Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Silent Reading, Star Wars and Technology

I love Star Wars.

A couple years ago I purchased a class set of Star Wars novels which included all six episodes. I then encourage kids to read as many of the books as they would like. I say encourage because I do not force my will on students when it comes to selecting a book; however, I do talk with kids about giving the things a chance.

Some kids love Star Wars from the start; Others need to read a few chapters or even a whole book before really enjoying the story, and some never do get into it.

As I write this post, we are having silent reading time. Most of the class is reading Star Wars: A New Hope which is Episode 4. Some kids have finished A New Hope and are now on to The Empire Strikes Back or even Return of the Jedi which are Episodes 5 and 6.

A couple students know the Star Wars story really well either because they've read these books before or they have seen the movies, so they are reading Star Wars books that they are not familiar with. For example, some are reading Shadows of the Empire which is an in-betweener book (there is no movie for this book, but it was written to bridge The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). I have a healthy selection of the novels from the Star Wars timeline.

Because I know the story very well (I've read many of the books), I can query the students to find out what part of the story they like such as a favorite character or part of the timeline - using their preferences, I know which books to suggest to them.

During silent reading time, my students are always given the option of using their laptops. As a class, we discussed why the laptops might be useful while they read, and the class agreed that some researching would be appropriate as there are plenty of words that the students don't understand.

Let's use the prologue from A New Hope as an example for how kids use their laptops during silent reading time:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
The Clone wars were over, leaving entire civilizations in ruin. The Jedi Knights were all but extinct. And the Old Republic - the democratic galactic government that had prevailed for almost 25,000 years - had been replaced by the Galactic Empire. 
Yet the Empire's supreme ruler, the evil Emperor Palpatine, remained hungry for even more power. To expand his rule and crush all remnants of the Old Republic, Palpatine had approved the construction of a secret weapon: the Death Star, an immense armored space station that could destroy an entire planet.
The Empire was not without opposition. The Alliance to Restore the Republic - commonly known as the Rebel Alliance - led the fight to overturn the Empire and bring justice and freedom back to the galaxy.
After Rebel spies learned of the Death Star project, they managed to intercept an Imperial transmission of the space station's technical data. The Rebels hoped the data would reveal a way to destroy the Death Star. The Empire was determined to recover the stolen plans... now in the possession of a young Senator from the planet Alderaan, Princess Leia Organa...

There are a number of words from even this short excerpt that cause kids trouble, so I encourage them to use three different Internet tools.

www.dictionary.com - the kids use this site to look up words they do not understand. From the excerpt above, some kids have a hard time with the word 'prevailed'. Next to the word is a volume icon (circled in red) that the kids can click to have the word pronounced through their computer's speakers. Sometimes kids know the word, but don't recognize the spelling, and sometimes once they hear a pronunciation, they sometimes recognize the word. Otherwise, they read the definition, but often the definition uses words they don't understand, so I have them open a new tab with another copy of dictionary.com and search those words. I often model all this on the Smartboard.

www.wookiepedia.org - there are a lot of science fiction words in Star Wars that are not found in the dictionary, so I have the kids use a Star Wars encycolpedia called Wookiepedia. In the excerpt above, many kids have trouble with words that are specific to science fiction or Star Wars like Clone Wars, Alliance, Galactic Empire, Old Republic and Death Star.

The picture to the left shows an example of the kind of information Wookiepedia gives for the Death Star. The kids can see a picture, a quote and a written description of the Death Star.

I have found that some of my kids are overwhelmed by all these tools and don't know where to start. Often they end up just looking at pictures, so I sit with them and read as little as one sentence or a paragraph from their book and then model how I look stuff up.

I had one boy who was quite convinced that he didn't like Star Wars, but once I sat with him and showed him how I looked up things like the Han Solo's ship the Millenium Falcon, and modelled my own excitement for the story, he caught the excitement. The next day after I sat with him,  he was able to look up things like Tauntauns on Wookiepedia by himself. He's starting to like Star Wars now because he actually wants to comprehend what he is reading, and I have provided him with the tools and the know-how for figuring things out.

I also use Star Wars to integrate Social Studies and Science with Language Arts. We discuss the different forms of government present in the Star Wars story such as democracy and dictatorships. Other topics like racism, slavery, sky science and astronomy come up on a regular basis when we discuss Star Wars.

It's all very cool.


  1. You just know I have to say: "The Force is strong with you, young Jedi." Nice work.

  2. Despite all this, it's amazing how many kids just don't want to read Star Wars.

    But you know what... that's ok.

    Choice is a good thing. And frankly, it's better for everyone if it's not just my choice.

  3. I love the use of ICT during 'quiet reading'. I often come up against negative attitudes to this when I suggest it but you give a great couple of examples about appropriate and effective ICT use during this time. Another think students can do while/after reading is to update their blog or use the computer to record a quick audio grab of their reactions to the part they've just read or what they think will happen next. They are always interested to re-read/listen to their thoughts at the end of the book to check whether they were right.

  4. I use Star Wars to discuss bias in the media with my 6's. For example, we see insurgents in occupied Iraq as rebels and the western media reports them as preventers of peace and we eat it up. In Star Wars we identify with the rebels and cheer for them to succeed against the empire. Why is that? Makes for good discussion.

  5. This is a great thread following a useful description of what you do Joe. Thanks


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