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Casual Conversations Can Build Thinking Skills
Kathryn L. Stout, B.S.Ed., M.Ed.
Published: September 1998
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Here’s an easy way to help your children get more out of the fiction they read or hear. Choose one or two of the following questions (from Critical Conditioning) to ask casually while reading out loud, or after a child has read a book and is helping with chores, or, perhaps, during dinner. A comfortable approach allows children to think rather than second guess what the "right answer" is supposed to be. There is no need for an answer key—or even for you to be familiar with the story. Simply encourage the child to elaborate with specifics and ask him questions whenever you are confused by what he is saying. This teaches him how to support his opinion.
- Tell me about one of the characters—what is he/she like? (Examples: lazy, helpful, friendly, reliable, independent, moody, shy, undependable, kind, generous, considerate, selfish, stingy, aggressive, passive.) What are some of the things in the story that make you think so? (Direct the student toward actions and conversations.)
- Which character do you admire most? Why?
- What do you like best about the story—the plot, the characters, or the theme. Why?
- What is the problem (conflict) in the story? How is it resolved? Do you think that was a good way to solve the problem? Why or why not? What other solution would you suggest?
- Did this story have a lesson or message that you agree with or disagree with? Why?
- Which incident did you like best in the story? Why?
- Do you think other kids would like this book? What would you tell them to convince them to read it?
- How would your life be different if you lived in this society? Do you think that would be a better or worse life? Why?
- What are some of the behaviors (values) that are considered good? How do you know that? (For example, in some folk tales stealing is good if the thief is clever and gets away with it. In realistic fiction a character may lie and ultimately have a positive rather than negative consequence, suggesting that it’s okay to lie.)
- Do you think the author is a Christian, or agrees with Christian principles? Why?
Always allow sincere responses to be expressed freely, and completely. The discussion questions are merely guides—examples to trigger thoughts about what was read in order to help the reader gain insight. Ideally, discussions should lead the reader into an evaluation of values and give him ideas about how to live up to the values he recognizes as worthwhile. For example, when the poor but kind hero wins over evil, the reader is encouraged to continue being kind even when he feels "picked on." When a character achieves fame ruthlessly and finds himself without friends, the reader recognizes that the "end justifies the means" does not lead to happiness.
As a student learns to find depth in a story, he will not only gain greater understanding, but will develop a greater love of literature. Hopefully, the questions here will make it easier for you to create that love in your own children.