Monday, July 27, 2009

Read, Reflect & Respond

These are part of the class notes for Virginia's session on high school literature:

Read, Reflect & Respond
(The Real 3R’s of High School Literature) &

Read, Reflect & Respond

  • Life has a purpose! Reading has a purpose! Down with ignorance and apathy!
  • Reflective reading feeds the spirit and inspires our souls. Readers become leaders!
  • Reading, reflecting and responding helps us learn to think more deeply and relate to others more wisely without being easily deceived. We will be prepared to meet life challenges and having something to say.
  • Reflecting and responding increases long-term retention of information, beyond the test.
    Our response often includes practical application and action to transform our lives and culture.
  • Reading improves comprehension, logical thinking, creativity, writing skills, grammar, spelling, etc.
  • The reading, reflecting and responding stages overlap and can be simultaneous.
  • Research the Charlotte Mason method of education for more inspiration.
  • Use the RR&R techniques for art, music, movies, nature study, sermons, and life experiences.

Mom Tip: You need this as much as your teens do! Are you feeding your mind and your spirit so you can keep up with the many overwhelming demands of life? Are you going deep or just trying to get through the surface stuff? Take time to read, reflect, and respond -- and set the example for your teenagers!


  • Choose carefully! Books can make a deep and lasting impression, so avoid exposure to much “twaddle” that dulls or pollutes the mind. Reading for amusement and relaxation is fine, but be careful. Be especially wary of Chick Lit (even Christian romances) and anything with occult or “dark” spiritual themes.
  • Make Scripture your priority! “The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that.” McCosh
  • Create a literature-rich environment with a well-stocked home library.
    Kinds of reading: academic, pleasure or personal interest, skills, devotional, etc.
    Formats: books, newspapers, magazines, web sites, blogs, books on CD or DVD
    Genres: Scripture, realistic modern fiction, historical fiction, fairy tale, sci-fi, romance, mystery, poetry, song lyrics, plays, art, biography, history, science, how to, self-improvement, essays, etc.
  • A variety of genres enhances and balances. When studying a historical period, read novels, biographies, key documents, and poetry. Listen to music and speeches. Watch a movie or documentary.
  • Help your teens select books or do it for them.
    Selecting good books takes a little research and a lot of discernment.
    Check high school book lists and ask for recommendations from people you trust.
    Click on “inside the book” at or to read a chapter.
    Do a web search on the author’s name or the book’s title to see what others say about it.
    Share your favorites with your teens! Introduce a book like a friend.
    Don’t be afraid to supplement with books at middle school or even elementary reading level. This can help a teen understand the basic information to better decode a harder book on the same subject.
  • Evaluate reading choices by pre-screening from front to back.
    Is it wholesome, age-appropriate, and highly recommended?
    Is it accurate and fair, without being too simplistic or overly biased?
    Is it interesting, well written, and thought provoking? What is quality of the illustrations, if any?
    Is the author reliable? (Your teens may want to read his/her other books later.)
    Is this the right book for right now? Is it worth the time it will take to read, reflect and respond?
  • Encourage pre-reading preparation. Before reading, encourage your teen to browse quickly, ask questions and make predictions. Preview any study guide questions before you read.
  • Give plenty of time to read, in a quiet and comfortable setting.
  • Read with pencil and paper handy!
  • Read with (or to) your teen once in a while!

Mom Tip: What books are you reading now? What do you want to read soon? Write a list! Since your teens will soon be adults, you can share what you are reading with them or assign it to them to read.


“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.” Francis Bacon

Study questions should require critical thinking, not just factual recall. More advanced questions will require a synthesis (combining) of information from different parts of the book. Go beyond the questions in a text book!


  • What kind of book is this and why am I reading it right now?
  • What is the significance of the title or cover art?
  • What is the author’s life background and worldview? What did he or she want to communicate? What is the author’s tone in this book (upbeat, harsh, relaxed, urgently persuasive, funny, reverent, etc.)?
  • When and where was the book written, and under what life circumstances, such as war?

Character, Setting, Plot & Style:

  • What universal themes, such as courage, pride, justice, greed, honesty, or jealousy, are woven into this book? Which one is most prevalent? What can I learn that is applicable to my own life?
  • What perspective can I gain about these themes from this time period, culture, and worldview?
  • Which character reminds me most of myself? What would I have done if I were that character?
  • Which characters are dynamic (developing & maturing) or static (unchanging)? How do main characters learn/grow from events in the story? How do their values, fears, motives, or conflicts change?
  • Are the characters believable? What flaws do the “heroes” exhibit? What virtues do the “villains” exhibit? Real people exhibit a mix of positive and negative behaviors and attitudes. Books for teen readers should show the realistic nuances of authentic human behavior and attitudes.
  • How would the story be different if written from a different character’s perspective or in another setting?
  • Do the characters speak in the same manner as I do? Are any special accents, idioms or dialects used?
  • What are the main events in this story? How does the plot rise, fall and twist? Do this a chapter at a time, and then for the whole book at the end.
  • How is cause-and-effect used in this story, especially in consequences for actions?
    What symbolism is used? What does it mean? Is the symbolism effective, understandable & significant?
  • What other Biblical, literary or historical references are made in this book?
  • Are there any words that I don’t fully understand and need to look up in a dictionary?
    How does sensory detail (what I vicariously see, hear, smell, taste, and feel) put me “on the scene”?
  • Does this book use flashbacks or drop hints about what might happen in the future?
    Can I follow the clues and make predictions? Is the outcome too predictable or contrived?
  • Does the outcome give a sense of closure, or is it unsettling or confusing?


