Whole-class novels are still an important part of an English curriculum. In today’s teaching pedagogy, many teachers are abandoning whole class novels for small-group novel studies. I personally love whole class novels and feel that they can definitely be a part of English class in addition to other text selections.
Whole class novels should not make up your entire English curriculum, as students benefit from a variety of instructional methods, and working in small groups with other students, but whole class novels are still beneficial for today’s students. There are many benefits of using whole class novels with students as long as they do not make up the majority of your ELA program. I love using this unit to structure my whole class novels.
Here are some reasons students benefit from whole class novels.
- Shared Experiences – Since the entire class is reading the same novel it creates a shared experience for all students. This shared experience helps to build a sense of community and helps get students engaged and excited about reading.
- Improved Reading Comprehension – By engaging students in oral discussions and comprehension activities students can practice their reading comprehension skills which is a key life skill.
- Increased Vocabulary – As the novel is read together and out loud the teacher can pause and explain any new words that might come up. As new words are encountered in the text, students can learn how to use them in context.
- Critical Thinking – Students can learn to dig deep and explore the novel’s themes, characters, and plot.
- Exposure to Different Perspectives – Whole class novels can show students different perspectives and experiences which helps them learn to see the world from different points of view.
Using whole class novels is a valuable tool for educators to engage students, improve reading comprehension and vocabulary, develop critical thinking skills, and help students see different points of view.
In this #2ndaryELA Twitter chat, teachers discussed their favourite novels to teach by grade level as well as their favourite assignments. Read the curated Twitter chat below to discover some new ideas to use in your classroom tomorrow. Some answers have been edited for clarity and grammar.
Q1: What whole class novels do you usually teach? Include a grade level.
- Recently added novels to my honors curriculum – A Long Walk to Water and currently The Outsiders
- Grade 9 – Night (req), Lord of the Flies, We Were Liars
- Grade 8 – Curious Incident, The Giver, The Pearl, Bronx Masquerade
- Crucible, Frederick Douglass, Gatsby, Catcher, Macbeth
Grade 12: Glass Castle, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Persepolis/Maus
- Flowers for Algernon and Anne Frank the play. Have taught Mississippi Trial.
- Grade 9-10 ELA in NY. IB curriculum: of mice and men, to kill a mockingbird, Catcher in the rye, non-negotiable
- Grade 11: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Big Fish, The Great Gatsby, Autobiography of Malcolm X, Into the Wild
- This year I’m teaching Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt and The Boy Who Dared by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
- Grade 7/8 – Hoot, Moon Bear, Holes, Coraline, Sing Down the Moon, Code Talker, Hatchet, The Egypt Game, Eight Tales of Terror
- Grade 7 – The Giver, Fish in a Tree
- Grade 8 – The Outsiders
- Grade 12 Honours: The Little Prince, Othello, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Metamorphosis
- I’m currently teaching The Pearl. I’ve taught Lord of the Flies, I Am The Cheese and The Outsiders
- Grade 9 – TKAM and OMAM for novels, R&J and Into the Wild for other full-length texts
- We also read the short story version of Flowers for Algernon and the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank in 8th grade
- Grade 9 Purple Hibiscus, Grendel, Siddhartha, Bless Me Ultima, Frankenstein, Bordertown, No. 1 Ladies Detective Club
- We read Maniac Magee and Watson’s go to Birmingham whole class – 6th grade.
- For high school remedial class I teach The Outsiders, the Pearl, and The Boy in the Striped PJs
- We’re considering adding Into the Wild to English 11 for next year
- Grade 7 is finishing up The Giver and 8th is starting The Outsiders now
- As an IC I assist with LOTF and Whale Talk (9th); Bleachers (10th); The Giver (6th); The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (7th)
Q2: Are your novels read as a whole class? In literature circles or book clubs? In class? Or for homework?
- We read 3 novels per year together and students read 1-2 novels per quarter independently. We have time for silent sustained reading in class
- Whole class and literature circles, class time
- Students read novels in class, in book club groups and self-select independent reading novels
- Information about book clubs https://www.2peasandadog.com/2016/12/online-book-clubs-for-middle-and-high.html
- A mix of whole group and lit. circles; one of each a semester. Time to read in class with deadlines either for roles or daily
- As a class
- We read them as a class. I’ll read to them or we listen to the audio version. For the plays we pick parts!
- Full-class. Have done independent reading projects in the past, but no co-ordinated texts/groups separately other than summer reading
- In 6th-grade language arts, we tried book clubs. Students were given choices based on Lexile level. We had 11 books options to choose from
- Whole class. Same kids do work regardless of format. Should change it up. Believe in reading the entire novel, avoid homework reading
- For middle school, I teach as lit circles,- reading as homework.
- For high school remedial as a whole class and most of it is read-aloud
- Novels are whole class and read partially in class and partially for homework
- Summer is from a list, most novels are read at home (or not), while we read Shakespeare, self-selected
- Combination of all. In class with most complex texts, some small groups, independent reading through Google classroom
Q3: What are the most important skills for you to cover when reading a whole class novel?
- Analyzing how particular elements interact
- Elements of a novel i.e. plot, conflict, theme etc. also Literary Elements. We also read just to enjoy a good story
- Plot peak, types of conflict, theme! My students struggle with theme vs topic. Want them to be able to make real-world connections
- Literary elements, close reading, reading skills like inference, using schema, figurative language, especially with Steinbeck!
