The processes of reproduction which are the basis of this unit are methods of writing new versions of ideas derived from reading. In
Writing Through Reading
Gay states, “The thought of the original is the prime concern of the writer, and the excellence of his writing is gauged by the degree to which it is successful in expressing, in another form, the thought he has derived from reading.”
Students who are writing with the object of reproducing the thoughts read are required to read more attentively. Since students are almost compelled to comprehend every word they read, a discriminating selection of reading material is essential to the success of this unit.
What is good reading material? Gay describes good reading material for this unit as “material whose subject matter falls well within the experience or observation, or at least, the apprehension, of a young student.” In addition to selecting appropriate material based on the fact that there will be representatives of all reading levels, consideration must be given to the varying interest levels represented in any classroom.
Once these reading and interest levels are known it will be easy to direct students to reading materials needed for their writing exercises. Although many writing exercises will be assigned based on specific readings, there will be some writing exercises in which the students will be given the opportunity to choose the book or passage they will read.
The classroom will be the setting for most of the writing done in this unit, and since this writing unit is based on reading, ample reading material must be on hand in the classroom at all
times. There must be something for every student to enjoy. Material for this unit should include readings in new and old literature, realistic and fanciful literature, and prose and poetry. Gay offers a general description of good reading material is offered by Amelia H. Munson in “Book Selection,” an article contained in the book edited by Evelyn R. Robinson, entitled
Readings About Children’s Literature.
Munson suggests, “In your whole collection, try to have: Scope, coverage, variety, readability, and attractiveness.”
Excerpts from her description of the features found in good reading material are as follows:
Start with known interests of young people so as to set up the inviting element of familiarity. Add to this books that will broaden their interests.
. This follows from the breaking down of fiction and nonfiction barriers and recommends your gathering material on a subject from factual, fictional, biographical, poetic, dramatic, and all other possible fields that add just the angle needed.
. The same subject may appeal to a wide range of readers. Therefore it should be presented in books widely differing in treatment and in vocabulary.
Sometimes this is a matter of format, sometimes of vocabulary, sometimes of construction. Again, consider your clientele. Readable for whom?
. Look for: clear type, not too small; wide margins; a sufficiently heavy paper to be opaque; and eye catching but not blinding jackets.
Using these suggestions for selection, it should not be difficult to furnish a classroom with reading material suitable for this writing unit. That being done, writing through reading can begin.
“Writing Through Reading” is a unit designed to be used throughout the school year primarily as independent classwork. Much of my class time is spent in small group instruction. Students are grouped homogeneously, but since classes are usually large, I find it necessary to divide each class into small groups in order to provide more individualized instruction.
After the groups have been established, most of the classwork is done independently. Because most of the writing for this unit is done independently, it is totally suitable to my method of teaching. This unit can be introduced very early in the school year. Writing exercises can be included as part of a students’ weekly assignments. It is of prime importance that the routine of writing daily be established as soon as possible.
To introduce writing through reading I would begin with the process of transcribing, which is probably the simplest form of reproduction, since it involves simply reading a passage of prose and copying it on paper. Students would be required to read a different passage every day and write it out verbatim, observing its structure and the relations of its parts, and looking up all strange words in the dictionary. Famous quotations are fun to use for this exercise’ and the supply is limitless.
Passages for these exercises would most often be chosen by the students themselves. Each day students would find a different topic on the chalkboard, such as Love, Hatred, Knowledge, Courage, and the like. They would be required to find a quotation under that heading and write it in their writing notebooks. Later the meanings of the quotations can be discussed with the class.
Given this as a daily exercise, students will certainly increase their vocabularies and gain practice in looking for the central thought in a passage. A good alternative to this exercise is one in which students can learn to train the memory and to improve spelling, punctuation, and listening skills. A short passage can be read aloud to students two or more times, and the students can then try to write it out in full. Basically these simple exercises serve to introduce the unit as well as to establish the habit of writing daily.
After a few weeks of transcribing, I would introduce, the process of translation. According to Gay in his chapter on translating he states that translating involves the following three steps: “We must (1) master completely the thought of the original; then (2) set ourselves to writing it down in the English language; and then (3) revise our version with a view to bringing it into close conformity with the thought of the original.”
This process, although a generally used device, is not one on which I would spend a great deal of time. Without eliminating the daily practice of transcribing, I would probably assign exercises in translating as extra credit activities or assign them mainly to my bilingual students. With the use of Spanish/English dictionaries, students would be required to read and translate into English short passages written in Spanish.
To promote interest for the whole class in translating exercises, I may have bilingual students read aloud in Spanish the lyrics of a popular song and ask students to work together writing the translation in English. Enthusiasm for this method of reproduction should grow if students are provided with this sort of readaloud introduction.
I would then proceed to the process of reproduction known as paraphrasing, which is in itself a special form of translation. Gay states, “In translating, it is often necessary to amplify the original, or otherwise to change it, in English, in order that it may be clear. Such free translation is often called paraphrasing. It is sometimes useful, too, to rewrite a passage of English in other words to make its meaning clear.”
If paraphrasing helps to give a clearer meaning to a passage and serves as an aid to comprehension, then it justifies itself a valuable method of writing. Students are forced to read for meaning if they are required to write in their own words what an author is saying in his work.
