When I was in 9th grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Rensch, attempted to have our class read Romeo and Juliet out loud. She assigned parts to some of the stronger readers in the class and we gave it a go.
It didn’t take very long for her to realize that we weren’t getting anything out of it. We didn’t have any idea how to read Shakespeare properly and we were turning it into a very dry, agonizing experience. Her attempt to enlighten us about the humor in the literature was completely lost on us.
After a few days, she had us close our books and put our heads down on our desks. Mrs. Rensch explained that Shakespeare’s works weren’t initially meant to be read – but to be watched and heard. She put on a record (yes, a record – I know that dates me) of Romeo and Juliet and had us listen to the play as it was performed by experienced Shakespearean actors.
Suddenly, the words made sense. It wasn’t merely read – it was performed. And lo and behold, there actually were funny parts! After we finished listening to the play, she brought in a TV and we watched a performance as well. We got so much more out of it by her teaching methods than if we had merely read the play as a class – or even worse, tried reading it silently to ourselves.
If you’ve been trying to get your sons to read classic literature and it isn’t going very well, there are different methods that you can try.
Here are 6 Ways to Get Boys to Consume the Classics:
1. Choose Wisely
Some classics are just plain boring. Seriously. I LOVE to read – but some of the books are so thick that I feel like I need to plow through them with a shovel versus being able to enjoy them and get something out of them. I remember having to read a novel by Henry James and really struggling with it. The sentences were as long as normal paragraphs and the paragraphs went on for pages! The only way I made it through that book was to read it out loud to myself. Hearing the words helped me to follow along better than just merely reading them in my head. But even then, I don’t even remember the title of that book to this day, not to mention learning anything from reading it.
On the other hand, I fondly remember reading exciting classic books such as Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and 1984. Boys (and many girls) are going to have a much easier time reading a book with plenty of action versus a book where the author goes on for page after page describing a tea towel or talking about feelings.
2. Read them Aloud
Quite often, classic books are ones I will choose to read aloud. This helps me to be able to discuss them more fully with my boys while we are reading them and to gauge whether or not they are getting anything out of the book.
Sometimes the wording and/or phrasing in classic books can be difficult to comprehend. If they are heard read by a trained voice actor, however, they are quite delightful. Try having your son listen to an audiobook while following along in his own copy. This will help him to get much more out of the experience than merely reading the book.
You can find lots of audiobooks at your local library. Also, there are many FREE audiobooks, especially of classic works, which you can download from openculture.com.
4. Dramatized versions
There are also times when hearing a dramatized version of the book will teach your son what you want him to learn much more vividly. There are some amazing dramatized books out there. We recently purchased a couple of dramatized G.A. Henty books that are fantastic – In Freedom’s Cause and Under Drake’s Flag.
5. Abridged versions
Depending on the age of your child and the purpose behind your wanting him to read a classic work, your son may be able to get just as much if not more out of reading an abridged version of a book. When my boys were younger, we enjoyed reading classics from the Classic Starts Series.
There are some amazing movies based on classic works. Sometimes, if your son is struggling to get through a book, knowing that he can watch the movie when he’s done will help him to continue plodding through. Sometimes, there is just as much value from merely watching the movie rather than reading the book at all. Whenever possible, I do try to have my boys read the book BEFORE they watch the movie.
When choosing which movies to watch, be sure to do your research. Some movies veer very far away from the book on which they’re based. Unless we have a trusted recommendation to go by, I usually search for the oldest movie I can find and view that one. The older movies tend to follow the books more closely and include direct quotes from the books.
BONUS – Graphic Novels
Another great way to get our boys excited about reading the classics is to present the material to them through a graphic novel. Usborne makes these incredible graphic novels for Robin Hood, Dracula, King Arthur, The Odyssey, and the Hound of the Baskervilles which will help the action of the stories leap to life for your son. Consider allowing your son to read the story this way and once he’s familiar with the plot, he’ll be more likely to read through the full-length classic afterward.
The way we approach classic works will determine whether our sons will enjoy them or whether they will avoid them like the plague. Whether or not your son is an avid reader there are ways to help him enjoy classic works as much as he enjoys reading The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. (BTW – Those are great classics to start your son on if he hasn’t read them, yet!)
Question – How do you approach the classics with your son? Do you prefer to hand him a book or have you found other methods which help your son to digest them more readily? Please leave a comment below.