- Analysis of elements connection to self and world. If I had time to read in class I’d also focus on reading skills
- Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text
- Help students make connections to classic texts & structures. Recognizing character archetypes, literary devices, & author style
- Big proponent of authors choice/intent. Takes them away from standard comprehension, not one right answer, opens up predictions
- Critical thinking, evaluating and analyzing conflict, characters, and plot. Also, work on inferencing or predictions
- Mostly elements of a story, figurative language
- I also have students connect to the text. My students have six different ways to respond for our lit groups
- For senior honors, we focus a lot on literary theory
- Just five things: how to think, read, write, listen, and speak. All done through text analysis, synthesis, and evaluation
- Why an author chooses to write what he/she does
- For reg. seniors, making connections between a text and the “big ideas.” Taking ideas from text to support collegial discussion… and writing with text evidence (synthesizing & citing)
- 9H, analysis of how devices contribute to theme, and analysis of text evidence over summary
- We focused on characterization and narrator’s point of view. Students also summarized, led discussions, and searched for FL
Q4: Describe the most engaging activities that accompany your whole class novel studies.
- Last year, author chats with Suzanne Young (The Program) and Betsy Cornwell (Mechanica). Students prepped all questions & thank you cards. https://twitter.com/teachnouvelle/status/836747948549685248/photo/1
- Students recently read a Biography and created a symbolic cardboard representation of their person
- Group discussions – I’ll have students lead their own discussion and take the entire hour talking about their book
- This year we had Brian Walls (Jeanette’s brother) come talk to us after Glass Castle
- Students create a Watson’s go to Birmingham scrapbook based on the family road trip to Birmingham in 1963
- Anything real world, connecting with other classes via Skype, Breakout EDU, Goose Chase scavenger hunts, blogging
- Socratic Seminar, Fish Bowl, create a math equation/graph to represent a theme of the novel, write an epilogue/final chapter
- We read Orbiting Jupiter students wrote blog posts that students at other schools read & responded to – was part of the global read aloud
- with TKM, argument writing on equality with Google doc feedback from my old friends who have more perspective/life experience
- Loving #BookSnaps from @TaraMartinEDU – 21st century annotating
- Anything real world, connecting with other classes via Skype, Breakout EDU, Goose Chase scavenger hunts, blogging
- Online discussions (new for me this year), anticipation guides that get my students thinking about the big ideas, choice boards
- Character silhouettes are awesome http://www.theliterarymaven.com/2014/12/character-activity-close-reading.html
- Maniac Magee caricatures of one of the characters and do an I am poem about that character
- I used Google Cultural Institute to have students explore the Anne Frank museum to help prep them for The Boy Who Dared
- Also love collaborative poetry http://www.theliterarymaven.com/2016/04/collaborative-writing.html
- Students filmed a “book trailer” for Wonder last year-could be applied to most any novel!
- Literary postcards combine writing and art http://www.theliterarymaven.com/2014/10/monday-made-it-literary-postcards-1013.html
- I had students create an equation/graph based on Derek Walcott’s Omeros. I was floored by what they did
- Creating word art symbols is another activity that draws in visual students http://www.theliterarymaven.com/2017/01/symbolism-characterization-lesson.html
- Anything with background info they can connect to or when they can do something the character did and reflect
- Breakouts, differentiated assessment choice board, dressing up & acting out scenes
- Mine LOVE dressing up and acting out scenes. I photocopy some CHs and highlight dialogue for parts if not a drama
Q5: Share a resource for teaching a novel that you find invaluable (book, article, blog post, type of technology, etc.).
- Google Cultural Institute!
- I’ve also used @StoryboardThat for a lot of presentations – character traits, favorite scenes
- These are free reading placemats I made to help students capture their thinking during/after reading
- I love Critical Encounters in HS
- Yes! We use Animoto for our independent reading books but would love to see how they differ with one text
- Creating silent movies
- As a book, I like How to Read Literature Like a Professor (high school)
- Shakespeare Set Free series, Mary Ellen Dakin books, @KellyGToGo
- I’m considering using Note and Notice with our book clubs.
- Google Classroom and the whole suite of apps. Especially Google Drawing–really getting into that lately!
- Oh! And @ctovani, Mosaic of Thought (can’t remember authors)
- Google Apps are life-changing!!!
- I used a Google Drive book club format I found on TpT. Some students are using Storyboard to explain the plot for a final project
- Check out the ideas in this blog post – Creative Lesson Ideas For Your Refugee Novel Study as you can adapt the ideas for your whole class novel
- Add different lesson methods to your novel studies by trying some of these ideas 18 Effective Teaching Strategies
Ready-To-Go Novel Study
Use this Refugee Novel Study with your students to help them learn more about the experiences of refugees around the world. Through the stories of Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud created by author Alan Gratz, your students will become immersed in the challenges faced by these characters. These lessons will help students learn and review literary elements and reading strategies, as well as comprehension strategies. This detailed blog post – Creative Lesson Ideas For Your Refugee Novel Study provides lots of ideas on activities you can do with your students when you are teaching whole class novels.
Refugee Novel Study Outline
- Lesson 1 – Activating Prior Knowledge Brainstorm and Discussion
- Lesson 2 – Elements of a Novel Notetaking
- Lesson 3 – Modelled Practice of the Elements of a Novel and Reading Strategies (Plot, Character, Conflict, Setting, Topic, Theme, Foreshadowing, Symbolism, Simile, Metaphor, Predictions, Connections, Questions, Inference, Visualization)
- Lesson 4 – Refugee Novel Introduction Activities
- Lesson 5 – Refugee Novel Study
- Lesson 6 – Refugee Chapter Questions (3 Questions per chapter)
- Lesson 7 – Refugee Final Project
Find out more about this Refugee Novel Study.
Additional Reading Resources
- Reading Journal Assignment
- Novel Study Choice Board Assignment
- 10 Books for Picky Middle School Readers
- Engaging Students with Non-Traditional Texts