The art of talking with children about what they read

After having managed to get the children to finish reading a book, we consider the reading objective accomplished. However, the socializing act of what we read is as important as the reading itself.

Sometimes one small act proves to be more effective than many sophisticated activities. In this line we would like to suggest ideas to talk with children about their reading. It is common that, after having managed to get the children to finish reading a book -or having read it together-, we consider the reading objective fulfilled. However, the socializing act of what we read is as important as the reading itself. Reading a book often invites conversation and both parents and mediators want to have good talks with children. Talking to children about their reading is like turning on a flashlight in the middle of a cave: “Have you seen this? … Look over there… let's see what we can find here…”

A good conversation starts with a good question. A good question gets you somewhere in your thinking. Children are often more interested in giving a quick answer than in thinking about the question. So questions like: What has caught your attention? or What do you think of this? They are paths that invite exploration rather than response.

Search for children's points of interest. Many books have more than one theme, so you may be able to find something personal to share with the children.

Direct your questions to make sense of the story. Many children need to understand the story before they understand the meaning of it. Some questions may be intended to review the main plot points. Children who understand stories better become more confident readers, and this confidence will give them greater pleasure in future reading.

Rephrase the questions. If you see that the children do not answer because they have not understood the question, help them. You can use different words, or help with adjectives. What do you think Matilda is like? Is she brave, independent, curious, shy, generous? An important part of the conversation is aimed at developing the ability to use words to express themselves and facilitate children's greater mastery of language.

Make personal connections to the story. What would you have done if the same thing happened to you as the protagonist? These connections help them connect the stories to their lives. Conversing is less talking about the figures or the content of the book than about their meaning.

Be patient. You don't become a good conversationalist overnight. Learn the patience to let children find their way to express themselves, without drowning them out with comments or questions. If you intervene a lot, in the end you will only be the person who comments on the books.

►Give the children time to answer

Listen. If you throw out a question, wait until they have time to think about it and respond. Ask, make a small comment and wait. Show children that you know how to listen and that they are listened to. It is important to have a good conversation.
All the answers are good. Conversing is contrasting points of view, listening to different opinions, and exchanging differences. In this sense, all the answers are good and should be taken into account. Remember that a good conversation is not about the answers but about the questions.

Give your own opinions. A conversation is not so much about what you know about the book, as about what you think. Concentrate your comments on this aspect to have more depth and so that the children are on the same level as you.

Lead the conversation. Don't settle for obvious answers: children have a school habit of trying to answer as quickly as possible. A conversation is a walk, not a run. Help them develop an original and critical spirit.

Don't beat around the bush. Sometimes the conversations drift to topics that have nothing to do with the book. Try to control this with some questions that get you back on track.

A conversation has no end. Don't try to get anywhere, apart from talking about a story. End when you feel like it, when class ends, when it's time for dinner, or when the topic runs out.

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