Although we don’t generally think about it, every experience we have adds to a repertoire of events that create “us” – our background. The stories we share with friends, the lessons we teach our kids, and the bank of knowledge we use to make decisions in the moment. Everything we encounter adds to this background, called schema, which we use to put new information into meaningful context.
Schema is added to and shaped by new experiences and lessons. Throughout the school years, teachers and parents expose children to new information, adding their own background information to the lessons. It is in this way that many generations of humans have passed down information that is important; although, how we share these stories has evolved over the centuries.
Schema Theory uses open-ended questions to encourage students to use their backgrounds to dissect and comprehend media or a situation. Since this is a blog about reading, lets focus on using Schema Theory with books. As mentioned, you can help activate and build children’s schema by asking them simple, open-ended questions. Often it is easiest for children to focus on the relationships in a story since the ups and downs of a relationship are familiar to them. For example, if you just finished Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you might discuss with your child the following:
“At the end of the story, Charlie wins. What character in another story has to pass a test to see if they are worthy of winning something?”
This is an example of a “text-to-text” comparison question, where one story is used to put another into context. Kids Read Now uses questions written in Schematic Theory as a ready-made guide for parents and educators to expand comprehension of what is being read. Every Kids Read Now selection has 4 questions written at the reading level of the book, called Discovery Questions. Each question uses a different aspect of schema theory to encourage connections.
The first 3 questions are:
The aforementioned “text-to-text”
A “text-to-self” question where the student is asked to compare the events or themes in the book to his or her own life
A “text-to-world” question in which the student is encouraged to think about the greater world at large and how a story might be thought about from different perspectives. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory you might ask your child to think about how the factory must be passed to a child. What would the adults of the world think of this? The other children?
The final question Kids Read Now adds to a book’s set of Discovery questions is a creative question. As we look back to our example of Roald Dahl’s classic, we might ask readers to invent 5 rooms in the chocolate factory with different candies, and then have them describe how these candies might get naughty children in trouble. Have them draw these rooms and tell you out loud, so you can ask them questions and have fun!
My final tips on building schema are to celebrate discoveries and help them share what they know! The confidence in their new connections will encourage them to continue to expand and grow!
During meetings, are you a notetaker? I often find myself scribbling down notes throughout a meeting only to never refer to them again, simply because I remember what is on them. The act of writing down the information helps my brain convert it to long term memory. The same thing happens when children write. Even more importantly, it helps teach their brains HOW to remember. This is called the “Retrieval Effect” and it’s why practice tests work to help you study for the big test in school.
When you write about a topic, it strengthens your memory and helps you make connections and have deeper thoughts about the subject. As you write, and you think about what you want to write, you begin to weigh the importance of different aspects of the topic. Professor Steven Graham of the Arizona State University Teaching College found—after compiling over 56 studies—that writing “reliably enhanced learning” in science, social studies, and math.
When you ask a student to write about a topic, it helps them demonstrate their comprehension on that topic and reveals gaps in their knowledge. Low stakes writing exercises are a great way to allow free flow thinking and encourage those connections to come to the surface. A low stake writing exercise has no right or wrong answer and is not about spelling or grammar. You are just trying out new ideas. When you remove the pressure of being “right”, you encourage students to find their voice and see the value in their ideas. Ask questions like, “What do you notice?” or, “What’s one thing you know and one question you have?” to help develop an inner dialogue.
MyStories is a writing prompt book developed by Kids Read Now as a fun and engaging set of low stakes writing exercises. Each page has a colorful picture and an area for writing. There’s no right or wrong way for students to use these books. It’s the perfect activity to get students’ creative juices flowing. Visit kidsreadnow.org for more tips on engaging with your children through reading and writing!
If you’re a reader, you’re familiar with the pull of another world. You’ve slipped into other lives to become fairies and dragon slayers, adventurers, and heroes. Now you want your child to experience new adventures and far-off lands, while tucked safely in their beds at home. Opening the door for them shouldn’t be stressful. I promise—there is a book out there they’ll LOVE.
A fantastic way to start is to dive into a book you’ll both love! I have a long-time connection with audio books. I’d go on car rides with my aunt who would check out books from the library to listen to in the car— quickly becoming absorbed in the story, riding across an ancient tundra with Ayla of the Zelandonii or on the back of Saphira the sapphire blue dragon through the skies of Alagesia. The habit of listening to audio books has lasted well into adulthood for me, a supplement when I don’t have the time to get cozy and turn the pages myself.
This is a great option for any level reader, because all you have to do is enjoy and be swept away! Listening to a story adds another tool to your vocabulary belt; the reader doesn’t skip those difficult to pronounce words. You and your child get to hear the word pronounced and used correctly. Without hearing the name of the place out loud, you don’t know if Superman lives in Metro-polis or Met-trop-olis. Hearing the words spoken out loud has helped me, as an adult, increase my vocabulary and feel more confident in my word usage.
Most libraries have an extensive audio and eBook collection. Both formats can be used on a mobile device or computer. If your local library doesn’t have an electronic collection, a larger library will generally allow you to get a card online 24/7 and check out titles whenever you want. Your library will probably recommend an app for easier connection to their collection. I use one called Overdrive.
Once you have the means, try out some books! There are as many “types” of books as there are stars in the sky but don’t feel overwhelmed! Start with topics that you know your child likes. Do they like mystery, adventure, true stories? Let them help you narrow down the choices. Giving your child the chance to choose the story will help keep him or her more interested.
A few tips:
Look for a book with a main character around the same age as your own child, this will give them an immediate connection to that character.
Children also connect well to the viewpoint of an animal as a main character, as most children spend hours pretending to be one animal or another. My daughter thoroughly enjoys acting like a pterodactyl every chance she gets.
As you discover together which worlds fit the best, encourage your child to spend some cozy time reading. Treat books like treasures and search for gems together at garage sales and thrift stores. Give and receive books as gifts.
My last big tip is, if you don’t like the story, pick a different one! Found a book you like and want more? Ask your local librarian for books that are similar so you can start another journey.