Let me paint a scene:  You are sitting in an English classroom.  Your teacher is walking along the front row, handing students a stack of torn paperbacks to pass backward.  You take the book, flip it over, read the back, become bored, and toss it into your backpack.  The packet of questions that gets passed your way next gets shoved into a folder.  A few weeks later, you turn in the crumpled packet and paperback (with even more tears) and take a multiple choice test.  The next day, a new novel is in your hands.  

This is what I remember from some of my high school English classes, and let me tell you, even for a self-proclaimed bibliophile it was utterly boring.

Now, teachers are doing more than just using novels as supplementals – they are thoroughly integrating them into their classrooms.  This is the first in a three-part series full of creative approaches to hooking students, engaging students, and assessing students through the use of novels.

prereadingHooking Students Before They Open the Novel

One of my favorite parts about teaching a novel occurs before my class even reads the first page.  I love introducing novels.  I love seeing students get hooked on a text and having them walk into my classroom eager to start the new book.  Here are 4 different pre-reading strategies I use to get my students interested in a text.

Speed Dating (No planning required)

I use this one a lot because, as the heading suggests, no planning is required.  Also, this is super adaptable and can be used with any novel.

How To Use It:

  1. Have students use a half-sheet of paper and create a list with the following words: Title, Cover, Back Blurb, First Page, Overall
  2. Instruct students that they will be doing a quick “speed date” with the book in which they will rate it on four elements. After studying each of the elements, the student should consider if it was interesting or catchy and – most importantly – did it make them want to read the book?  High scores get a 5, low scores would be 0.  For “Overall,” have students add the scores
  3. Go around the room and have students share out their scores.  If time permits, allow them to expand on why they reached the score they did.

When To Use It:

Any novel that you have hardcopies available for; novels where the cover and/or title is symbolic

Teacher Tip: This is a great tool to use if you have different editions of a text, because you can discuss how the cover illustrations impact first impressions.  Also, I like to hold on to these throughout the course of our novel study and have students revisit them after reading.

Vocabulary Brainstorm (Minimal planning required)

I did a guest post for Vocabulary.com detailing this strategy – you can check that out here.  But in the meantime, let me give you the basics.

How to Use It:

  1. Give your students a list of important words from the novel before they read it.  Remember, this is a pre-reading strategy, not a vocabulary strategy, so pick words based on importance to the story, not difficulty.  (Vocabulary.com has a bunch of pre-made word lists for a plethora of novels).
  2. Have students review the words.  I chose to have students practice answering Vocabulary.com’s generated questions, but you could do any vocabulary activity.  Just remember, the point is not to have your student memorize this entire list.  It is to give them an insight into the theme, plot, diction and characters of the novel.
  3. Have students put away the word lists and work with partners in a Think-Pair-Share to see how many words they can remember AND correctly define
  4. Come together as a class to make a master list of all words that are remembered
  5. Based on these words, have students create 10-word gists for what they think the book will be about

When to Use It:

A novel where students may not have a lot of background about the historical setting; a novel where major plot events happen; a novel that has powerful language

Teacher Tip:  I had some students start to freak out when I had them answering questions on a word list we hadn’t reviewed.  I had to reiterate that they would NOT be graded on this and that it was simply something to let me know what they know.

Author/Setting/Character Fiction Prediction (Some planning required)

fictionpredictionThis uses a common MAX teaching strategy, but adds a little more structure.  I use this as part of my introduction to To Kill a Mockingbird, and it’s great for helping my students to pull connections between Harper Lee and Scout while they read.

How To Use It:

  1. This one takes a little planning on your end.  First, you need to find three decent texts.  One should be a bio of the author, one should be a description of the setting, and the last should be a list of characters (with brief descriptions).  Make sure that the texts are brief – no more that a page.
  2. As students read the texts, they will fill out a Fiction Prediction.  I created one that ties to Bloom’s Taxonomy so students can go beyond simply reading the texts and answering questions – they can think deeply about how these literary elements could impact the text they will read. Here is a free download to my Fiction Prediction.

When To Use It:

A novel that is partly autobiographical; a novel by a prominent author; a novel where the setting is just as important as the plot; a novel with a long list of characters

Teacher Tip:  Here are helpful resources for finding pre-reading texts

  • Character Lists – Gradesaver
  • Author Bios – Biography.com (You can make this multimedia by using one of their Mini Biography videos)
  • Setting Descriptions – Shmoop (After you find your novel’s page, search under “Analysis”)

Genre Interact (Major planning required)

This takes the most amount of time on your end to plan, however as is normally the case with things that take a lot of planning, the students love it and the payoff is awesome.  The basic idea here is that you take the genre of the novel and create an opportunity for students to role play what it would be like to be a character in that genre.

This idea doesn’t have specific steps, because it is truly dependent on what genre you’re studying and how deep you’d like to go.  When I teach A Christmas Carol, I always begin with a Genre Interact that I created to help students understand what it would be like the live in Victorian London.  I created 15 “characters” with basic descriptions (ex.  Matthew Branson; wealthy, educated, early 20s). I assign each student a character and give them little activities to do over the course of a few days that allows them to dive deeper into the persona of their character.  When we read the novel, the students get excited about seeing details that they remember from their own brief “life” as the character.

Imagine you are creating playing cards, and create characters based on characters that your students might encounter in the text.  Or, find a brief skit or reenactment of a major plot event.

When To Use It:

A classic novel that can be hard for students to identify with; a historical novel with which students don’t have much background; a novel where one plot even plays a pivotal role in character actions and decisions

Teacher Tip:  Looking for a mystery Genre Interact? Hereis a classroom appropriate murder mystery from One Stop English that I use when introducing The Westing Game.

Also, purchase my Victorian Era Genre Interact here.

How do you hook your students?  Leave a comment!