I have a little speech I say to kids when we talk about making connections while reading:
Mrs. D: We are thinking all the time. When you are reading you are thinking. Reading IS Thinking! You are thinking the plot is awesome, or boring. You are relating in some way to the characters. Maybe they are like you, maybe they are your complete opposite. You are thinking that the setting is well described or you are struggling to picture it in your head. You think that the dialogue is funny or interesting or bizarre - whatever! Are these not all connections?
Student response: Sure they are! Absolutely! As we read, we are constantly making connections!
Ok, maybe they don't respond this way, but I try and make the point that if they are not having these thoughts as they read, then the book is too hard or they are daydreaming. It's virtually impossible to read a book and not have some sort of connection, because otherwise, why are we reading it? We don't want to read about things we can't relate to at all. Even the most fantasical of fantasy books have characters and situations we can connect to in some way.
Little kids shout out their connections during read alouds, but then as older students, they struggle to make connections. Why?
I think teaching connecting is something that needs to grow with the reader. You may have made friends based on your favourite colour when you were little but that doesn't cut it as you get older ("You like pink? I like pink! Let's be best friends). More mature readers struggle to make good connections as they read. I believe they are making these connections (see dialogue above) so why aren't they able to express them?
It's important that students make connections to self, text and world. I would however start with text to self connections. If they can master these, move on. If they are struggling to make simple connections, there's no sense expecting them to connect to other texts AND the world. They need to make meaningful text to self connections before the others.
Here are a few hints to help students make 'good' connections:
1. Start the year off with lots of 'connectable' texts. Do you like how I just make up words? ;) One book I enjoy reading in September is 'The Relatives Came' by Cynthia Rylant. Summer vacation is done, but many kids will have spent some time in a car OR had family visit OR had a BBQ, picnic...There are so many things that students can connect to in this book. They may be surface connections (my family visited from wherever, just like in the book), but you can use these surface connections to dig deeper. Have the students help each other, ask questions and try to make those connections more meaningful. How do you feel when you have to share your space? This could be with another family member in the house, not just a relative that comes to visit. Have you ever had a relative or a friend break something of yours by accident? How did you feel, for real? How do you feel about long car trips? Like them? Hate them? Would you rather be the relative that hosts or the relative that visits? The talking may lead to more meaningful connections.
2. Don't accept lame-o connections. I talk about what makes a good connection and a lame connection. If there is a dog in the story and they have a dog, this is a lame connection. Think again! Did they have the same feelings as the dog owner in the story? Do they yearn for a dog, but can't have one? Can they discuss their feelings as being the same as the character who does have a dog in the story? Surface connections don't cut it, dig deeper!!!!
3. Give students a stack of stickies while they read. Stickies are magic, students for some reason have no problem writing on a sticky. Maybe because they are small??? Have them write at least one connection per page. They write them on a sticky and stick it on the page. When they are done reading for the day, they review their connections and pick one really good one to write about. Only rule? No lame connections!
4. Read the books your students are reading and conference! If you can't read everything (and who can, really?) make sure you are still conferencing. You can usually drag something (a connection) out of student orally if you can't get it in writing. If they make connections as you conference, write them down. At least you can report that they can make connections, but struggle to express them in writing. Students who does struggle to connect, need more conferencing!
Don't rush through Making Connections! Do it well, Do it often!