Organizing Novel Studies

by | Jul 25, 2019 | Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

Hello and welcome back!

Today is the seventh installment in my video series about using novels in the classroom. 

In this video I am discussing how to organize your novel studies. 

You can watch all the videos in this series by clicking here!

Watch the video below now! 

Transcription of Video

Hi, I’m Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4u and I am here to talk to you about how to organize your novel studies so that you can also enjoy the book while you’re reading it with your kids.

I have used novel studies since I started teaching. I now homeschool and I’ve still done novel studies with my son, but my mentor teacher used novels, that, education goes in phases where they’ll go from reading whole books to reading basals to whole books and it goes back and forth.

But I saw back then what a good book can do for kids. Over the years I’ve kind of refined what I feel you need to do with the novel study and how much work the kids need to do. So I think I’ve definitely gotten better at reading books with students and so allowing them to read the book even while we’re assessing certain things.

So I wanted to share with you some tips and tricks on, you know, what you can do to make the novel study enjoyable for you as well. So let me go ahead and get our presentation going.

Okay, so we’re going to talk about how to you start, because I think there’s some key things, and I don’t necessarily know that I did these when I first started, but now I realize that it’s, it’s the beginning things that make the big difference in the end.

Okay. One, don’t teach a book you haven’t read, like, just don’t, you never know. You can be very surprised. There are some books that have one little line in it that will like get you every parent calling, you know, and you’ll just have a headache.

Just preread the book. That way you know what to expect. You tell, you can tell what skills you can teach easily through the book. It gives you a feel for what the book is about and you can kind of tell the kids, especially if you’re giving kids choices as on what they’re reading.

If you haven’t read the book, you’re going off the back of the book. It’s not always safe to do that. Definitely, definitely pre-read the book.

Steps To Organizing Your Novel Studies

Second, you want to decide how you’re going to organize the novel study. Meaning do you want to do a whole class novel or do you want to do book groups?

And I will say honestly, you know, for a long time we always use whole class novels. Book groups are now more of the thing that people do book. I find personally for myself, book groups are a little more challenging but they can be done if you organize them well. And the trick is to really always make sure everybody knows what they’re supposed to be doing and model, model, model, model for rules.

But you want to know what your goal is for the book. Is this a whole class book or are you doing book groups? Because that may how you’re going to organize your books. The other thing, honestly, make sure you can get your hands on enough copies of the book before you set up a whole plan and then find out they’re not available.

I am not a believer that teachers should always have to buy giant gobs of books. It’s very expensive, especially when you have to buy the new, I like to pick up things at yard sales, thrift stores, but I’ve even noticed in those places, books have gotten a lot more expensive.

I mean, 10 years ago I’d pick up books at yard sales for 10 cents. I had been to yard sales where they want four or five bucks for a book so it can get very pricey.

My advice is decide if you are using books that you already have decide what your budget is and make sure you can get the books before you set your heart on the novel study. Look at your libraries. If you want to borrow the books, you don’t always have to buy the books, but you do need enough books.

So just make sure that you can get your hands on the books that you need. The next step, and this is also important, determine how you’re going to assign the books to students and how you’re going to keep track of who’s got what book.

Especially, especially if you’re borrowing the books from the libraries or some other place, you need to know undeniably who had that book. If you teach multiple sections of a class and each class is going to be sharing books, you really have to be on top of it so that Johnny in period one can’t say that he turned in the book, but period two says the book isn’t there.

I mean you really just, this is important planning wise for how you’re going to do it. It’s something you really should think through. What’s going to be practical for you in making sure that you have books.

One piece of advice I have is get a few extra so that kids who need to take a book home, especially if you’re sharing books, if you only are the self contained teacher and you have 30 kids and 30 books, you know who’s got what book.

But if you’re teaching multiple sections of a class and one kid needs to take a book home to catch up because they were absent or sick, it’s easier to have a book they can check out than the book that you need them to keep.

So that’s just food for thought.

My next step is you have to look at how much time you have for the book and think about how much time that’s going to give you to read the book and do activities. Because I think what we tend to do as teachers, at least I tend to do is way over plan and then what do you do?

Well you didn’t get it done. So you send it all home as homework. Sometimes I think we really underestimate how much time these reading comprehension questions take.

Especially if you are requiring text evidence. I mean my friend’s son is you know, very high academically, very self motivated and I know last year he was coming home with like 20 questions, 10 to 20 questions per like every chapter or every two chapters and he’d have like two nights to answer them. And all of them required text evidence.

Now my friend’s a teacher too and she said, oh, I really taught him a lot. But literally he was up for hours doing that hours.

Now my son, he can read and he’s a good reader, but he’s very slow cause he has a vision processing issue. He would’ve never finished like never. So I thought to myself, if my friend’s son took hours and had to skip swim practice to get this done, we literally would never finish at our house.

