In the real world, how often have you read a chapter, an article, or a blog post and immediately thought the best way to make sense of what you just read is to answer discussion questions or write an essay? Contrast that with the number of times you’ve read something that resonated with you—maybe it thrilled or even haunted you—and then instantly sought someone to share your thoughts with. Or perhaps you sat still after reading, letting yourself fill with feelings first, and then turned those feelings into drawing, music, or even dance.
When a text moves a young reader in a significant way, we see them respond to texts in a variety of ways that are more authentic than answering prewritten discussion questions or answering a writing prompt. We see them laugh aloud and physically imitate characters actions or voices. We see them using cushions and giant blocks to build the setting of a story, so they can pretend to be a part of that world. We see them deconstructing and reconstructing the plot line into fan fiction or fan art. As librarians and educators, how can we capitalize on those genuine responses to reading and nurture their engagement with texts?
Rethinking Reader Response
Reader response theories and activities center the reader’s experience of a text, recognizing that the reader’s lived experiences, sociocultural identities, and own personal interests and abilities play an important role in making meaning from reading. And kids experience texts, respond to that experience, and express that experience in ways and modalities that go beyond what we allow them to do. The concepts of multimodality and multimodal literacies consider how meaning can be communicated through a variety of signs (i.e., textual, gestural, visual, spatial, audio, and digital ways), especially in the 21st century. Providing young readers with opportunities to respond to books and stories via visual art, drama, music, dance, creative writing, and digital media can therefore result in complex and meaningful engagements with texts. It can also underscore how much fun reading can be.
Multimodal Opportunities for Reader Response
So, what are some ways we can facilitate multimodal reader responses? Here are a few ideas to support and encourage that authentic reading and responding we see children and teens doing on their own:
- Have them work in pairs or small groups to role play one of their favorite scenes from a book.
- Choose two characters from the book who don’t really speak to one another (You can put various character names in a hat and have them pick two randomly). Have students improvise a conversation between the characters, staying true to their personalities.
- Challenge them to create a playlist that a character would have in their music library.
- Have them find or create a theme song for each of the characters in a book.
- Create a “found poem,” pulling lines of narration, dialogue, or captions and remixing them into verse.
- Encourage them to rewrite a scene from another character’s perspective, or to create their own fan fiction about a book.
- Create collages in any media, including digital, that showcases their important takeaways from what they read.
- Have them design a cover for the 10th anniversary edition of the book.
The possibilities—for encouraging multimodal reader responses and for readers’ meaningful engagement with reading—are endless.
Dr. Grace Enriquez is a Professor of Language and Literacy at Lesley University. A former English Language Arts teacher and literacy staff developer, she bridges her work with teachers and students with ethnographic and critical research in high-needs urban populations to examine their responses to literacy instruction in school contexts. Specifically, her scholarship focuses on children’s literature for social justice; critical literacies; reader response; intersections of literacies, identities, and embodiment; and the teaching of writing. Grace’s work has been published in a variety of national and international refereed journals. She also serves on national literacy committees and editorial review boards. She is the Children’s Literature Department Editor for the children’s literature review column of Language Arts, as well as co-author of The Classroom Bookshelf, a blog published weekly by the School Library Journal.