This is part two in my three-part series on how to integrate a novel into your curriculum. For my first post, on how to hook your students before they even read the first page, click here.
I have heard many different views on using novels in the classroom. Some teachers complain that it takes too long because they read every page together during class. Other teachers say the students are never truly accountable, because they are assigned to read it for homework which makes it easy to cheat or look up answers.
I use a variety of different strategies when using a novel in my curriculum, and I’ve listed a few below. However I always adhere by one rule: USE the assignments in class.
Whether I use journal entries, discussions, or a reading log, I ALWAYS make sure that I discuss the students’ responses during class. If you want to make reading a novel a truly engaging experience, you need to allow your students the opportunity to share their opinions with each other – not just by writing down answers for you.
For any of the ideas I list below to be successful, you will have to plan on allowing students to regularly share their responses with each other.
This is by no means a “novel” (pun most definitely intended) idea. If you do a quick Google or Pinterest search, you will find a plethora of reading logs that have students chart a number of things from the minutes they read to a few quick facts about what they read to more introspective writing responses.
I like the idea of using reading logs, however I try to create (or at least put my own spin on) reading logs so that they reflect the content of the novel. I love this because students get more invested in doing the assignment because they visually see the connection to the novel.
For example, when I teach The Westing Game, a classic mystery novel, I use a reading log that I formatted to look like a Detective Log.
Here is a link to my TpT store where you can purchase my Detective Log
Instead of having students just write down answers, I have them “record clues.” I know it sounds a little corny, but it really does help connect the assignment to the text.
Teacher Tip: I would try to review the reading logs during class, at least once a week. Students were more engaged when they knew that they’d be sharing responses with their classmates, not just turning them in to me.
Online and Class Hybrid Discussion
If you have been following my blog for the past year, you will know that I love discussions. I have posted a few times about different discussion formats that I love.
One format that works well when students are reading different novels about similar themes or topics is the Online-Class hybrid format.
I posted weekly questions to our online forum (we used Google Classroom which worked wonderfully) and the students would post responses using Oreo Quoting. They also had to respond to at least one other person’s post. (Think back to all of those online college courses you’ve taken!)
On Thursday I reviewed the posts and choose some that really stood out to me. On Friday, we would circle up the desks and I would use the stand-out posts as jumping off points for our discussion. Once my kids realized that I was using their own words for our Friday Discussions, they really started to beef up their responses so they would be “the chosen ones.”
I graded this in a two-part format to help maintain student accountability. First, students earned a grade based on their response, use of textual evidence and response to a classmate’s post. Second, students earned a grade based on their contribution to our Friday discussion.
In my previous post I talked about doing a Genre Interact, where students take on the persona and reenact an event that replicates the theme, plot, or genre that they will be reading.
Assign Characters is a similar idea. With this method, students are assigned (or they get to choose) a specific character to “become” during the course of the novel. I’ve use this with The Watsons Go To Birmingham where students get to choose their own character to follow on the road-trip, and in The Westing Game where students all received official letters from Ed Plum telling them who they would be.
To really make this work make sure you offer opportunities for students to embrace their character. Below are some suggestions for assignments you could have students complete in the point of view of their character. Really, any standard assignment would work – just allow students to complete it as if they were their character. Bonus points for including textual evidence to support why the character would think that!
- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook profiles
- Journal entries, postcards, letters (bonus tip – be the mailman and “deliver” the letters to other characters in the class)
- Students create Twitter accounts for their character, then use a class hashtag to post discussions
- Use this improv game and have the “host” guess which character each student is
- Tie into non-fiction by having students choose a current event article their character would be interested in
When teaching Boy and The Outsiders, I’ve used the journal approach. I have updated it by using Google Docs. My students keep one document and share it with me. That way, I have access to it and can continually review it to see their new entries.
You’ll notice a common theme among all of these suggestions is altering the format to directly reflect the novel, and journal entries are no exception. These are not general questions you find minutes before your students walk in the room (ex. what is the most important part of the plot so far?) Instead, the question should be thoughtful and tie directly to what they have just read.
Try using one of these techniques:
- Pick a powerful quote from the reading passage to have students reflect on
- Pick a specific character and have students agree or disagree with his actions
- Have students relate a plot event to their own lives (ex. in Boy, Roald Dahl talks about the time someone did something for him that they probably thought was small, but which meant a lot to him. Has that ever happened to you?)
- Allow students to get creative (ex. rewrite the ending of the chapter)
Teacher Tip: To give students more freedom with their reading, I would have prompts for each chapter already printed out and stapled shut. When students were ready for a prompt, they could share with me their document. I would review it and give them the new prompt. This way, students could be at all different points – as long as they finished by the assigned day.
How do YOU keep your students engaged while reading novels? Post a comment or send me a tweet!