Novel studies are a traditional, yet sometimes controversial, classroom practice. Why should teachers do novel studies in their classrooms? There are several reasons why I believe it is important to incorporate novel studies, but first let me tell you when and why I became adamant that novel studies would be an important part of my daily classroom routine!
Why I Believe in the Power of Novel Studies
I taught first grade for many years. My favorite part of the day was the morning read aloud and book discussions. I love reading to students and engaging them in wonderful stories. Then I was moved to second grade, and I had trouble selecting stories that they probably had not heard repeatedly. While there is great benefit in hearing the stories repeatedly, we all know that we enjoy that first reading much more.
After just two years in second, I was moved to third grade! The DREADED testing year! My principal told me from the beginning that this was the year that made kids HATE to read! And once I got into the curriculum, I could see why!!! All the testing and boring short stories and passages…. ICK!!!!
I quickly decided that I would strive to engage my students in wonderful novels and series in which they would become hooked on characters, experience emotions, and thrive on the suspense. Since that time, I have been creating novel studies for my students that I use in a variety of ways.
My students have been welcomed into third grade and comforted by the story of Suds in Third Grade Angels. They experienced his emotion as he strived to be perfect, fell short of the goal, and accepted the outcome without giving up. This novel helped build community in the classroom and establish a growth mindset as well.
Currently, my students are experiencing the sheer joy of life that Wilbur has as he builds friendships in Mr. Zuckerman’s barn. They are left in suspense at the end of almost every chapter, eager to learn about the next adventure or the next word that Charlotte will craft for her dear friend. My students are also building vocabulary and learning to use context clues for decoding… and they enjoy it in the novel study!
When you see students enjoy books like this, and even ask to take the book home to read on ahead, you know you are doing the right thing!
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Why do whole group novel studies?
There are educators who don’t approve of the whole group novel study, as it is cumbersome and they believe that “for students who struggle with reading, it doesn’t help them be more confident. For those that do not struggle, it limits their reading experience in school.” However as noted, “there is powerful learning—academic, social, and personal—that can happen when a community of students experiences the world of a novel together and studies it” by Ariel Sacks on EdWeek. I believe in that powerful learning of the whole group novel study and harness it periodically throughout the year.
The most important teaching strategy with whole group novels is that you provide the right level of support for each student. In the beginning of the year, I just read the novel to the students and have them follow along. We do the questions as a group while I teach them to refer back to the text for answers. After that, I would have students who are independent with that book level read it on their own, readers who are instructional with that level would meet briefly with me for any needed clarification and to summarize for me, while readers who would greatly struggle at that level would require me reading it to them. There would be no round robin reading in the whole group setting!
Benefits of Novel Studies:
- Builds community in the classroom.
- Engaging characters and plots keep students interested in reading.
- Develops vocabulary and decoding skills.
- Helps build stamina.
- Improve fluency
- Improve comprehension
- Expose students to different emotions, experiences, and environments to build compassion and background knowledge.
- Develops writing skills by studying the author’s craft.
Can novel studies be used in guided reading?
Incorporating novels as part of your guided reading is another way to help establish a love of reading. Using novels, instead of basals, passages, or leveled readers, keeps your students interested and wanting to read more. In this blog post Debbie Diller suggests that teachers “choose a book for small group that is at students’ instructional level.”
In the guided reading model, you create small groups based on ability and choose a text at their instructional level. The teacher introduces the novel and then listens to individuals read from their copy of the text, prompting students to integrate their reading processes. Finally the teacher will engage students in discussion about the text. When using a novel, my small groups read one chapter or an average of about 10 pages in one sitting.
Making the Most of Your Novel Study
- My novel study Boom cards enable you to plan in advance with questions ready to go on the Boom learning platform.
- You can easily check student progress and monitor comprehension with the teacher dashboard on Boom.
- Students enjoy the digital platform and the moveable pieces on Boom learning keep students engaged and focused, rather than just clicking an answer and going on.
- Students earn coins, gems, and pulses for correct answers. Teachers can develop a reward system for the points earned on Boom.
- There are 6 comprehension questions for each chapter (short chapters are sometimes combined) that provide vocabulary, context clue, and comprehension skill practice to be completed at the end of each chapter.
- The questions are text dependent, rigorous, and common core standard based.
- The questions are great practice for end of year standardized testing.
How to Start with Novel Studies
If you are ready to start using novel studies in your classroom, I would definitely start with just one, whole group novel study. An excellent choice is Third Grade Angels for Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing at the beginning of the year. Otherwise, I suggest Charlotte’s Web or Shiloh.
In the beginning of the year, I use these novels as read alouds and let the students follow along. I do the first one or two Boom decks with them following each chapter so that they understand the format, and so that I can teach them how to search the text for answers. Try out the first deck for Charlottes’ Web FREE!
Once I have done some beginning of the year testing, I have student reading levels and am able to group them. Then I select a novel at their instructional level. See my reading rotation schedule and when I meet with groups by clicking here. On Book Club days, students meet without me and read a chapter with their group. They are allowed to help each other with the Boom card questions as I want them talking about it and searching the text together. On Meet with Teacher days, I start our time by asking the students to summarize the book and tell me about the setting, characters, problems, and possible solutions. Then, I will address any commonly missed questions from the Boom decks that they have completed thus far. Before reading, I ask if students have any questions for me about the story. Next students take turns reading from the next chapter. Finally, I may do discussion questions with them or guide them through the boom deck for that chapter.
Students will continue to read the novel until they are done. Upon completion of the novel, I give students the opportunity to be creative and collaborate on a concluding project such as a booksnap or Give me 5.
I always start new novels on the group’s Meet with Teacher day so that I can introduce the novel and build anticipation with the group.
Novel Studies for a Lifelong Love of Reading
Are you ready to give novel studies a try? You can help your students develop a lifelong love of reading and improve their comprehension and test taking skills at the same time. Don’t let boring passages and testing ruin reading for them.