First Encounters

A principle of the Take One Book approach is that the first encounter with a book should be a wholly pleasurable experience. One of the best reading lessons, that reading is rewarding and pleasurable, is taught implicitly through sharing a book. It can be an emotional experience, which initiates laughter or tears. It can prompt us to thought and to action. It has a purpose, indeed many purposes, which are greater than the sum of curriculum statements or learning objectives. In our view at the heart of the reading lesson is the reader, and this is what fundamentally drives the teaching and learning. The first encounters are therefore crucial for elliciting children’s responses and provide an opportunity to make formative assessment. With this in mind, it is important not to move too quickly into instruction mode, or over analyse a book before the children have had an opportunity to develop a personal response.

It is also important to take time to find out whether the children understand the text at a literal level. Without a surface understanding, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to appreciate deeper layers of meaning in a text.

Some of the approaches used in Take One Book for introducing the text include:

Reading aloud

Reading aloud to your class is important throughout the primary years, well beyond the stage at which children can read the words for themselves. As children encounter increasingly challenging texts, with language that does not replicate the patterns of spoken language, it continues to be important to read aloud, developing their ear for reading an increasingly wide range of texts. When listening to an experienced reader read with expression, pace and sensitivity to rhythm and cadence, children will internalise the writer’s voice. Reading aloud develops ‘the ear for reading’, which is essential for the acquisition of reading fluency. Furthermore, uninterrupted reading gives children time to build a mental image of the text. Mental processing will be inihibited if there is too much interrogative questioning mid-flow. For this reason, children should be allowed to simply listen to a first reading (stopping occasionally at a natural break to check understanding is appropriate for long chapters or passages). Children can also be encouraged to monitor their own comprehension and ask for clarification if they don’t understand. It’s a matter of making a judgement between becoming immersed in the story and securing literal understanding.

Some predictions may be encouraged but should not be overused to the point that little is left to discover as a story unfolds.

Exploring ideas

First encounters with a new text will include an element of exploration. The children might discuss initial ideas and share their thinking with you. Alternatively, they might explore their ideas in independent reading circles. One of the observations that we made when conducting the 4XR research for the London Schools Excellence Fund was that teachers moved very quickly from reading to direct instruction, with little opportunity for children to meaningfully explore their own understandings. Consequently, teaching was often pitched inappropriately. Making the minor change to include an exploratory element in the teaching sequence proved beneficial to the children, who were more lively, engaged and able to make relevant links.  Teachers reported feeling better equipped to move the learning on.

Checking literal understanding, clarifying and explaining

After the first reading children’s understanding is monitored by having them explain the text. This might be in response to a simple question, ‘What has happened so far?’. A character led piece might be explained with a question such as, ‘What do we know about Jack?’. These questions require recall but are sufficiently open to allow readers to tell what they know. Another strategy for explaining a text is to ask the learners to annotate the text and to use the annotated examples to idenitify priorities for teaching.

Some vocabulary, grammar and punctuation work might be undertaken at this point, particularly to unravel tricky passages or unfamiliar constructions. Looking at the way images are constructed in order to convey specific meanings or elicit responses is as important as a focus on verbal text.

Expose thinking

One of the outcomes of the first encounter phase is to provide an opportunity for children to demonstrate their thinking. A learning environment where risks are encouraged will allow children to show what they think without fear that their ideas will be dismissed.

Tools like graphic organisers and thinking maps can be usefully employed to:

  • help children to shape their thinking
  • help teachers plan the next steps in the learning journey
  • provide a record of the learning.