Gay offers the following methods and applications as the procedure for paraphrasing:
1. Read the original over slowly again and again, until you are sure you know exactly what it means. Use the dictionary.
2. Do not try to find a synonym for each adjective, noun, and verb; on the contrary, do not hesitate to repeat any word if its meaning is clear and simple. If, however, the obscurity is due to unusual words or to figures of speech, try to find common and literal equivalents for these.
3. Rephrase the passage entirely.
4. Try hard to retain the tone of the original.
5. Give the central train of thought.
6. Put in nothing that is not expressed or implied in the original, and leave out nothing.
Before assigning independent work in paraphrasing, I would work together with the class paraphrasing several passages using the methods listed above. Passages from the Bible, Shakespeare, Mother Goose, Greek myths, old fairy tales, and folk tales provide excellent reading material for paraphrasing exercises.
I would continue next with condensing because its emphasis on finding the main ideas of the original and on writing concisely can be better understood after completing the previous exercises, which stress words. A condensation, as it is defined by Gay, is “a concise abridgment, containing the substance of a full statement; a concise and lucid summary of a longer passage of prose or poetry.”
The educational values of condensing are selfevident since qualities to be aimed at in this writing method are accuracy, completeness, clearness, and brevity. Advantages to this method of writing are that it gives training in reading and writing equally, and by following a simple procedure students can develop this skill rapidly with practice. The procedure Gay suggests is as follows:
1. Read the original over two or three times, until you have a clear idea of its meaning. Think of a title for the whole passage.
2. Try to divide the original into sections, and write a heading for each section.
3. Decide what is essential and what is unessential in each section.
4. Decide what emphasis to give to the thought of each section.
5. Write a clear and orderly condensed version, incorporating in it all the essential thought of the original, and adding nothing of your own.
6. Revise your version for further condensation.
In using this procedure, students are to keep in mind that the essential quality of a condensation is clearness; and the test of clearness is that a reader who has not seen the original will understand the meaning of the condensation.
As in paraphrasing exercises, I would work together with students before assigning independent exercises in condensing. Once I felt the students had a clear understanding of the process, I might begin by reading a newspaper account omitting the lead, and have students furnish the summary of the news story. Simple exercises such as those would be followed by exercises involving longer passages to be condensed. By the end of the school year, I would hope that most students could competently review a book of their choice.
As reading material for exercises in condensing, I would probably choose passages from newspapers, famous speeches, debates, essays, narrative poems, plays and books.
In transcribing, translating, paraphrasing, and condensing, the students should be striving to train their perception of sentence structure, pattern and rhythm; and, in doing so, they may unconsciously achieve fluency of expression. Many of my students have difficulty expressing themselves both in writing and in speaking. Since I believe there is a need for a common knowledge among people, I strive for a standard dialect of English in my classroom. Arnold B. Cherney states in
Teaching Culturally Disadvantaged in the Elementary Schools
, “I do
not view dialect instruction as an invasion of a person’s linguistic privacy but an attempt to provide him with another tool with which to fashion a fuller life. The degree to which the culturally disadvantaged approximate the standard dialect of society in general will be the determiner of their integration into this same society.”
I agree with this theory.
One method of acquiring a standard dialect is through unconscious imitation. Exposure to good writing through the method of imitating offers a perfectly definite standard for comparison and emulation. I present this process of reproducing thoughts last, because I feel it is the most difficult method of writing through reading. It is the method of writing which most closely resembles creative writing. By imitating, students experience many styles of writing, and as their personality and originality develop, their own style will emerge.
In his chapter on imitation and emulation, Gay provides two procedures to be followed. One procedure is to be used for imitating prose, the other for imitating poetry.
The mode of procedure for prose is as follows:
1. Select a passage within your knowledge or experience.
2. Read the passage over and over.
3. Jot down a hint of the thought of each sentence.
4. After each hint, record the number of words in the original sentence.
5. A day later expand your hints to about the length of the original sentences.
6. Compare your version in detail with the original.
Again, illustration will help students to understand the actual procedure. In addition to being difficult, imitating exercises are usually not completed in one lesson. For this reason motivation is very important. Reading material consisting of good prose and poetry provides some of the motivation for these exercises. In addition an atmosphere that encourages interest and pride in selfexpression will help.
I would offer the same suggestions for imitating poetry, although the procedure for this process is somewhat different. Gay suggests that after careful study of the model:
1. Think out in a general way what you wish to say.
2. Try to think of your verse in groups, not singly.
3. Before you write down a verse try to make it conform to the rhythm of the original.
4. Having made two or more lines conform to the rhythm, write them down.
5. As an ideal, try to conform to the natural order of prose.
As I have mentioned earlier, illustration helps. This method of writing should be saved for the latter part of the school year after the students have had practice in reproducing thoughts for several months and writing has become routine.
In conclusion, I will say that in researching this paper I have collected a wealth of useful information on the teaching of writing. Selecting “Writing Through Reading” as an approach to discuss over the many others available does not mean that I think it is the best approach to the teaching of writing. I was looking for a writing unit that would supplement other kinds of writing in the classroom and would offer daily practice in writing. Considering the needs of my students and believing in the distinct advantages of this unit, exercises in transcribing, translating, paraphrasing, condensing, and imitating, sensibly conducted, serve those purposes.