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wundayatta's avatar

How would you teach someone to organize their thinking?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) September 3rd, 2012

My son has to do a book report and has been struggling with it. Mostly, I think, it is a lack of motivation. He shouldn’t have to have homework over the summer, but he does. Still, he can extract much pain from his parents because he is perfectly willing not to do it, and we are not going to let him return to school empty handed.

But he has to do a book report. He has to describe the book. How? He has to describe characters. How do you do that? He has to assess the book. How?

How would you teach someone to organize their thinking about a book? What is important? How can you help a child learn to think? How should they organize their thinking? We’re talking 7th grade here, so let’s not use words that he won’t get.

He has finished the first draft as of now, but it was pure torture.

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11 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

Talk to him about the book and ask him questions. This also helps you to be involved with his homework without having to do it for him (one hopes). Ask him leading questions: Did you like it? Why? What about that character did you like or not like? How did the author describe him (his actions, etc.)? What words did he use? Did you have to look up any words? Which ones? Have you read anything else by this author? How does this compare?

Depending on what grade level your son is entering (the questions for a sixth grader would be much different and less penetrating than those for a college junior) you can tailor the questions to suit the book and his ability to think and respond.

Have him take notes of the conversation you have with him. That will start him to organize his thoughts and actually put them on paper. Maybe virtual paper; do kids take notes on computers these days?

Bellatrix's avatar

What about adding to @CWOTUS‘s good ideas by using a concept map. Get a big piece of paper and map out your discussion with him. So he can start to see the themes emerging and the relationship between different elements in the story. Repeated motifs and the like. Having a visual representation of the book/themes/characters might help.

Something my students like is using post-it stickers. You can then move them around and group them as you talk.

wundayatta's avatar

How do you create a concept map?

Bellatrix's avatar

Big sheet of paper, some coloured highlighters (or post it notes). A concept map is actually quite complicated but a mind map will do for this job. You can use a big piece of paper and draw, but let’s just talk as if you are using the Post-Its (PIs from now on).

Write the name of the book on a PI. Put it at the top of the table or in the centre.
Then the names of the characters. Sarah, Jane, Michael etc.
Then what do we know about Sarah – Tall, Happy, Problems at home, etc. Put the info on post-its. Perhaps one with the physical info, another for her personality, what are her problems? What role does she play in this story?

Then the key plot/narrative elements – Boy missing, Search organised, etc. Then talk to him about each of these events, what does he know about it, what does it add to the story, etc.

The key themes that start to emerge – jealousy, guilt, etc. etc. Who is jealous? Why?

So you break things down but then document each thought with a post-it or words (this is a time to be very concise though). Keep it simple. Just the ideas.

In the end you should have lots of Post its – perhaps in diff colours, grouped together. You can talk about how things connect.

If you draw it, you would use lines to show the connections. You could use pins and string if you used a wall (and don’t mind holes).

This is a mind map of All Quiet on the Western Front – yours doesn’t have to be so complicated.

Another for The Gift and this site that explains more about mind maps and books.

Here is one using post-it notes

Mind or concept mapping (purists go ape if you don’t acknowledge the difference) can really help people to organise their thoughts. Very useful for visual learners and my understanding is, males can tend to be more visual. If nothing else it will be fun trying it out with him. You can make it as simple or complicated as you like. Use a wall in a room even and stick the post-its up. The thing I like about post-its is you can easily move them about.

wundayatta's avatar

Very interesting, @Bellatrix. I did something akin to that, only I used—you guessed it—a spreadsheet. What is really interesting to me is your categories of analysis: characters, what we know about characters, physical information, personality info, problems, role played in story, key themes, etc.

I came up with several of those… no, we came up with them, and probably could have come up with more, except it’s only a four paragraph book report, and we were generating way more information than needed for the moment.

What I found interesting is that when I asked him to contrast the books he’d read over the summer, it made things easier to think about. So in terms of style of the book, he came up with humorous for one, straight forward or factual for another, and had a third description for the third book.

