Literacy Lessons from My Niece and The Book Thief

I didn’t realize the true power of literacy until I was driving my niece, Mina, who was 7 years old at the time. She was sitting in the back seat of the car, reading enthusiastically every sign and billboard that she could see! I realized at that moment that the world had opened up to her – and how much as readers we take for granted our ability to communicate, learn about and navigate the world.

The power of literacy was reinforced for me a couple of weeks ago when watching the film The Book Thief. Among its many important themes are reading as a key to independent thinking and the importance of supporting a passion for reading. It reminded me of a father who once told me that his main goal as a parent was to make sure that his daughter loved reading.  If that was in place, he said, the rest of her education and her ability to think critically and make sound decisions would follow – and to a great degree, this is true.

I’ve had the opportunity to renew my pedagogical training with the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA).  Through the NUA mentor training program, I have learned a number of excellent brain-based learning and teaching strategies and am excited to share a couple of examples for developing vocabulary and reading comprehension here:

  • A Taxonomy of Words  is an alphabetical list of words related to a term or concept, developed individually or as a group – similar to the list seen in The Book Thief that the young main character creates in her basement!  Developed by Evelyn Rothstein, this strategy is wonderful to use to prime readers for a new text or concept and can be used at all levels.
  • Developed by Denise Nessel, the strategy Key Word Notes promotes reading for comprehension (rather than for just pronouncing words) by asking learners to choose and record three key words or phrases from manageable pre-designated chunks of a particular text.  Students share their choices with a partner and then work toward writing a summary relying on their chosen words/phrases.

There are many opportunities for each of us to support literacy among youth and adults, both locally and globally.  Take it from my niece and The Book Thief – it will open up their world.