When I worked full-time as an editor for EMC Publishing’s literature and language arts series, one of my favorite tasks was coming up with activities to connect students to the texts in our books. The idea behind these activities was to make the novels, plays, stories, poems, essays, and even grammar lessons accessible to kids no matter what their learning styles were. We played to students’ individual strengths through projects that involved painting, drawing, writing, acting, games, you name it.
As a parent, making those connections between readers and stories is still one of my favorite things to do! Whether it’s a Harry Potter-themed birthday party or our own little summer reading program, I really enjoy finding ways to help bring characters and books to life.
So here are 10 of our favorite ways to connect with books:
1. Cook something. Lily and her friend Abi are co-leading the Mighty Girls book club discussion today on Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. At one point in the story the main character, Minli, eats a turtle-shaped cake filled with red bean paste. Lily and I thought that might be a little too adventurous for a group of hungry third-graders, so we decided to make turtle cupcakes instead.
Sometimes specific foods are mentioned in a story, but if not, why not make something you think the characters would be likely to eat? You could prepare a treat from France to serve while reading Madeline or re-create a meal from one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books.
2. Draw something. After we read The Hundred Dresses, I sketched a bunch of dresses (using my old Princess Diana books!) and the kids used watercolors to make them into art. Lexie likes to draw her favorite book characters, as well as characters from her own stories.
3. Write a skit. Abi had the great idea of taking some of the many tales scattered throughout Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and turning them into skits for the girls to perform. Brilliant!
+ Lily is fortunate to have a gifted teacher who has a great understanding of different learning styles. She often has the kids perform skits, which is incredibly effective for my little kinesthetic learner.
4. Create art. There are so many ways to incorporate art projects into your reading. I loved making our own Matisse-inspired creations after reading about the artist’s life. If we had more than an hour today for the Mighty Girls meeting, the girls could sculpt dragons or create paintings featuring the Chinese symbol for thankfulness (the main theme of the story).
+ Last year, Andrew’s history teacher had the kids use play dough to create scenes of historical significance. Andrew’s not big into anything tactile, but it was good for him to approach the lesson from a different angle.
5. Write a letter. Use a magical mailbox to write letters back and forth between your kids or students and their favorite book characters.
6. Make a video. Andrew and his friends turn any class project into an opportunity to produce a video. The teachers deserve props for encouraging this outside-the-essay thinking. I believe it truly makes a difference and has opened up a huge field of possibilities for Andrew. His forensics team is performing an original play he wrote and he’s hard at work on a screenplay.
For some ideas on how to make awesome videos out of books, check out 90-Second Newbery videos.
7. Or a vine. Try to capture the essence of a story in a 6-second video clip. Your older kids will already know about vines, but you can go here for quick description.
6. Make a map. I cannot draw at all, but I do love to sketch house plans. I remember drawing floor plans for of all my favorite characters’ homes when I was growing up. I drew maps of towns, too. Some of us really like to see how things fit together, so creating floor plans and maps really plays to that way of thinking.
9. Make some music. Create a theme song for the book you’re reading. Get all Peter and the Wolf about it and write a different melody for each character. Have an orchestra section the next time you perform a skit. If you don’t have “real” instruments, just use whatever you have around the house.
10. Get physical. Have your child practice spelling new words in the tub using watercolors or shaving cream. Go outside and re-enact scenes from The Hunger Games. Visit a museum. Discuss the book while going for a walk. Or doing jumping jacks. (Seriously.) Make puppets and use them to act out the skit. Find props. Build a set. Anything to keep moving!
So there you go—10 fun ways to connect with books. Do you have other ideas that work well for you, your students, or your kids?