How to Engage Your Teens with Books
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If you are homeschooling teenagers, then you know it’s important to check in and have discussions along the way. So much of what our teens are learning involves understanding their world and their place in it and being able to articulate their beliefs. Books are an excellent way to connect with our teens, but how do you do it effectively? How to Engage Your Teen with Books takes a look at how to use books and book discussions as a tool for homeschooling high school.
How to Choose Books for Teens
You don’t have to have a specific method for choosing books, but it is helpful to keep things moving. The rest of this post deals with resources for books and teens along with helpful strategies and other posts here at Blog, She Wrote. Here are just a few general ideas:
- Ambleside Online– A Charlotte Mason curriculum site with book lists for each grade
- University Book Lists– Many colleges and universities have a list of books they expect incoming freshman to have read. In fact, some schools require a book list to come in with the homeschooling addition to the common application.
- Annotated Bibliographies– There are many books on books. Some are listed here and some are in the related posts at the bottom of this page. They will give you a summary of the book and why the author thinks it’s a good read for teens.
- Choose Books Which Stretch Your Teen– Either in perspective or topic. You want some growth to happen while you are talking about books.
Resources for Using Books with Teens
There are many places I visit when looking for inspiration on discussing books with teens. Here are a few I have enjoyed:
- Reading with Teens & Big, Juicy Conversations– This is a Read Aloud Revival podcast with Julie Bogart of Brave Writer. She talks about how to read and enjoy books with teens. Speaking of the Read Aloud Revival, the membership side of the site offers even more information and workshops on working with teens and books. It’s one of my favorite ways to spend $5 a month!
- Excellence in Literature– A series of literature and writing studies based on classics. We use these as our primary English courses in high school.
- One Year Adventure Novel– A high school course on creative writing. This program has wonderful video lessons and as you join your student for the class time, it provokes amazing discussions based on the material. There is also an optional book list which can give you ideas.
- Other Worlds– The science fiction and fantasy module that follows One Year Adventure Novel. We’ve used this program to create other worlds and there is great value in discussing the works of others as you create your own. It opens up in depth discussions as your teens share their world with you.
- Honey for a Teen’s Heart– This book focuses on choosing books for teens and how you can use books to communicate with teens.
- Brave Writer– A writing program where you coach writers which I’ve been doing for years, but without this excellent resource. Ms. Bogart does a great job of incorporating books into the writing experience. If you are already a Brave Writer user, this is another tool for engaging teens with books.
How to Discuss Books with Teens If You Haven’t Read the Book
What if you don’t like to read all that much or you just don’t have the time? How do you consistently engage your teens with discussion on a book you have not read?
- Read notes on the book– Find a webpage or story notes on the book and read those through. That will give you enough information not necessarily to give your own opinion but definitely to get a teen talking about theirs.
- Read portions of the book– Read the start and then skim other parts.
- Read some of the books– You don’t have to read all the books, but reading a whole book through now and then is fun to do and give you a more thorough opinion
- Tag team with your husband– It’s good business for both of you to be discussing books with your kids. If you prefer to read a whole book, then share the task with your husband. Or this will simply double the number of parents discussing books at your house!
The biggest point to note here is that I often have not read a book entirely and I can still provoke a good discussion with my teens. I know just enough to ask the questions that get to the meat of the book and challenge their thinking.
Sample Discussion Starters
Some of you may be wondering where to start when it comes to talking about books with your teens. You don’t have to go super academic with these discussions. Just take it one conversation at a time! I’ve compiled a list of ways to get things started:
- Ask the question, “How’s that book going?”– My kids respond well to this question. It can lead to anything from I love it with reasons why to I really do not like this book and some reasons will follow. It could also lead to where they are in the book or what they expect to happen next. Always be ready with another question in case you get a one word answer!
- What’s happened so far?– This is a great narration question at its core. You can’t get a one word answer with this one and it gives you a chance to hear where your teen is in the book and it will likely lead to some opinions to discuss.
- Ask their opinion on the book they are reading– A lot of people like to avoid this question, but I find it gives me more fuel for discussion. Even if a teen hates a book, I can learn more about why and force them to consider their opinion. It gives me a chance to hear what they are thinking and even a loathed title will get discussion time from this question. My teens think opinions are one of the most important aspects of reading and discussing a book. This is where you get to go deeper and talk about why they feel the way they do.
- Challenge their opinions– This is one of my favorite roles! Even if I’m in agreement with my teens, I offer other points of view and get a discussion going. It’s always profitable to have these discussions as your kids get older so you can help them develop a rock solid view which they can defend.
- Talk about the theme– You don’t have to be an academic scholar to approach the topic of what is this author trying to tell us with this book. I love to hear what my teens think the message is within the pages of a book they are reading.
