Being a good reader is a hugely beneficial and important skill for children. How does it help with writing, though?
Reading helps with:
Understanding story structure
Seeing how writers use language in storytelling
The more children read, the more likely they’ll use a range of language in their writing. They’re also more likely to experiment with writing styles.
Some would argue that this stops you from developing your own style.
This might be the case for an adult writer, but I don’t think it’s the same for children as they’re just finding their feet as they develop their own writing style. It’s important, at this stage, to learn how other authors do it.
What if you’re reading this and thinking, ‘My child isn’t an avid reader. Does that mean they won’t be a good writer?’
No, it doesn’t.
Being a reader isn’t solely about reading novels.
Let me explain.
If you’re not a fan of reading novels, but teachers constantly tell you that you have to read, it can be disheartening. But there are other ways.
Comprehension is an important part of the English syllabus right up to GCSE. It teaches you how to ‘read’ and also to understand a piece of text. Children learn how to spot the purpose of a piece of writing (is it to entertain, advise, inform etc.), who its intended audience is and what form it takes (is it a news article, a balanced argument etc.). From this, they learn how to write in each of the different styles.
Comprehension also teaches children how to spot literary devices, understand how authors convey characters and read between the lines to get a sense of meaning on a deeper level. They read older texts written using language unfamiliar to them. This challenges their understanding of the English language. They also look for deeper meaning within the text, matching it to events and popular opinion at the time of writing to get a sense of what influenced the author.
In essence, comprehension is being a reader but on a much deeper level. It is one of the main ways children learn to write, particularly as they progress from junior to secondary school. It is the foundation from which they build their understanding of how to write. In addition, it serves as a way of building up a strong and varied vocabulary.
If your child isn’t an avid read of novels, comprehension is even more important.
What it doesn’t do, is help children get a sense of how to structure stories. For this, you do need to consider alternatives. And guess what? There are alternatives to the novel for this too.
I’ve written extensively about reluctant readers and what you can do to help. My top tips are audiobooks, graphic novels and films with subtitles on (particularly ones in a foreign language, like Japanese Anime). Any other form of writing that might form as an alternative to books is worth trying. For example, play scripts. All of these will still offer the opportunity to understand story structure, character development and plot: all essential elements of story writing.
The irony is, I’m saying all this, and I’m a writer – of books!
I understand, though. I have a reluctant reader, and I’ve journeyed with her through the many years of having books forced upon her that she doesn’t want to read and told that she HAS to read otherwise her English will suffer. But that has not been the case and never has. She’s a top mark English student.
I used to hope she’d find that one book: one that would change everything and lead to a love of reading. Interestingly, she’s read a few books that I thought would be ‘breakthrough’. However, they haven’t led to a continuation of reading books that are purely text-based. She prefers graphic novels and reads them extensively, appreciating the artwork as much as the words. And that’s just fine.
That breakthrough moment can happen, though.
I had a message on Twitter the other day from a parent saying that my book, The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants, ‘Literally was the book that unlocked my daughter’s love of reading’. That makes me very happy, of course. Not least because it was the reason I wrote that book in the first place.
I used to be a volunteer reader in schools, and I’ve witnessed many times how children can read well (as in fluently) but not understand what they are reading. That’s why I think comprehension is so important. In my work as an English and writing tutor, I often come across children who struggle with comprehension. They guess based on what they remember from the first read-through, rather than taking the time to read the question properly, looking for the clues that will help them find the answer before going back to the text to search for it. Is it laziness? Partly, but it’s also a skill that needs to be taught and practised.
If you think your child could benefit from some comprehension practice, they can work with me on a 1:1 basis. I work online or face-to-face, depending on where you live – I’m in the UK but have worked with children all over the country and the world.
Comprehension is one of the fundamental elements of testing at 11+ and 13+, whether for Grammar school or independent school entrance exams. If your child is preparing for one of these, get in touch to discuss how I can help.