Reading provides young people with numerous benefits. Apart from providing enjoyment, it helps young readers learn more about the world around them including its challenges and chances and it also enables the youth to understand themselves better (Bucher & Hinton, 2010).
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Clearly, educators have to choose the right works to help young readers in this process. Thus, for grade 7-8, I have chosen the major theme, family relations. The theme is relevant to the age group (12-14 years old) as children are becoming teenagers and they gain more freedom and become more involved into the social life.
Clearly, their family relations transform as 7-graders are affected by many factors (peer pressure, changing habits, personality and so on). At this age, 7-graders often stop understanding their parents or rather they think their parents do not or do not want to understand them.
Reading texts on the topic may help young readers to find answers to many questions and develop proper relationships with their close ones.
For grades 11-12, I have chosen the theme identity. This is a relevant topic for discussion with people at the age of 16-18. This is the age when teenagers focus on their identity and try to understand who they are and what their place in this world is.
Again, these teenagers are under pressure occurring at different levels (peers, parents, media, their own dreams and wishes). Obviously, understanding oneself is a very difficult process, especially in the contemporary society where people are dictated to follow certain paths and pursue certain goals.
Therefore, reading the texts on the topic will help young adult readers find themselves or, at least, find the way to focus on one’s own goals and dreams rather than pick up somebody else’s paths.
Grades 7-8: Family Relations
When choosing the stories for students, it is essential to take into account a number of important factors. Bucher and Hinton (2010) stress that the stories should reflect the age of the readers, their reading abilities, interests and needs as well as their thinking levels.
Apart from that, the stories should concentrate on contemporary issues, as readers have to be able to associate themselves with the characters of texts. Importantly, these texts should also address cultural issues and various situations related to diversity, gender, environment and so on.
Such stories will enable the teacher to start a discussion of important issues and guide young readers in their way to understand the world and themselves.
To achieve the goals mentioned above, I will use the following stories. The story “Biderbiks Don’t Cry” focuses on the relationship between father and son and the way sons try not to disappoint their fathers. In “Willie and the Christmas Spruces”, siblings’ relationships are put to the fore.
In “No Way of Knowing”, the family is about to split up and the son has to deal with it. “Ice Cream Man” dwells upon relationships between fathers and sons who often fail to pay attention to each other until it is too late. In “The Southern Belle and the Black-Eyed Pea”, relationships between mother and son are revealed.
In “Los Tres Ratoncitos: A Chiste”, the relationship between mother and sons are put to the fore. It is possible to focus on the story “Biderbiks Don’t Cry” to illustrate the way the stories can be used through analyzing three literary elements.
The first literary element to be discussed is the plot. In this story, three out of four major types of conflict are employed. Thus, there is a conflict between the protagonist and his father (person vs. person), between the protagonist against culture (person vs. society) and between the protagonist and himself (person vs. self).
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All these conflicts rooted in Charlie’s fears “that his father would think poorly of him” (Avi, 2005, p. 6). However, at the end, he is somewhat relieved as he admits in front of many people that “his father is ashamed of his son” (Avi, 2005, p. 19).
The author makes the story quite dynamic and students will easily relate it to the story, as such situations (in this or that form) often happen with the vast majority of students.
Another literary element to be discussed is the character. The protagonist of the story is a dynamic character, as he goes through pain of fear to let his father down to understanding that his father is “the coward” not him (Avi, 2005, p. 19).
The character of the father is also transforming, as readers also understand that alongside with being “a successful lawyer… the head of the family… and a champion college boxer”, the father is the coward who makes his son lie to retain his own status in the society (Avi, 2005, p. 6).
Finally, it is also possible to focus on the major themes of the story. Thus, students should discuss the fear of the son that his father might “consider him in some way a failure” (Avi, 2005, p. 6).
Clearly, many children have such fears and they should develop their own strategies to overcome these fears. It is also important to discuss the importance of being honest and able to take responsibilities or admit the truth.
Students can have some cards with several prompts to facilitate their discussion of the literary elements in groups. Then, groups can join the class discussion. It is important to encourage students to come up with their solutions and major conclusions concerning family relations.
Grades 11-12: Family Relations
When choosing the story for this group, it is important to take into account features mentioned above. However, since students are already between 16 and 18 years old, it is important to add discussion of such issues as political, social, economic and so on (Bucher & Hinton, 2010).
As has been mentioned above, identity should be put to the fore when it comes to major topics of discussion.
I have chosen six stories to hele readers of 11-12 grades to benefit from reading short stories. The story “Ice Cream Man” focuses on coming of age and the boy’s identity as the old man helps the boy understand who he is in this world.
“A Letter from the Fringe” dwells upon the development of identity of students who are bullied due to their appearance. “Diary of Death” focuses on development of the identity of the young person who survived a horrible war.
“Same Time Next Year” also dwells upon the issues of identity as two young people think they belong to different epochs and the story may help students to see why it can be harmful. In “The Gift”, the issues of identity are also discussed, as the protagonist understands a lot while talking with different people.
“Nethergrave” is a story of a boy who tried to find his place in the world but found it in the virtual reality. It is possible to consider three literary elements in the story “Nethergrave”.
It is possible to discuss the story’s plot. It has several conflicts as well. Thus, it is a conflict with the society (as the protagonist has to join a sport team and study at a certain school). The protagonist also finds himself in a conflict with his teammates because the boy “disgraced” himself and let down the team (Skurzynski, 2005, p. 153).
He also was in the conflict with himself as he could not find his place in the world and chose to stay in the virtual reality. The story tells about the way the protagonist’s life went on and it is clear why the boy made his decision.
It is also important to focus on the character. In this story, the main character is the one to pay attention to. Apparently, his “truly humiliating experience” in the soccer field is only an example of a series of similar events (Skurzynski, 2005, p. 153).
His inability to fit into the real world and lack of support from the part of his parents makes the boy choose the virtual reality rather than try to find his way in the real world.
The major theme is finding one’s place in this world and it can be important for students to focus on that, as they are likely to face the same issue. Importantly, the story helps understand that young people mainly need to understand that “no one will ever abandon” them (Skurzynski, 2005, p. 153).
This can help many young people to solve their own issue and find their own place.
Again, discussion of major solutions for main characters can be the most beneficial assignment. It is also important to make sure that students understand the reasons why the characters made such decisions. It is important to encourage students to relate to all of these stories.
It is also possible to ask students to write a short story on identity (this can be an account of their personal issues or the search for identity of someone they know).
Avi. (2005). Biderbiks don’t cry. In S.I. Barchers (Ed.), In short: How to teach the young adult short story (pp. 5-19). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Bucher, K., & Hinton, K. (2010). Young adult literature: Exploration, evaluation, and appreciation. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon/Pearson.
Skurzynski, G. (2005). Nethergrave. In S.I. Barchers (Ed.), In short: How to teach the young adult short story (pp. 144-154). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.