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Conversations in Literature

Responding As Readers

In this session, the audience meets the readers in this workshop — including Dr. Langer — and their varied literary backgrounds. Dr. Langer introduces the major concepts of her work in understanding the processes through which effective readers interact with literary texts.


For many years, Dr. Judith Langer has been studying how readers interact with texts and what the implications for teaching are, so that we can help students become more fully literate. Through the eyes of English and language arts educators, teacher educators, researchers, and writers, viewers have the unique opportunity to step back from their professional lives and reflect about their relationships with literature: why they love to read, what their reading habits are, what they enjoy about reading, and how stories are woven into the tapestry of their lives.

In this first program, the audience gets acquainted with key panelists who will appear throughout the workshop series. These individuals share their joy of literature by discussing its value, the power of story, and how literature permeates their lives and brings meaning to their world.

For a complete guide to the workshop session activities, download and print our support materials.

Key Points

  Why do we read literature?

  Effective readers build rich envisionments when they read literature.

  Envisionments or understandings are text worlds in your mind, including the hunches, predictions, and suppositions that you have every waking moment. These ideas are constantly changing as readers interact with people, society, and texts.

  What is the value of literature?

  How is story important in our lives and cultures?

  What are our reading habits?

  What do we read and what books do we value?

  What is literature? How does it permeate our lives in significant ways?

Learning Objectives

After viewing this program, participants will be able to:

  • Reflect upon their own reader’s biography, in order to understand how literature has permeated their lives, what their reading habits are, why they value literature, and why they read.
  • Consider ways of celebrating literature in their own classrooms.

Background Reading

In preparation for this workshop, you may want to read Chapter 1, “Literary Thoughts and Literate Mind,” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature. (Envisioning Literature, by Judith Langer, from the Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1995. ISBN 0-8077-3464-0.) This chapter highlights three classrooms and how literature plays a significant role in fostering personal empowerment for students as they use their literacy skills to develop understandings of texts, themselves, and the world around them. Here, Langer also points out the role of literature in everyday life and the power of literature to embody the human experience.

You may also be interested in the panelists’ reader biographies.

For other resources, look under Additional Reading.

Homework Assignment

Journal: Using your reader’s biography pre-write from this workshop session, attempt to write a completed reader’s biography, or select a few topics from your pre-write to write about in greater detail.

Reading: In preparation for Workshop 2, you may want to read the poem “Oranges” by Gary Soto, which can be found in the anthology Literature: An Introduction To Reading and Writing, 5th edition, Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs, ©1998, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-010076-5.

Additional online resources related to the author include:

  • The official Gary Soto website.
  • Teacher resources about Gary Soto and his work, hosted by the Internet School Library Media Center.

You may also want to read Chapter 2, “Building Envisionments,” as well as Chapter 4, “The Classroom as a Social Setting for Envisionment Building,” and Chapter 5, “A Practical Pedagogy” in Dr. Judith Langer’s Envisioning Literature. (Envisioning Literatureby Dr. Judith Langer, from the Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1995. ISBN 0-8077-3464-0.)

Extension: Classroom Connection

You may want to try these activities back in the classroom.

Activity One: Teacher Discussion and Sharing

  • How do you foster a love for reading in your own classroom? Share some classroom anecdotes and experiences.
  • What can you do in your own classroom to bring the joy of reading literature to your students?
  • What would your students include in their readers’ biographies? What would you want them to include?

Activity Two: Sample Student Activities

  • Ask your students to write their own reader’s biography. As an extension to this, ask them to create a collage that represents their reader’s biography.
  • Ask your students to bring in their three favorite books for small group book talk discussions.
  • Ask your students to present a book commercial and/or read aloud for their favorite book.
  • Ask your students to create a “book in a box” where they gather 5-6 objects that represent their favorite book. Students can share these, along with their favorite books in small discussion groups.
  • Ask your students to impersonate their favorite fictional character(s) individually, in pairs, or in groups.

Additional Reading

An article by Dr. Judith Langer, “A Response-Based Approach to Reading Literature.” Here, Dr. Langer offers guidelines for instruction and a framework for teaching strategies that support an envisionment-building classroom.

Guidelines booklet on “Teaching Middle and High School Students To Read and Write Well.” This practical guide offers six effective features of successful instruction.

“How English Is Taught and Learned in Four Exemplary Middle and High School Classrooms,” by Steven Ostrowski. The researcher examined several classrooms, noting how instructional practices in the classroom assist students in higher levels of achievement.

Alvarez, Rafael. The Fountain of Highlandtown: Stories. Woodholme House Publishers, 1997, ISBN 0-9656-3428-0.

Alvarez, Rafael. Hometown Boy: The Hoodle Patrol and Other Curiosities of Baltimore. Baltimore Sun, 1999, ISBN 1-89311601-8.

Alvarez, Rafael. Orlo and Leini. Woodholme House Publishers, 2000, ISBN 1-8915-2107-1.

Burke, Jim. I Hear America Reading: Why We Read What We Read. NCTE, 1999, ISBN 0-325-00134-0.

Christenbury, Leila, editor. Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High Students (1995). National Council of Teachers of English, 1995, ISBN 0-8141-0367-7.

Elam, Patricia. Breathing Room. Pocket Books, 2001, ISBN 0-6710-2842-1.

Jago, Carol. Beyond Standards: Excellence in the High School English Classroom. Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc., 2001, ISBN 0-8670-9503-2.

Jago, Carol. With Rigor for All. Heinemann, 2000, ISBN 1-8930-5606-6.

Langer, Judith. A Focus on Student Response. NCTE, 1992, ISBN 0-8141-3318-5.

Samuels, B., Beers, K., editors. Your Reading: An Annotated Booklist for Middle and Junior High 1995-96 Edition. National Council of Teachers of English, 1996, ISBN 0-8141-5943-5.

Trelease, Jim. The Read-Aloud Handbook. Penguin Books, 1995, ISBN 0-1404-6971-0.

Wilhelm, Jeffrey. You Gotta Be the Book. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8077-3566-3-90000.