Never. Not because we didn’t want to, but because it would literally be physically impossible. So I think this is where you have to consider, you have this much time.

The book is this long. You can reasonably read this much a day. What is a reasonable amount for assessment? And so that’s why I say create that pace chart because otherwise you do run into these problems where you have parents say, my kid cannot do 20 questions in two nights when they have math and science and social studies and other homework to do.

You know, I think it’s just important to kind of planning enough and if you want to you can over plan and then skip some things if you need to. But don’t try and cram like a 300 page book into a week and then be surprised you don’t get it done.

You know, you have to think about how are you going to mainly discuss the book and not really have a lot of written work. If you want to have written work or projects going on that go throughout the book, he needs to make sure there’s enough time.

So if you realistically can look at your schedule and say I have three weeks, like you can pace out a reasonable number of pages a day and then think how much time are you going to have left?

And I always always try and pad in to have like an extra day or two that are catch up days cause invariably I’d never get done on the time that I think I’m going to get done.

Prepare Early

Another thing, and this isn’t necessarily a must do, but it definitely allows you to sleep a lot more is if you are writing your own novel unit and you are coming up with your own questions, your own activities, try and prepare it early.

Like prepare it over the summer, do it some other time by one because I had books that I absolutely loved and made my own and I would come home, literally put my kids to bed and be up for like two hours trying to make the worksheet for the next day or something.

So it can really help you just to do this at a time where you have a few days to sit down, plan your questions, plan your activity. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fancy, you know, if you’re going to do a journal question today, just type up your journal questions.

So if you have two or three projects that you want kids to do, like tracking the major events or tracking character development, then just type that up quick.

But having it done ahead of time makes your life a lot easier. Some ideas for activities. Not only are you going to have a focus skill cause you’ve decided that at the beginning before you picked your book, think about the skills you’ve already learned or they should know from last year that you can spiral.

So you might be focused on character development. So maybe every chapter you have a question on character development but then you go back to last year when they learn theme or last semester when they learned plot and you ask questions.

So I’m just saying think about skills. Focus on those targeted skills. They don’t need 20 questions for a 10 page reading assignment. Come up with four or five. Decide which one of those you want a grade. You don’t necessarily have to grade all of them, you know, just stay focused, use your hots.

I always like to print off a higher order thinking skills chart and I purposely try and pick questions or develop questions so that they don’t all hit the same hots level.

They don’t all have to be the highest, the higher thinking level, but they shouldn’t all be down at the bottom where you’re just saying like what color is so and so’s hair.

Like they should have to be things sometimes that they have to analyze the text. So the hot questions help a lot. I know when they’ve done studies they have found that a big part of the problem in classrooms is that kids are answering too many lower order thinking skills and they aren’t asked enough higher order thinking skill questions.

And it’s those higher order thinking schools questions that prepare your kids for the standardized tests that they have to take. And so just by integrating those and making sure you’re hitting them, you’re really preparing them for critical thinking.

Critical thinking is what helps kids do well on tests, not cramming for the test the week before the test. So if you don’t have a chart of the higher order thinking skills, you can Google it. It’ll come right up. Find one that you like. I always keep it in my planner.

The other thing I like to do is I like the vary it up because I know I will say I have one child who was a good reader. You know, once she started reading she went straight from like, you know Bob Books to chapter books.

How To Help Your Students Read

My son on the other hand, we went through years and years of screaming about reading and I mean screaming like I didn’t, I really didn’t think that was true. You know, you see some of this stuff in the movies or parents tell you and you think really like it can’t be, but I am here to tell you that yes, yes.

Kids will actually scream for three or four hours instead of reading for five minutes. And so after third grade we finally figured out that he had a vision processing issue and he was scream about reading because he literally couldn’t focus on the words his, his eyes don’t track and they would bounce around the page and he would just never know what you were talking about cause he couldn’t find it.

So answering comprehension questions for a kid like that or a kid who’s dyslexic can be awfully hard. I mean we always tell kids, oh look back in the texts in the texts in the text, I told kids that for years, for years, I’m like, it’s in the text.

Why didn’t you look for it? And our vision therapist actually told me that my son would never be able to do that very easily. I mean he can hardly read it going forward. He really isn’t going to find it skimming backward to look for it.

So you know, having my son really chased the way I thought about some of my reading activities and what I needed to really get a good picture of. Do they really understand what they’re reading?

So sometimes you know, having a discussion on a longer activity, like one thing I like to do is have them track character development.

How did this event affect the character? How did the character change from the beginning of the book to the end of the book? What caused those changes?

These are things that you can have kids track somewhere. Like, if you keep a reading journal, you can have a section two or three pages where all they do after every chunk that you read that might work with a partner.

