Teaching Reading Comprehension in 1915

A vain man’s motto is, ” Win gold and wear it;” a generous man’s, “Win gold and share it;” a miser’s, ” Win gold and spare it; ” a profligate’s, ” Win gold and spend it; ” a broker’s, ” Win gold and lend it; ” a gambler’s or a fool’s, ” Win gold and lose it; ” but a wise man’s, ” Win gold and use it.”

I discovered this handy bit of copywork in a 1915 book called Teaching to Read, by Nellie Turner. It’s a book on teaching reading comprehension and what we would call critical thinking skills to older elementary students.

Her goal is to teach children to understand better what they read, and to read aloud with better expression and proper emphasis. She encourages teachers to do this by having the students read aloud the excerpts she provides and then ask a series of questions. The questions I found stilted, strange, and sometimes just odd, but I like the selections she provides very much. Here are some examples:

page 3:

It is not enough that pupils be able to “tell the story” at the beginning of the recitation; it is not enough that they be able to answer an occasional question here and there. In the technical study of reading, pupils need to be asked every reasonable question that the teacher can ask on the sentence or paragraph in hand. There is nothing like rapid questioning to make pupils “sit up and take notice.” If the particular pupil who has read the sentence does not need the question, there is always some one else who does; and the certainty that questions are going to be asked, coupled with the uncertainty as to who will get the next one, keeps a reading class wide-awake and alert. It keeps pupils reading for themselves, thinking and reasoning for themselves, and listening critically to effects. How different from a class where each pupil passively awaits his turn!

Page 6:

i. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. Genesis i: i.

i. This is the first verse of the. Old Testament: All the ideas are new.

Who created the heaven and the earth?

When did God create the heaven and the earth?

How did God bring the heaven and the earth into existence ?

What did God create? Explain the difference in meaning of the two words.

How many ideas are presented in the sentence ? Ans. Four, — When? Who? How? What?—with the fourth, in turn, made up of two ideas.

These questions make plain the thought material contained in the sentence. Asking them once will not bring about a correct reading by every pupil in an average class. At first, commonly as many as five out of six will fail in noting the value of one or more of the ideas, and in each case the pupil will need a .repetition, in some form or other, of the particular question that will arouse him to a fuller appreciation of the idea that he undervalued as he read.

Following the questions suggested above, a teacher may introduce the reading somewhat as follows :

“Now we may be sure that a sentence is not read correctly unless all the ideas are brought out. How many of you think that you can read that sentence, making every idea it contains stand out so clearly that we shall have to notice each one ? John may try. The rest of you listen and see if he does it.”

Thus, at the beginning, a standard of criticism will be set for both teacher and pupils, — a standard by which they may pass judgment upon both their own reading and the reading of others, and, understanding an error, see the path that leads to its correction.

It must be remembered that the questions in these Studies are suggestive questions. The first pupil might read :

” In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.”

Attention must then be called to created and in the beginning, care being taken that the value placed on God and the heaven and the earth be not forgotten.

Later in the book the passages grow much longer, and the students are led through several at a time, looking for examples of various rhetorical and literary devices in several passages.

59. IN CARLYLE’S COUNTRY
From Fresh Fields.

In crossing the sea a second time, I was more curious to see Scotland than England, partly because I had had a good glimpse of the latter country eleven years before, but largely because I had always preferred the Scotch people to the English (I had seen and known more of them in- my youth), and especially because just then I was much absorbed with Carlyle, and wanted to see with my own eyes the land and the race from which he sprang.

There was no road in Scotland or England which I should have been so glad to walk over as that from Edinburgh to Ecclefechan, — a distance covered many times by the feet of him whose birth and burial place I was about to visit. Carlyle as a young man had walked it with Edward Irving (the Scotch say “travel” when they mean going afoot), and he had walked it alone, and’as a lad with an elder boy, on his way to Edinburgh college. He says in his “Reminiscences” he nowhere else had such affectionate, sad, thoughtful, and, in fact, interesting and salutary journeys. “No company to you but the rustle of the grass under foot, the tinkling of the brook, or the voices of innocent, primeval things.” “I have had days as clear as Italy; days moist and dripping, overhung with the infinite of silent gray, — and perhaps the latter were the prefarable, in certain moods. You could strip barefoot, if it suited better; carry shoes and socks over shoulder, hung on your stick; clean shirt and comb were in your pocket; omnia mea mecum porto [all my luggage I carry with me]. You lodged with shepherds, who had clean, solid cottages; wholesome eggs, milk, oatmeal porridge, clean blankets to their beds, and a great deal of human sense and unadulterated natural politeness.”

