We know reading builds background knowledge. We know that envisioning images is something that effective readers do. We know that students need background knowledge to be effective readers. And I want to expand my students’ knowledge of the world with their reading. This all becomes a big circuitous swirl that we just have to grab some place to switch from vicious to virtual. Google Image is good for something.
Another student called out, “Did you find out what sorghum looks like yet?” “Yes!” I replied. “I have that image cued up next!” Students had been asking questions over the last several days: What is sorghum? What is an antelope? I’d responded with words, but not with images. And, as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand of those. They’d asked, “What is ‘ritual,’” but not “What is ‘ritual scarring’?” so I’d also decided it was time to search for an image of a traditional Dinka face and a traditional Nuer face. I asked, “What would Salva have felt if he saw this face? What would Nya have felt if she saw this face?” (I’d also cued an image of the particular type of antelope referred to—a topi.)
Thursday we started with an image fest. First the video of building a reed boat. Then some sorghum—both cooked and growing in a field. Then antelope in general and topi in particular Then a Dinka face and a Nuer face with their ritual scarring. We referred back to the map in the front of the book, and realized how early in the trek we still were. A student made a spontaneous prediction of what would happen along the rest of the way. We used Google Maps to put it all in the larger perspective.
A little voice of doubt in the back of my head whispers, “Why aren’t THEY searching for the answers to their questions?” Yes, that’s the next step. But at least, for now, they’re ASKING their questions. I’ll show them how satisfying (and easy!) it is to find the answers.
And I have a couple more images cued for Monday because of the questions students asked me while they did a close reading of a nonfiction background article on Friday: “hump-backed cattle” and “AK-47.”
Note to self: When using reading to broaden students’ background knowledge, make generous use of Google images. Because a picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is probably worth ten-thousand.