Cheryl Sigmon

Teaching Literacy
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Teaching through Summer TV Viewing

Television viewing presents many opportunities to teach literacy concepts. Cheryl offers a plethora of tips for your family and to share with your students' parents - throughout the year!
by Cheryl Sigmon
Regular contributor to the Gazette
July 1, 2008

With the temperatures getting warmer and schools closing, tis’ the season for increased TV viewing for children. We all know the hazards of too much television viewing—children can easily become couch potatoes or mindless zombies. Long periods of time can pass where kids have no direct interaction with others and no mental stimulus. There are studies that draw correlations between childhood obesity and TV viewing and between the frequency of viewing violent episodes and a propensity to commit crimes. There is solid research to suggest, not IF, but HOW MUCH knowledge students lose over the summer months with this serious lack of stimulation. The list of negatives effects goes on and on…

Having been a parent for nearly 40 years, I can also address the positive aspects of summer TV viewing. Parents return home from a long day at work, facing dinner to fix, the house to clean, the dog to walk, bills to pay, etc. Turning on the TV to occupy the time of little ones is all too tempting. I can’t very well preach not to allow the TV viewing when I know I didn’t practice what I would be preaching. TV is just a fact of modern life. However, I do believe in having parents control what is viewed and making responsible decisions about appropriateness of all types.

If your children watch TV this summer, what I will advocate strongly is that you make use of TV viewing to reinforce what has been taught in school. Below are simple questions and activities that you can use that can actually support your children’s growth in literacy skills. (You might also subtly suggest these to parents of students that you teach if you feel it might be helpful. Perhaps you could copy this article and send it home with your students?)

  • During advertisements that interrupt a story or cartoon, ask your child: “What do you think will happen next? Why do you think that?” This will help your child make predictions based on what they have already learned about the story. Making predictions is important in reading.
  • As you change channels, ask your child: “Do you think this show is fiction (not true) or non-fiction (true or information)? Why do you think that?” Students have to learn the characteristics of fiction and non-fiction. They need to use terms like characters, plot, setting, facts, and information to defend their responses.
  • While watching a story or cartoon on TV, ask: “Why do you think the story is taking place where it is? Could it have happened somewhere totally different?” In reading and writing, children need to understand how the setting (when and where it takes place) relates to the story. Why did the author/writer make this choice?
  • After viewing something with a storyline, ask your child, “What was the problem in this story and how was it solved?” Almost all stories—in books and in TV shows—revolve around problems and solutions that students need to identify. Challenge them further by asking for alternative solutions to the same problem—“How else could this problem have been solved?”
  • While watching a story or cartoon with characters, ask: “What kind of person/character is he/she? Why do you think that?” They need to identify the character traits and how the writer has told us what the character is like. They need to gather clues to help them formulate the traits.
  • At the end of the TV show, ask your child: “What was this show all about?” Good readers/viewers need to learn to summarize a story without retelling it completely. What was the main idea? You might even challenge them to summarize in 25 words or less.
  • You might ask younger children to draw a picture of their favorite part of the show they viewed and to write a sentence or a few sentences to explain what happened at that point in the show. How about purchasing a spiral notebook to be kept as a TV Viewing Journal?
  • After viewing an informational show, think of some questions that you and your child are still curious about that relate to the topic and do a little research, either at the library or online, to find the answers.
  • Additionally for older children, you might ask them to create a chart or graph of the number of advertisements included in each TV show. As a math activity, what fraction of the total viewing time was devoted to commercials? Pose this question: “What kinds of advertisements are included? Can you assume who the advertisers think is watching this show?”
  • For some vocabulary development, you might ask your child to write the name of the TV show vertically, using one letter on each line. Then, have them turn each letter into a word that relates to the show. They’ll have an acrostic poem when they’re done, and they’ll grow in their word knowledge. (You might suggest that they use a dictionary!)

These are but a few suggestions. But, you can see how easily any TV show can become an educational experience with just a little effort on our part. Let’s make a pact to do just that so that our children will continue to grow and prosper in literacy throughout the summer months! Enjoy a literacy-rich summer!


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