But as we did not walk, there was satisfaction in knowing that the engine which took our train down from Edinburgh was named Thomas Carlyle. The cognomen looked well on the toiling, fiery-hearted, iron-browed monster. I think its original owner would have contemplated it with grim pleasure, especially since he confesses to having spent some time, once, in trying to look up a shipmaster who had named his vessel for him. Here was a hero after his own sort, a leader by the divine right of the expansive power of steam….

There’s a lot more to this excerpt, which is one of a set. Each excerpt, btw, is numbered. Here are the questions to the set of readings:

Suggestive Questions For Written Review

1. Give five illustrations of the simplest forms of parenthetical expressions.

2. Give four methods of punctuating inserted portions. Which one shows that the insertion is by another person than the one who spoke or wrote the sentence ?

3. Give four methods of punctuating an appended portion. Which one bespeaks an abrupt change in sentiment or construction ?

4. Name five motives that might lead to insertions. Illustrate each.

5. In what way is No. 14 more difficult to read than No. 13 ?

6. (No. 49.) How did the sculptor of the Marble Faun differ from the average sculptor ?

7. (No. 50.) How did her simple wishes differ from vain prayers?

8. (No. 51.) Which chores are named ? Which ones are inferred ?

9. (No. 58.) (a) Express the thought of lines 3 and 4 in your own words.

(b) Which portion of the description between lines 9 and 15 suggests a prosperous village ?

10. (No. 59.) Give the meaning of reminiscences, salutary, primeval, unadulterated, cognomen, bonnie, umbelliferous, yarrow, precision.

You can read it online at googlebooks, buy a copy at Amazon or abebooks.com, or buy my copy for about 66 percent of their price here.

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Which Is It?

On September 9th, the President told the joint sessions of Congress and the Senate that he and they had pulled the country back from the economic brink. Mission Accomplished?

Yet now he says that the unemployment situation won’t improve until we have Health Care Reform?

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Cases Like This Contribute Toward Public Distrust of Police

Ya think?

The homeowner held an intruder at gunpoint while calling 911. The police showed up, the man’s wife told the first one the situation. He failed to pass that vital information on to his comrades. They shot the man several times in the back, and then discussed how they were going to cover it all up- all while 911 was still on the line recording it.

He actually survived, no thanks to the care he received from the officers, who dragged his bleeding body outside and then continued to behave in bizarrely unprofessional fashion.

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The FYB Holds the Pirate


Initially when the Pirate was born the FYB wanted to see him, but he had no interest in holding him. He admitted he was nervous because the lad was so small and fragile looking, and announced that he would wait and hold the new nephew when he was all of one month old.

A couple days ago he suddenly got very indignant and said nobody had let him hold the new baby yet. I pointed out he should save his indignation, he still had two more weeks to go to the one month mark he’d chosen.

“I’ve changed my mind,” he said simply. “He’s cute!”

And so Tuesday night he held the two week old Pirate for the first time.

The FYB was pretty pleased with himself and his new nevvy, too- he scooted up as close to me as possible and snuggled in, and he kept marveling at the baby’s faces. Remember? Remember how newborns make a constant variety of utterly droll faces in their sleep? The FYB was as one upon a peak in Darien, and every new face was his own discovery.

It’s heady stuff being an uncle at 11.

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Alas, The Equuschick is a Liar.

She isn’t tough,see. She’s actually a terrible wimp.

She also wishes that a week ago when people asked how breast-feeding was going she had not assured them all so blithely that it was, really, improving.

Because now she has mastitis and her milk supply is low on the left side and one last sore will not close and heal, so she has now been handed a breast-pump and told to spend the next few days back in bed, nursing on the right side and pumping on the left and just drinking and eating and nursing and pumping.

But a good friend is loaning her DVDs to veg out on

Life goes on.

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