Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tips & Games for Reading Helpers

Last year I became a reading helper for Beanstalk, a charity which works at improving literacy in primary schools. The seed was sown three years previous when I read about the Evening Standard's literacy campaign. 

At the time I felt the required minimum of three hours a week sounded too much. In my post Emily and the Beanstalk I share my reasons for finally going ahead with volunteering.

I read with three children aged 9 and 10 years old. At first I felt I needed to prepare before every session, but now I'm much more confident and trust our box of materials to find stimulating reading and plenty to talk about.

Over the course of my first couple of terms, I've discovered a few things that work with the children I'm helping. I thought I'd share them:

A Game for the Distracted Reader

One of the children I read with was always distracted and none of the books held her interest. To be honest, I didn't blame her. So many of the books were dull and some quite depressing. Suspecting that she was quite clever, and only fidgeting because she wasn't being motivated enough, I devised a game that, to my surprise and delight, she instantly loved.

What you need: Scrabble letters, dice (optional), timer (optional)

I wrote a list of 12 challenges e.g. Find a synonym of angry, Name an Animal beginning with D, Give me an adjective to describe a bedroom, An adverb to describe how Mr Johnson ran... 

Then she would roll the dice, I would read out the challenge and she had to come up with a word and spell it out in scrabble letters. She loved trying to think of the word which would use the most letters. When the pieces had run out and she was left with lots of random words, she then had to make up a silly story using those words as she returned the letters to the scrabble bag.

A Book for the Upset Reader

I rotate the reading sessions and do my best to avoid taking the children out of sports or dance, or anything they might love. Unfortunately one day I didn't have much choice. The child was quite upset and I felt awful. Luckily I'd picked up a joke book from the last Beanstalk Book Swap and so I started reading that to her. 

Soon enough she took the book from me and started reading them out herself. She even started telling me jokes from memory. It was a relief to see her smile. 

It's a mistake to think reading only counts when there's a 'proper book' involved. Whether it's Top Trump cards, the back of a cereal box or The Hobbit it all counts as reading.

A Play for the Reluctant Reader

If a child's not very interested in reading books then I've found plays are the way forward. You can download them at twopageplays.com

At first the child looked unimpressed when I brought out A Gift from Winklesea. She chose the parts she would read and we began. When I put on an exaggerated voice, she followed suit and we really got into the story. We read for fifteen solid minutes without taking a break and I was so chuffed when she said, 'that was fun!' The good thing about reading plays together is the child has to keep focused so they don't miss their part. We shouldn't be afraid to be a bit silly sometimes!

Popular Books

I was quite shocked at how many miserable books there were for 9-10 year olds in my box of books. I expect they are written so that kids learn about the 'real' world. Well, when I read novels, I want to be transported into a different world, to imagine, to savour, to laugh... Here are just some that have done that for the kids I've been reading with. 


To find out more about Beanstalk, visit their website. 


Felicity Hayes-McCoy said...

Great piece. And good on you for volunteering. I've been faffing about vaguely intending to for years.

Emily Benet said...

Thanks Felicity! I was faffing about for years too, moaning about how awful the world was, how unjust and cruel and... then realised I was doing sod all to make a difference. I do feel that if everyone helped their community for even 15 minutes a week, the world would be a better place! *Stepping down from soap box*

Thanks for reading and sharing my post! X

emily said...

Plays to download! Thanks!!! The link you've posted is broken but you just need to take out a fullstop: www.2pageplays.com xx

Emily Benet said...

Thanks Emily! Oops I forgot to check my links. I've changed it now!

Hope it's useful :)