1. Developing thinking skills through reading

When you and your pupils are reading stories, you can help them to notice who is included in stories and how they are included, and also who is excluded. You can help them to notice how the settings of stories (a school, a village, a town, etc.) are described. You can also help pupils to understand the attitude or point of view of the writer, to consider whether there could be other points of view and, if so, what these might be.

When you do this with pupils, you are helping them develop their thinking skills and their skills as critical questioners. You will also learn what pupils are interested in and what their points of view are. You can use this to plan to meet their needs more.

Case Study 1: Telling a story from a different point of view

Mrs Pinkie Motau in Soweto, South Africa, has three boxes of storybooks in her classroom. Sometimes she reads these books to her Grade 4 class and sometimes they read by themselves. The stories are about children and families, about animals or about imaginary creatures such as dragons.

One day, when she was reading a story about a crocodile, Sizwe said he felt sorry for the crocodile because he was always the ‘bad’ one in the stories. Mrs Motau asked the class whether they agreed. Most agreed that the crocodile was always ‘bad’. Some said this was fine because crocodiles are dangerous, but others said this wasn’t fair because crocodiles have to look after themselves just like other animals do. This gave Mrs Motau an idea. She asked the class to suggest how the story could be told from the crocodile’s point of view. The pupils were quite puzzled, so she said, ‘Imagine that you are the crocodile in this story. What would you like to tell the other animals about yourself?’ This question helped pupils to make suggestions. After some class discussion, Mrs Motau asked pupils to work in groups of five to write and draw a story in which the crocodile is a ‘good’ character. By sharing ideas they wrote and illustrated some very imaginative stories.

While Mrs Motau was reading the stories, she thought about what the words and the drawings told her about her pupils’ abilities to imagine a story from the crocodile’s point of view. The next day, she read each group’s story aloud and showed the illustrations. After reading each story, she told the whole class what she thought the group had achieved and she also asked pupils to comment on each other’s writing and drawing.

Finally, the stories were made into a book for the class library.

Activity 1: Becoming a critical reader of stories

  • Find a story in which the characters, setting and events are written and illustrated from a particular point of view (e.g. the ‘good’ animals; the parents of a naughty child).
  • Read this story to the class, making sure to show pupils the illustrations.
  • Ask some questions that encourage them to think critically about how the story has been written and illustrated. (See Resource 1: Asking questions for examples of questions you could use.)
  • Next, help your pupils work in pairs to write a letter to the author, in which they explain what they like/do not like about the way the story they have just read is written and illustrated. Write an outline of the letter on the chalkboard and discuss ideas with the class before the pairs begin to write (See Resource 2: Outline of a letter to an author) or with younger pupils finish the draft together.

What did pupils achieve in these critical reading and writing lessons? How do you know this? What evidence do you have?

Did they do anything that surprised you, pleased you or disappointed you?

Is there anything you would do differently if you were teaching these lessons again?

Section 5: Ways of becoming a critical reader and writer

2. Writing from different perspectives