It can be a daunting task to think about preparing to teach a new novel. Whether it is because you have a new job, the curriculum at your school changes, or because you just need a change of pace and pick a fresh novel to use in your classes, preparing to teach a new novel is something we all need to do from time to time.
For some of us, this process comes as second nature, but for others, the process of taking a novel and turning it into a successful and engaging curriculum can be a challenge. This post will walk you through one way to prepare to teach a new novel.
This first step is not meant as an in-depth reading involving annotation and curriculum design. Instead, this first read-through should be done to gain familiarity with the book. What are your general impressions? Get a feel for the characters, story, pacing, themes, and so forth. This is a good chance to give yourself an idea of what level the book is at and where the challenges you might face teaching it will be. You may want to read with a notebook handy so you can jot down thoughts and ideas you have as you read—things you want to come back to, teaching ideas you don’t want to forget, that sort of thing.
If you have recently read the novel, you might skip the rereading portion of this step, but don’t skip the rest. Page through the book (possibly rereading short passages) and think about the sort of things listed above.
See What’s Out There
Before you teach a new novel, see what is out there as far as curriculum material goes. Do not reinvent the wheel. Check out your local teacher store and the Internet (don’t forget Teachers Pay Teachers). Talk to any colleagues who may have already taught the novel. Sometimes even your school’s textbook distributor will have materials on novels. This does not mean you have to use all of this stuff, but it may save you from developing your own vocabulary lists and give you some project ideas that you might not have thought of on your own. Check out this novel study unit for ANY novel.
Break It Up
Now it is time to decide how you are going to go about teaching the novel—how you want to break up the novel into smaller teaching chunks. Think about how and when you are going to teach this novel. Will students read the entirety of it over a holiday break, or will you read it all in class? Is this unit going to take a short three weeks or will you spread it out over six or more? Is this a whole-class novel or are you doing literature circles? Will students read a chapter at a time, or will you be grouping chapters?
These questions will inform how you go about the rest of the process.
This is also a good time to start thinking about the levels and variety of students you will be teaching as well as your educational goals for this unit. While you will not be able to anticipate everything, what you design will probably be different depending on who your students are and what you want them to get out of the novel study.
Read for Design
Now it is time to do the heavy lifting. Begin by looking at what you want to do for pre-reading. Create anything that you need. These do not need to be finalized materials ready to hand out but get your ideas down. If you want students to think about a particular theme that is going to come up in the novel, what assignment or activity do you want to use to do that?
Now start reading the book again, reading it in the sections you will be assigning your students. (For instance, if the first reading assignment will be chapters one through three, that is what you should read.) It is a good idea to go into this with a general sense of what sorts of things you want students to do along with each reading section. For instance, for each reading assignment you might want students to look at some vocabulary, take a short quiz, respond to a journal prompt, participate in some general class discussion, and do one or maybe two other activities. By deciding on this general framework ahead of time, you know what you should be creating as and after you read each section. Again, you are not creating finalized materials at this point, but instead, you are putting together your lists of questions, writing prompts, and drafting materials for later use. Use the ideas in these blog posts to help you plan out a variety of lessons.
When you get to the end of the book, what are the things you want to do post-reading? A test? An essay? Are there overarching discussions that it is important to have now that the students have read the entire book? Do you have a class or an individual project you want students to complete? Draft these materials as well.
Finally, go back over what you have created so far and decide if there is anything missing. Think about things you want to focus on in the later stages of the novel—did you lay any needed groundwork earlier in the unit? Are there any ongoing activities or assignments that you want students to complete over the course of the novel? Are there any intertextual activities you want to use as you teach (a poem, a short story with a similar theme, etc.)? Draft these items.
Finalize Your Unit
Now go back and put everything together. Create a draft unit plan — what you want to do each day of the unit (and be ready for this to change as you actually run your unit). Finalize—both in choice and format—materials you are going to use over the course of the unit, whether they be your own or ones that you have acquired from other sources. Pull together any background materials you want to use. Decide if there are any gaps that need filling or activities that need removing from your initial plans. Create and delete as needed.
Teach The New Novel
Now it is time to teach. Read with your students—even if you have read the book a thousand times, this helps to refresh the specifics of the assigned reading. It also gives you the chance for new ideas and interpretations to strike you and for you to incorporate these into your discussions and the unit as a whole.
Thinking about and planning how to teach a new novel does not have to be a daunting task. Use the process outlined in this blog post to help you.
Check Out These Engaging Resources
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