But they talk about what did they learn about the character in this chapter? Did the character changed all? What did they notice about the character?

So that is something where they might have to look back in the book, but a kid who can remember details cause they’re good at listening auditorily, they can also write down details as well.

I’ve really changed up from just comprehension questions like, and killing kids with comprehension questions to targeting to fewer questions that are focused on the skills I’m trying to teach and assess and make sure they understand.

And then having one or two longer activities so that kids can kind of get the big picture of the book and I can see that they get the big picture of the book. The other thing I do is we’ll cap vocab vocab.

So that is something to consider. Um, if you’re doing a novel study, I would rather have a list of vocab this way than a list of spelling or I would use spelling as vocab.

It can get kind of confusing for kids to learn. A list of spelling words and a list of vocab words and, and, and uh, and that’s just something else to how many lists you’ve got going in your classroom and um, how many might be manageable for kids.

So just something to consider there too. Final assessments, I’m going to talk all about assessment tomorrow. I’m going to get more into some of this information, but I did want to hit organizing a final assessment.

You need to decide one, if you even want a final assessment in my novel units that I make and I sell, I don’t include a final test, like a comprehension test because honestly, if I’ve been asking comprehension questions throughout the book for me to give that to kids and just regurgitate comprehension questions, I’ve already checked them on that.

Assessing Novel Studies

So if I give a final test, I might give a final vocabulary test. I might ask them to put major events in order, stuff like that. But I’m not just regurgitating comprehension questions.

Again. I prefer to do some sort of final project that I can see the kids understood the book. So let me give you some examples.

I like to have multiple choices, you know, multiple assessments, multiple choices. Like I said, a vocabulary assessment, maybe a short response essay like where they have to write something about the book and then some sort of final project.

So the other thing I like to do is offer choices for the final project. But there’s different ways you can offer choice. You don’t always have to have different projects to have choices.

So may explain, you might give them the choice of working by themselves or working with a partner that’s still a choice. You know, student choice doesn’t always have to be different projects.

It depends on what you have time for. Um, but just consider other ways that you can offer choice. Um, other than having different projects. Like if you’re offering a project, maybe you can offer them to do a digitally or by hand.

You know, that’s another way to offer choice. But I, I do sometimes give them project options because sometimes it’s nice to have options that focus on different skillsets. Some kids love to draw. I had kids in fifth grade that, honest to God, they could hardly draw stick figures and they couldn’t cut to save their lives.

You know, a lot of these fine motor skills are not getting practice anymore because we’re testing, testing, testing. So there you’ve got those RC kids who love it and then every other kid groans.

So I had, from my Paddington unit, I have an interview with the character where they actually did record their interviews, but one kid was Paddington and answered as Paddington and the other was the interviewer. And they had to write the interview.

They had to think like Paddington and how he would answer questions. And those projects absolutely blew me away. And the ones that were best were from the kids that you would never think would give you the best work.

But it’s because they got to choose their partner. They got to choose kind of what they asked. They had a lot of choice within their how if they wanted to dress up, they didn’t want to dress up.

But you, if you can offer ways to let different strengths come out, you will be blown away with what the kids come up with. So I hope I gave you some ideas on ways to make your, your novel studies easier.

A lot of it really is just pre planning and being able to roll with the punches. You might plan for an assessment that you, or an activity that you just don’t have time for and you just cut it.

Sometimes you just have to say, you know what, we don’t have time. As long as you’re hitting the standards you need to hit and you stay focused on the standard goals that you set at the beginning of the unit, then roll with it.

You don’t have to do an over abundance of things to know if the kids understood the book or not. That’s my philosophy, especially having gone through a super reader and a struggling reader.

I really understood much better what a lot of parents tried to tell me when they send their kids for really struggling to juggle a book writing class and a book read at home. And it’s, it’s true.

Some kids really do struggle with that. And I think that we as teachers notice, have to be a little more conscious of that, that even if they’re a higher level kid, that doesn’t mean that reading is necessarily their strength.

So these are things to keep in mind and also don’t kill yourself. You know, honestly, if you’re asking kids every other day 10 questions and you’re trying to grade all those.

So a lot of grading and a lot of it honestly is just unnecessary. So I hope you come back to see me tomorrow when I’m gonna talk to you all about assessment and how to grade, what really needs to be graded and how to, you know, score things in class in different ways that even the kids can score.

And it’s actually more meaningful than you just grading everything. So again, I’m Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4u and I’m glad to have you here today. I hope you’ll reach out and connect with me on Facebook, on Instagram, Youtube, my teachers pay teachers store, and even my own blog at

Glad that you were here and I hope to see you again. Thanks for coming.

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Organizing Novel Studies