranged in five chapters geared to the mode of response. Each category has a different focus:

Talking/Reading Aloud - character, plot, personal response
Drama - bringing character and plot to life
Visual Arts - creating character, setting and plot art
Writing - character, setting, plot, personal response
Research - investigating author, setting genre
     The title page for each chapter has a short introduction to the language arts component and lists the activities that follow. Writing and Visual Arts have the most activities. My favourite activities include:

Oral Language - a character giving a speech, writing a song about events in the story.
Drama - talk show script, 4 scene tableaux, puppet show.
Visual Arts - character hat design, wanted poster, board game design.
Writing - travel brochure, bumper sticker lesson, next chapter sequel, party plan.
Research - using the library for an author study, creating a book display.

     The Introduction to the book includes an index chart organized by chapter detailing the kind of activity, reflection focus and the page number for individual, partner, or group activities. There is also a two page spread on how to use the activities (choosing, groupings, organizing), and a reproducible Activity Log for students to keep their own record of completed activities.

The Appendix contains assessment masters. One for the teacher to use as a quick record of a student's work habits and quality of work. Another is for students to use to help them reflect on their work. The book concludes with an index of activities.

I highly recommend Talking, Writing, & Thinking About Books for teachers interested in engaging their students in thinking about their reading or viewing. By actively participating in the exercises (activities), participants (readers) will stretch their imaginations, build their own opinions and ideas, and ultimately attain the goal of overall fitness (reading comprehension).

Highly Recommended.

Gina Varty, a teacher-librarian in Edmonton, AB, currently provides library supply for Edmonton Public Schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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