Anyway, it’s like a mind map or concept map (don’t know what the difference is), and it is more structured data than I suspect the concept map is. In fact, I suspect there are probably simple ways to link concept maps to spreadsheets, which would allow us to introduce some concepts for qualitative research and analysis that could be big learning opportunities.

Cool! Thanks a lot!

Bellatrix's avatar

Mind/concept mapping is much more abstract – it connects in with the other side of the brain. It isn’t so linear as a spreadsheet. You can certainly take the ideas you generate and then put them into a spreadsheet.

It’s actually a powerful analytical tool (if it works for you). You do have to let your mind run free and work quickly. Don’t edit and be too precise. Just write down ideas and see where things fit and how they relate to each other.

Some people hate them others love them. Personally – I am a more linear thinker. I would use a spreadsheet more than a concept map. I have used them when I have needed to carry out deep analysis though.

For a few pars, probably won’t need a lot but it might be a fun thing to try with your son. If it works for him, this is a lifelong learning tool.

wundayatta's avatar

More abstract than a spreadsheet? Hmmm. That sounds pretty tough. Most people think a spreadsheet is awfully abstract already. Actually, it wasn’t really a spreadsheet. We just used the spreadsheet as a database, as many people do. But organizing data and developing categories for the things you have is pretty abstract work.

ANd we were doing it kind of backwards. Usually you gather data first, and then decide what kind of categories or attributes you think are important about the cases you have. But, we had a short period of time to do this in, and damn it, what are his teachers for, anyway?

KNOWITALL's avatar

I am a voracious reader and have been in love with books since I was very young. If your son isn’t in ‘love’ with reading yet, perhaps he hasn’t had any books read to him that fascinate him in a subject he loves.

So, that being the case, I would set aside an hour or so each day for quiet reading time with no distraction, and with the help of a good reader. Take turns reading to get the project done. Retention rates are higher when someone is read to from what I recall because they are more focused on the story rather than pronounciation, etc…

I would also have him write a synapsis after each ‘study period’ outlining the story, characters and anything else pertinent to the report so he can review those notes before writing the review.

After the reports done, I would try to read Moby Dick or Huck Finn or something that would attract his attention, read him some each night, and allow his imagination to thrive. Once that happens if he is going to love books your problem will be solved. If he’s not a book lover, you’ll have to focus on reading rewards imo….good grades=college, car, etc….

wundayatta's avatar

He loves information. He will research the hell out of things and is very knowledgeable. But he does it on youtube. He doesn’t like to read because it is too slow, I think, although he will read enough to navigate the internet.

He’s a curious boy. But I think he is too impatient to know things now, and is very intolerant of slow ways of gaining information. Thus, he doesn’t like to read if he can find a faster way to gain knowledge. Like having someone else read to him. He found the technology to make the internet read him his books, and he sits there, book in hand, as his computer reads to him. Of course, that’s not the same as a human reading to him, but I thought it was pretty clever.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Of course, reading takes time and who has unlimited time? With everything these days (in my old lady voice) being about instant communication and gratification how could kids want to go backwards.

The point I try to teach my niece is that not only is reading books relaxing but it helps increase your imagination usage, your vocabulary and imparts knowledge without the textbook verbage.

Personally I have a very low tolerance for dry reading, like in school cramming, not my style at all and I hated it. Give me an interesting book on Egyptian art and I’ll love it. It’s all about finding the best ways for each individual to learn.

lifeflame's avatar

Yeah, compare and contrast is a great way for children (and adults) to tease out qualities of the things they are trying to describe.

When it comes to summarising the story, if your son likes to draw I would give him 4–8 comic-strip boxes and ask him to draw the key moments of the story, in a way that if someone just saw the comic, they would understand what they story was about. (If he needs more structure than that, you can even have him write one or two sentences to caption each of the pictures.)

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