There are some subjects we just love. Anything and everything about it excites us.

There are some subjects we cannot stand so we find simple ways to teach it.

But sometimes there are subjects we don’t mind, we might even like, but there are a few concepts that we are really not confident or comfortable teaching our kids.

In the Focus On articles, I would like to spend some time, maybe every other week or so to write on these daunting concepts. These will be in no specific order and will jump from subject to subject.

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In Language Arts, there are many concepts

that parents can struggle with, and many that are just left out. These concepts are not ignored purposefully but rather seen as a lower priority to lessons on grammar, the structure of an essay, or how to summarize something that was read. One such concept I have noticed is the book report.

Let’s be honest, when it comes to a book report, how easy is it to see how this concept directly connects to an activity someone may need to do as a grown-up in a regular job? How often do we really need to read a book and inform our boss on what it was about, the setting, the plot, and who the characters were? Next to never unless you are a writer of some type.

But, this concept teaches kids how to extract important information though.

The difficulty comes in when one tries to tell their kids what should be in a book report. You can look at forms online all day and you can buy books with various graphic organizers in it to help write a book report but the bottom line is, we need to understand book reports well enough to be able to explain it to our children. The best way to learn how to help your children is to start with the basics and then look at the specifics for each age range.

The basics

As stated above, the basic components of a book report will inform someone about the characters, the setting, and the plot. The characters are who the main people in the story are. There are some children who have difficulty figuring out which characters are the main ones and which ones are characters who are background characters. In literary terms, your student needs to be able to identify who the main characters, protagonist, and antagonist, are while leaving the background characters, flat or stock, characters out as they do not affect the story really.

Students also need to be able to identify the setting. The thing that sometimes can frustrate students though, is that the setting can change. When reading an adventure book, where the characters go on a quest and travel to faraway lands, the setting is not as simple as let’s say Frog and Toad where they stay in their little nook of the woods. When identifying the setting in adventure books, students should be able to recall the path that the characters took.

Finally, the student should be able to identify the plot. What is the main problem that the main character is trying to resolve? Sometimes the main plot is one that is handed down through generations and sometimes it is one that is new to the land or characters. Students should be able to identify these and be able to clearly explain the plot. Occasionally, in an adventure story or series, there can be secondary plots, and identifying these can either confuse kids or be a good challenge for kids. Do not let the secondary ones confuse you either. Keep it simple and to the main “issue” within the book.

Now that we have the basics down, let’s look at age level expectations. 

First off, if you have never done any sort of book report with your kiddo, no matter the age, start out only requiring the basics. At the top of a page have the kids write the names of the characters, if they are older students they can give a little information on who each one of them is. In the middle, have students give a sentence or two on the plot. At the bottom of the page, have them identify the setting. Keeping it to this format for the first book or two for the olders or for a fair number of books for youngers, allows them to connect the terms with that they need to be identifying as well as build confidence in their own abilities.

Younger Elementary

For our young scholars, I recommend sticking with the same idea as the format I explained above. The difference I would make would be to allow them to draw the characters and the setting and verbally tell you what the plot is while they reenact the story with what they have created. Little ones sometimes are not strong writers and definitely are still learning to spell, so having them write a report is a bit much. Allow them to have fun while practicing identifying the characters, plot, and setting.

Older Elementary

The older elementary kids are getting better at their spelling and writing now and so can do a little more. What I would do is have my kiddos write the name of a character and then create a portrait of that character on the page. Under the name, I asked them to list two or three things they learned about that character while reading. In the plot section, I try to let them decide how much to write but I say a minimum of three full sentences that vary in length. Finally, for the setting, I will change it up depending on the kiddo. My youngest would typically be done writing and I would be losing his focus by this point so I tell him to draw the setting with as much detail as he can. I sit with him and ask questions as he draws to help him recall information to put on the paper. My daughter loves to write, even in early elementary so she would prefer to write a paragraph or two on it and then call it good. It depends on your kiddo and what you think would be most beneficial for their learning.

Middle Schoolers

As our kiddos move into the middle years, they are not only able to do more, but they are able to argue more it seems. I try and use this to start getting them to think critically about a story. Firstly, when they say who the characters are, I ask them to give me a few sentences on who they are and their role in the story. When they are writing about the setting, I want them to do a full paragraph, two of them if there was a quest, describing the setting and how it may have affected the storyline. Then, with the plot, I want a minimum of two paragraphs. I want them to explain what the main plot was but also some of the minor issues or hiccups that occurred during the story. For kiddos who have a good idea of what a book report is and who are comfortable and confident enough, I add on the summery but at the end of the summery, I want a paragraph on their thoughts on the book. Did they enjoy it? What would they change if they could? Could they relate to one character more than the others? What would have happened to the story if the setting was in our city or neighborhood? I want them to think, analyze and share their personal perspective on things.

High Schoolers

Finally, we have our young men and women. In the high school years, we are focusing on what they want to do when they graduate, making sure they have all the tools they could need in order to succeed and verifying that they have solid communication skills. Book reports are a perfect way for our high schoolers to practice these communication skills. One way that you can challenge your high schooler is when they write a book report, have them make it into a persuasive paper or presentation. Have them practice trying to convince people to give the book a try and practice standing and giving a clear presentation. Another way you can challenge your high schooler is to have them look at the social elements of the book. What choices in the book were made based on the social pressures or customs in the book? Some of these actions may be wrong in our society, or in modern times but they are justified actions in the setting of the book, have them identify them, and discuss what they think about them, how they feel about them. We want our high schoolers to be able to identify differences in customs and cultures and to be able to tie that into better understanding actions people choose. Another way we can have our high schoolers do a book report is to have them create a play around it, practice dramatizing the plot, creating settings, and expressing different complex scenarios. This, of course, could be extremely fun with friends or other family members but have your high schooler be the director.

Summing it up

Book reports are sometimes feared things. Either we personally have had struggles with them in our own schooling or we feel lost, ill-equipped with the right knowledge to teach our own kiddos the ins and outs of a book report. Sometimes these write-ups are seen as trivial or an added frustration to an already hectic school day. Breath. It doesn’t have to be complex and it certainly does not have to be difficult. Start with the basics and then as you and your child become confident in identifying the basic components of a book report, cater it to your child’s interests and abilities. If your child is a thespian, allow them to act out the report more, just get an outline or brainstorm down on a sheet of paper first. If your child loves to write, have them focus on explaining the ins and outs of the story, maybe even re-writing it. If your child loves to argue, have them work on persuasive writing. Make it FOR your child.

And don’t forget to enjoy the journey.

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Greetings! My name is Joy and I am currently a stay at home mom who is homeschooling her three kids in South Carolina. I love learning and I love sharing the love of learning with others so getting to home school my kids and watch the “ah-ha” moments when they understand something is unbelievably rewarding. I have been homeschooling since my twins were preschool age so we are going on 9 years now. I am also a military spouse, so we have the added joy of being a military family with some of the complications that come with it.  As a family, we stay busy with our scouting groups, American Heritage Girls and TrailLife, and we do many camping and hiking trips with them. When I have downtime, I am typically reading books I have sitting around the house, on YouTube/websites getting more information on different home school programs, or working on plans for homeschool. I look forward to being able to share our experiences with everyone and help encourage all homeschooling families.

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