- Relate the book to a current event– We look for ways to make reading relevant to our lives now. Sometimes there’s a perfect parallel in the news. Exploit the opportunity!
- Ask them to compare a book to another one they’ve read– Pull in comparisons and talk about them. How is a character acting like one from another book. How are their actions different in similar situations? Which is better? Who is more honorable? Bringing in their prior knowledge is an excellent way to strengthen their discussions.
Strategies for Engaging Teens with Books
One way to be certain you can use books with your teens is to begin building this skill in from an early age. Our teens talk about books because they’ve been discussing books with us since they were tiny. Beyond starting early, here are some ways to pull your teens into a book discussion:
- Host a Classics Book Club– A few years ago our oldest was part of a book club which required 7th graders and up to read a classic and gather each month to watch the movie version and have snacks and discussion. Brilliant idea!
- Enjoy a Book Club with Book Loving Teens– Our daughter belongs to a book club which meets monthly with a group of girls. We have food related to the read and they have discussions and sometimes a craft activity. The girls switch up book choices between easier and more difficult books. The great the thing about a book club is it helps teens to go beyond their comfort zone and reach out to things they may not normally choose to read.
- Teach a Literary Co-op Class– We belong to a simple Monday afternoon co-op and there is a core group of teens who adore literature classes. Our high school junior has taken a short stories class, a class on the book Dracula, and a dystopian literature class where they read and discussed Fahrenheit 451 and The Hunger Games. It was fun to compare the more classic dystopian novel with a modern one.
- Take on Some Controversy– Dracula may seem like a strange book choice for a Christian homeschooling group, but the discussions about the character in the original book compared to the romanticized modern vampire was invaluable. In the book, the vampire is not depicted as simply misunderstood. He is evil and the line is clear. A controversial topic is a compelling way to have important values discussions and they help your teens to develop debating and persuasive skills.
- Discuss books with other teens– Whether or not you formalize a group, discussing books with other teens is important. As Ethan, our 16yo says, talking with your peers gives you another perspective from someone who is the same age rather than always hearing an adult’s opinion or thoughts on a book.
- Build into a Passion with Books– Your teens will read for information and gain a lot of background knowledge if he is working on a project. What do your teens find interesting? What are they passionate about? Use that to incorporate reading and discussions!
Other Blog, She Wrote Posts on Teens & Books
Having two high schoolers right now means we’ve been engaging teens with books regularly for some time. Enjoy some other posts related to teens and books.
- 100 Books You Should Read by the Time You Turn 20– This is a popular post with a list of 100 books our teens think everyone should read by the time they are 20. So, it’s a list by teens for teens. If you missed some titles on this list, there’s plenty of time to catch up!
- The Ultimate Guide to Establishing a Reading Culture in Your Home– Are you still in the early stages of raising readers? Do you have teens who need more reading built into their day? Read here for tips and strategies for all ages.
- How to Grow a Reader– Tips for babies through high schoolers.
- Summer Reading without the Carrot & the Stick– Are you interested in having your kids read more without the popular summer time bribes? This post shares ways to engage your students with books without the prizes and trinkets.
- High School Skills: Textual Analysis– One of the best skills we can teach our high schoolers is how to write about the things they read. Learn the benefits of this skill and how to start teaching it.
- Jules Verne: Literature, History, and Fashion– Another approach to books with teens. Pour into their interests. In this case, our high school freshman has been studying fashion with history for a few years now.
- Project: Steampunk Fashion Design & Drafting– Because I can’t leave you without showing off the finished product from my daughter’s Jules Verne study! Behold, the finished steampunk dress. This is a fantastic example of engaging a teen with a book or author through a passion.
Take the Master Class
If you’d like to learn more about reading with teens, you won’t want to miss this master class at the Read Aloud Revival. In November, 2015 I had the privilege of teaching a master class on the topic of Engaging Your Teens with Books. Just click on over and get a trial membership for the month to see the class and get more details. It was a fun time!
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Taking the time to engage your teen with a book is some of the most significant time you will spend with them in high school. Building in character as they solidify their independence is never wasted time. Being able to articulate their beliefs and discuss them safely is a skill which will last a lifetime. The best part is that it’s a lot of fun and it helps you to get to know your teens and to watch them grow into young men and women all while keeping them talking. It’s a win/win!
Awesome post Heather, and I couldn’t agree more!! This is what makes homeschooling highschool so real and exciting. Love it!
Thanks Meredith- you are right. It is what makes teaching high school so much fun!
I’d love to know which books your daughter’s book club has read so far and which were most enjoyed!
Sarah, I’m working on a post about her book club and I’ll be sure to include a book list. It’s an interesting mix that is for sure!
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