  • How does this information fit in with what I already know (or think I know)?
  • Humility is needed! We don’t know everything about the topic just because we’ve read a book or two.
  • Is what I am reading essentially true or in agreement with Scripture? (Obviously, no other book is perfect!)
  • Does this information contain logical fallacies or propaganda? Does it represent opinions as being hard facts?
  • Does this reading challenge my assumptions or stretch my perspective? Is this good or not?
  • What should I accept or reject from it? What do I need to fully absorb or apply?
  • Is this book what I expected? Did it answer any burning questions for me?

Aids in the reflection phase:

  • References: Bible, dictionary, encyclopedia, map, timeline, history/science text, commentaries, Google
  • Published study guides (Progeny or Total Language Plus) or parent-written study questions
  • Personal conversations, interviews with experts, discussion groups, literature classes, on-line forums
  • Journal to take notes, ask questions, and make comments as you read. I like a notebook or composition book.
  • Field trip related to story: art or history museum, zoo, bird sanctuary, horse riding, ethnic restaurant

Mom Tip: Are you truly thinking about what you are reading or putting your brain on auto-pilot? Does your reading motivate and inspire you? Does it make you draw in your breath or furrow your brow?


Communication Responses (Oral, Written & Artistic)

  • TOP TIP! START A READING JOURNAL! Copy key quotes into your journal, along with your reflective comments and questions. I highly recommend using a regular 3-ring notebook as a reading journal, especially if you are saving it with your academic records. You can also keep a chronological notebook journal with your diary entries, correspondence, quiet time notes, sermon notes, etc. Create a lifetime treasure!
  • Talk about it! This could be as you read or after you finish. You can do this as a parent and teen, as a whole family, or as a discussion group. Give a short “book talk” to introduce it to a friend or a group.
  • Read it aloud to someone, with expression, different character voices and sound effects.
    Recite or write a passage from memory. This is especially good for poetry, Scripture, and famous speeches.
  • Do an informal oral or written narration, telling it back in your own words.
  • Prepare a short formal presentation to teach to your siblings or friends using a poster or Powerpoint.
  • Copy poetry, Scripture or quotes in your best handwriting, illustrate it, and give it as a gift.
  • Summarize the main events or points either in a paragraph or a list.
  • Write a complete, unbiased pro/con list about an issue as if you are investigating a potential decision.
  • Rebut an argument or stage a full debate on an issue.
  • Do a character analysis or compare & contrast characters or events within the story.
    Write a journal entry for one of the characters telling an event or feelings from his/her perspective.
  • Write a short fable with a moral. Or, if you are reading a Bible passage, write a short story about it.
  • Pick a book that you think one of the characters might enjoy and tell why.
  • Give the story a different ending and/or write a sequel to the story.
  • Compare and contrast a theme in this book with the same one in another book.
  • Write an essay about the themes as they relate to Scripture.
  • Write a book review and design a book jacket.
  • Write a blog post or a personal letter to a friend about it. Include digital art or your own pictures.
  • Write an imaginary letter to a story character to share your advice or express admiration.
    Write a letter to the author with your comments.
  • Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper or magazine about how the issues in it relate to current events.
  • Give a speech about the themes in it.
  • Attempt to emulate the style of writing by writing a similar story or essay.
  • Write a poem, song, or creative story about the key themes.
  • Turn the story into a play. You can produce it, film it, and then edit it using Windows Moviemaker.
  • Write questions and answers for a trivia game (like Jeopardy) or design a board game.
  • Draw a picture, diagram, map, or illustrated timeline.
  • Make a 3D sculpture, diorama, mobile, or collage.
  • Make a costume that one of the characters may have worn.

Mom Tip: Practice your own speaking and writing skills! Start responding to what you read and then sharing it with your family and your friends. This is also an effective way to share your faith. What kind of person are you becoming in response to your reading? Start a reading journal today!

Application Responses

Decide on appropriate action in response to character’s example or author’s persuasion – then do it!

  • Reach out to someone who is lonely or give help to someone who is needy.
  • Make your voice heard about an important cause.
  • Ask forgiveness of someone you have offended or forgive someone who has offended you.
  • Break a bad habit and start new wholesome ones to replace it.
  • Work harder at doing what you already know to attain a personal goal.
  • Learn a new skill mentioned in the book, such as cooking, sewing, wood carving, nature collecting, camping. Find project instructions in library books or on Google.

“Committing a great truth to memory is admirable; committing it to life is wisdom.” William Ward

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