Good Writers Are First and Foremost Great Readers
“A young writer must read. She must read and read and read. Adventurously. Promiscuously. Unfailingly. It sounds so simple. Yet it is not. Not even the simplification of it. She must read everything that comes her way. The classics, the old books that speak to her from the shelves, the tomes recommended by teachers, the chapbooks left on the subway seats, the old dog-eared novels in the railway station, the ancient hardcover in the holiday cottage. Read, read, read.” — Colum McCann*
“Read, read, read!” is the advice authors give when asked by kids how to become a writer. It’s great advice. Babies learn to talk best in an atmosphere ripe with conversations, stories, and song, unconsciously assimilating words and meanings. Kids learn to write by osmosis, too, reading picture books, novels, newspapers, comics, nonfiction, poetry, even the backs of cereal boxes.
When teaching creative writing to elementary students, you can often identify the best readers in any class by their writing. First and second graders who are readers, and have been read aloud to, not only include dialog in their first stories, they also mimic the use of quotation marks without anyone explaining what quotation marks are or how to use them.
Yes, enthusiastically encourage your kids to become great readers. Be a reading model for them—showing not telling works. Why not be totally engrossed in a book when they enter the class each morning? They will hate being ignored, demanding to know what’s occupying your attention. Even though it’s tough finding time in your curriculum-dictated day, do find a few minutes to read aloud to them daily—fiction, nonfiction, a lyrical or humorous verse of poetry, a quick newspaper article or comic strip. And do everything in your power to get adult family members to read aloud to your students at home—no matter how old your students! Reading, the celebration of words and language, is the best foundation for empowering young writers.
The majority of teachers are avid readers, but we know that some of you do not think of yourselves as writers. That is why in Empowering Young Writers, our exploration of the art and craft of writing, we hope to go beyond the essential recommendation of reading, vital though it is, to help you teach writing to young people.
Read more about the relationships between writing and reading:
- “The Best Ways for Students to Become Writers” by Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post
- “Learning to Read and Write: What Research Reveals” by the National Association for the Education of Young Children on ReadingRockets.org
- “How Should We Combine Reading and Writing” by Timothy Shanahan on ReadingRockets.org
- “Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading” by Kelly N. Tracy, PhD on LiteracyWorldwide.org
- “Reading and Writing for Understanding” by Sarah Mackie on the Harvard Graduate School of Education Usable Knowledge Website
- “The Best Advice for Writers? Read” on The Guardian Books Blog
*Colum McCann, quoted at top, is the internationally bestselling author of the novels TransAtlantic, Let the Great World Spin, Zoli, Dancer, This Side of Brightness, and Songdogs, as well as two critically acclaimed story collections. He has received many honors, including the National Book Award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres award from the French government, and the Ireland Fund of Monaco Literary Award in Memory of Princess Grace. A contributor to The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, he teaches in the Hunter College MFA Creative Writing program. Learn more here.
©2019 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance