Novel units have been around forever, at least since we can remember. But the way they have been taught has varied greatly from teacher to teacher. After being classroom teachers for over a combined 30 plus years, we have seen it all, and have probably tried almost everything to make novel units successful in our classroom.
With that being said, here are our top 5 tips on how to effectively teach novel units in the classroom.
Ways to Teach Novel Units
1. Build Excitement
In order for your students to “buy into” the novel you have to “sell” it to them. You want to create a buzz about the book they will be reading that will get them jacked up and anxious to start. There are many ways to do this. One key way is to build on their background knowledge about a genre. For example, if you are going to be doing a fantasy novel with your group, have them discuss in the group what sets fantasy apart from other genres. Then give them hints as to what type of fantasy elements may appear in the book they are going to read, and have them make predictions as to what may happen.
Another way to spark interest is to have the students read the book jacket and then discuss the contents before reading. Book jackets tend to do a good job of introducing the characters and even the problem, but don’t go as far as telling the whole story. It makes students think about what may happen in the book and lends for a great discussion.
In today’s technological age you also probably can find book trailers online for the books you are using in guided reading. We have found that youtube is a great source. Most may be done by students for a book project or some by teachers, but there are enough out there that you could play a short clip to get your group excited. We also have created short powerpoints that introduce the characters, setting and problem and have shown the students those as well.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure to build excitement about the book they are about to read!
2. Find the Right Level Books for Each Group
In order to establish novel unit groups, you will need to find the reading levels of your students. Depending on your school district, you may be using the DRA, STAR, or another form of reading assessment to find the group’s instructional level. Once your students have been assessed, you want to group them according to their reading levels.
The next step would be to find the novel units for each group. We have used Scholastic Book Wizard as a starting point. On this site, you can search for a wide variety of book titles. Once you have found the title, it will list the grade level equivalent for the book. This will help you in determining if the novel is at the right level for your students.
Your school or district library may also use a system of leveling too. Use whatever works for you, but make sure that the book does not go above the students’ instructional levels.
A key component of using novel units in the classroom is to be able to determine your students’ level of comprehension when reading the stories. We use reading comprehension guides for our novel units. These guides contain explicit and implicit questions for each chapter of the novels. These are great to use when meeting in groups to determine work completion and also the level of understanding that each student has.
We also incorporate Common Core questions as well into our groups that include: inference, theme, main idea/details, and other reading skills. Novel units are a great way to assess students on most, if not all, of the Common Core standards for Reading Literature.
4. Word Study
To help our students understand the difficult vocabulary that appears in the novels, we have them do a word study for each chapter or section of reading. Students need to find the correct definitions of the words based on how they are used in the book. This is a great skill for student to use because it makes them re-read the text to determine meaning. We also know that based on past observations students often skim over difficult words and do not go back to find the meanings of those words.
Probably the most beneficial part of teaching the novel units for students is having the discussions in guided reading groups. The discussions each day are based off of the previous day’s reading. Students get so excited to share what happened, to infer why characters acted the way they did, and to make predictions as to what is going to happen next. We love to have the students make connections during these discussions as well. This part of teaching novel units is by far our favorite part and our students too.
We would love to hear how you make your novel units successful in your classroom too. Please share your comments.
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