Reading Like a Writer

Sep 16, 2009 by

When we read with the eyes and ears of a writer, we focus less on what the writer is trying to say and more on how the writer is saying it. Specifically, we look at the craft moves the writer makes to get his or her message across and the way those moves affect us as readers.  When we notice an author’s intentional use of craft we have a window into the mind of the writer and we can begin to teach our students how to use these techniques in their own writing and stand on the shoulders of professional writers.

What might we notice as we read like a writer?  Here are just a few techniques used by professional authors:

  • Repetition: repeating a word or a phrase
  • The Power of Three: three words used in a row to create emphasis
  • Onomatopoeia: sound words
  • Big and Bold:  text written in bold, capital letters to express an idea
  • Interesting Punctuation:  ellipses, dashes, colons, parentheses
  • Figurative language:  simile, metaphor, personification
  • Stretching out the print
  • Intentional sentence fragments: used to create rhythm and flow
  • White space
  • Hyphenated adjectives

In her book Wondrous Words (1999) Katie Wood Ray outlines five steps to reading like a writer.

                                     5 Steps to Reading Like a Writer

  1. Notice something about the craft of the text.
  2. Talk about it and make a theory about why a writer might use this craft.
  3. Give the craft a name.
  4. Think of other texts/authors you know.  Have you see this craft before?
  5. Try to envision using this crafting in your own writing.

Lester Laminack unpacks these 5 steps a bit for us in his book Cracking Open the Author’s Craft.  As we train our students to read literature through the eyes of the writer, he suggests that we use the following line of questioning with them:

Notice the Craft/Name the Craft

  • What did you notice as I read this aloud?
  • What do you notice on this page?
  • What has the writer done with the print here?
  • How is the white space used differently here?
  • What I noticed next was…
  • If you are like other kids I’ve worked with, you may have noticed…
  • Many people who write often…

Form a Theory

  • Why would a writer do this?
  • How does this help you as a reader?
  • Are there other places in this text where the author has done this?
  • When you find other instances of this, how does that affect your theory?  Does it make your more certain?  Does it nudge you to reconsider?
  • Does this help your theory grow?  If so, how?

Explore Other Authors

  • Do we know other writers who do this?
  • Let’s explore one of these books (anchor texts from class set) and see if we notice any other writers who do this.
  • What do you notice in these books?
  • Consider your theory and check it in this title.  Are both authors doing this for the same reason?
  • Is there more than one reason to use this crafting technique? 
  • What other possibilities are you thinking of?

Think About Your Own Writing

  • How would you use this in your writing?
  • Can you imagine this working for you?
  • Would this work in the writing you are doing now?

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