Powerful Reading Habits: Excellent Writing

I asked my son in-law, an instructor at the university, how can we get children and youth to write better.  He told me something profound.

He said, “If you want them to write better, get them to read better.”

This got me thinking, “How do you read better?”  Below are some ideas that will help you to make reading more powerful.

  1. Increase the Amount of Reading

We know about the value of consistent reading.  The more you do it the better you get.  So is the volume of reading the most important element of improving writing?  Mem Fox, a noted reading expert, stated that if you read with your children 1000 books before they are three years old, they will be life-long readers.  I love reading, and as a youth, I was a voracious reader.  My love was science fiction- Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, and many more authors captured my imagination and deepened my understanding of not only science and future-science, but also language.  It should be at least 60 minutes a day. 

2. Read with your Child at Whatever Age

A fantastic way to increase skills and interest in reading is to read with your children using the Dyad Reading Method.  Using this method, you and your child read the same book together, out-loud, at the same time.  This allows you to access books that your child is not quite ready to read.  Choose books that will inspire interest to keep reading.  As you read together, you model intonation, punctuation, pronunciation and drama (it’s ok to ham it up a bit with different voices, and exaggeration).  As you read new words you can also model how to sound it out phonetically.  It also helps your child to increase their reading fluency, especially with new words.  You can stop and talk about new words, new concepts or ask questions that help your child to deepen their understanding.  Your children will love the one-one-one time and so will you.

3. Read to deepen language Skills

Certainly, as children, youth, young adults read, they pick up on vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, tone, style and so forth.  But that is kind of passive, unconscious, in the background unnoticed.  I can see how this knowledge might show up in writing.  It’s kind of like eating peaches, if you eat enough, you can’t help bet get sticky.  To make it more sticky, help your child t0 read with a notepad and pencil to write down new vocabulary, or vocabulary they want to learn more about.  Set goals with your children such as, “For each chapter, find ten new words.”

4. Read Critically

The act of writing down ideas, does not mean that they are valid, effective, the most worthwhile, or even true.  Teach your children to read critically and ask questions as they read.  One of my favorite authors is Michael Schmoker, who suggests, “…reading with a pen in hand…”  Schools have ingrained in us the taboo of writing in books, but we have options.  If you do not want your children writing in the margins of the books, then have them use sticky notes, or a note pad (make sure they put the page number for each comment).  As they read, teach your children to have a conversation with the author.  Here are some questions that they might ask, “Why did you wright this?  Do I believe what you wrote?  Where did you get your information from?  Is this a valid point?  Is this the only point of view?  What do other people think about this?  

5.  Discuss What Was Read

Often, we are so interested in getting our children to read, that we do not consider the value of talking about what they read.  Rather than asking yes or no questions, “Did you like the book?” ask questions that allow the child to respond in depth, “What was the most interesting thing about this book?  Tell me about the main characters.  What the climax?  What message did the author want you to get?”

6. Write

 Norman Mailer, a famous author said, “I don’t know what Ithink until I write it down.”  Help your child pick one of the questions that they had when they read critically, or in the discussion that you had with them and have them develop the idea more by writing.  Often getting started writing is the hardest part.  You can help your child, at any age, to start writing by giving them sentence-starter phrases such as, “I believe… because of these three reasons.” , “This is wrong because…” , “The most important thing to know about… is…”

If you instill a love of reading in your children by reading with them, helping them to see the real value of reading, spending time discussing what they are learning, you will create life-long learners and give your children powerful reading habits that will make them excellent writers.