Before beginning the reading, plan a unit in which you talk with students about basic literary concepts, such as plot, character, and setting. You also can talk with students about the concept of literary style, as well as the idea that clues about an author often can be found in his/her work.
If the author works in the picture book form, talk with students about the important balance between text and artwork. Finally, introduce students to the notion of an aesthetic response to books, suggesting that they keep track of how they themselves are feeling about what they read.
As you begin reading, decisions you made earlier will determine how you do this segment of an author study. For example, if you’re doing a classroom-wide author study, you’ll need to decide when you’re going to schedule in read-aloud time during your day. (The great thing about author studies, though, is how they can fit into any curriculum unit.)
If you’re dividing your class into different groups to study different authors or different books by the same author, you’ll want to figure out how to create those groups. Or, if each student is doing his/her own author study, you’ll want to try to set aside at least some silent reading time during the day.
In the case of either group or individual reading, you’ll want to have checkpoints where you can see how students are coming in their reading.
Ask students to keep a journal as they read. The journal can be used to record facts about the author, thoughts about characters, plot and setting, and students’ own reflections on issues raised by the books they are reading. The journals also are useful when students begin to research the author.
Think about whether you will require students to keep the journals for grading purposes or just for referring to when they do their author study project(s). Think also how you will store the notebooks in the classroom. One possibility is to create storage baskets to house both the students’ notebooks and the books being read.
Discussing the books being read is an important connection between reading the books and then creating responses to them. These discussions can take place in several ways:
- If students are doing group or individual author studies, ask students to write their thoughts in “dialogue journals,” in which you can read and then record your own response.
- Older students can do a jigsaw author study with various students taking responsibility for becoming expert in a particular aspect of an author’s life or work and teaching their peers. Read more about the jigsaw strategy.
- You may also want to have whole-class debriefs after small group or independent reading to discuss students’ questions, observations, and predictions about their reading.
Whether you do a classroom, jigsaw, or small group discussion, tell students you will be asking them to discuss in detail the books they are reading. Students should be ready to discuss the following:
- literary concepts like character, plot, setting, point of view, use of imagery, metaphor, and word choice
- biographical clues about the author found in the books
- students’ own response to what they are reading
If you’re studying a picture book, students should be able to discuss how the text and art work together.
This also can be a good point to have students begin to respond to the books in an even more concrete way. Perhaps they can create a graph comparing several books by an author. Or they could produce a Venn Diagram showing how the books are similar and different. Another approach is to have students do “chunking,” which involves taking the story and breaking it into chunks of ideas or events. Other possibilities for this initial response exercise include:
- Double-entry journaling
- Creating story maps
- Keeping lists of favorite characters and especially beautiful language “webbing”
- An exercise where students graphically illustrate their responses to books