Selecting Novels for Your Classroom

by | Jul 23, 2019 | Teaching Strategies | 0 comments

This is the second installment in my series about using novels in your classroom. 

Today we are talking about how to select novels for your classroom. 

Don’t want to wait to see all the videos? You have access to the whole series right here!

Transcription of Video

Hi, my name is Amy from TeachingIdeas4U. I am here today to talk to you about selecting novels for your class.

Yesterday I talked with you about why you should use novels and how you might be able to use novels in your classroom. Today I want to talk about how you can find good novels for your classroom.

And how you can set up which books you’re actually going to use. There’s some ways that you can do it. Sometimes you’ll use one and sometimes you’ll use a different way. So it’s going to be a quick day today.

But I thought I would give you a couple of ideas on how to select and find novels for your classroom. First we’re going to talk about is setting the reading goal for your novel unit.

Why Read Novels?

Why are you actually going to read the novel? What is your purpose? It could be that you’re trying to support a specific skill. Maybe you’re working on concentration and reading for longer. Maybe you’re trying to support a social studies standard or a science standard.

Maybe you have a particular reading goal that you’re working on. It’s important to know what skill you’re working on so you can get a book that goes with it.

You might be introducing a new skill.

You might be looking for a reading or writing exemplary to support a lesson that you have on writing or reading or again, social studies or science. You might be looking for a book that ties in a particular topic.

You may be reading to support a school program. I know our school used to have every class in the school read the same book. It may be a book that’s not particularly your choice. But then you need to think about how you can best use that book.

Sometimes you just read to read. Sometimes we need to read the kids just to encourage that love of reading and to show them that there are things that they can just read for fun.

Not every book should be something that we cross analyze and pick apart because then it makes reading a chore. It doesn’t make kids associate reading with something you just do because you like to do it.

Where can you find books? You’ve set your goal, maybe you’re looking for a skill or a particular topic. But you don’t know what book to look for. Sometimes you can look on the Internet, but there are times when that isn’t helpful. 

My first choice is always to look for a librarian. You’d be amazed at what librarians can help you figure out. They are a wealth of knowledge. I also ask other teachers, and there are two ways you can find teachers.

You can find teachers at your school or maybe a previous school that you worked at and you still talk to the teachers. But honestly, with social media, I find so many book recommendations.

Instagram can be a great place to connect with teachers from all over that are in your grade or even not in your grade. Some teachers just like to read. There are a lot of people talking about books for kids on Instagram.

I think Twitter too, but I have to be honest, Twitter isn’t my place. I’m not exactly sure about that, but I think that’s another place I’ve heard people find out about books.

You are a great resource too! I like to constantly go through the kid section in the library and look at the new books. Florida puts out a Sunshine State book list every year for grades three to five and for grades six to eight. Those are nominated by librarians, I believe. I don’t think teachers get to nominate.

So these are books that have been nominated by people who work a lot with books. I will look through those lists and pull books off of there. But I try and do a lot of reading and keep up with new books so that when I’m looking for a book, something might come to mind.

Again, you know, we only have so much time, so don’t forget to ask other teachers, ask librarians. I mean those are really good places to get suggestions if you need one.

How To Choose Novels

Picking books! Let’s say you’ve gone and you’ve gotten your suggestions, you have a few ideas and you’re not really sure which one that you want to use. Or maybe you want to make book groups and have different groups read different books. 

There are a few options. The first one, teacher choice. You have a book that you want to read, you know it’s engaging for kids. So even though they don’t think they’re going to like it, you know they will like it.

Um, that for me was Sammy Keys and the Hotel Thief in 5th grade, kids love that book. They love the series. But a lot of kids are like, oh, I don’t want to read it. I don’t think I ever had a kid who didn’t like that book. It’s funny, she’s engaging. The audiobook is amazing. The lady who reads is so funny.

Kids love that book and they don’t want to stop. So again, sometimes you just pick the book. Sometimes you just know what book you want to use and you run with it. The second is student choice. Sometimes you can let students have a choice. I mean I have had students who said to me, can I suggest this as a book?

So sometimes I’ll let kids, you know, make suggestions for read-aloud or even class novels. Like if I would focus on genres to try and introduce kids to different genres.

So if we are reading fantasy novels and kids had a good fantasy book they liked, I’d let them suggest it. That’s another place you can let students help choose, just make sure to use what books are available.

Honest to God, sometimes you can only get so many books and if you want to have a group and there are eight kids who are going to read that book, maybe you need to pick just from the books that you have.

I mean books can be very, very expensive and it’s nice when teachers can slowly build up a set of books. Sometimes you just have to use what’s available and try and pick the best from that.

Now how can you increase student buy-in on your choice?

Maybe you’ve chosen or you’ve given some students choice, but how can you increase their desire to work with you on the book? One: try and pick books that you actually think will connect with your class. I think we can get into the habit of always reading the same book because we liked and last year’s class liked it.

Sometimes you have a group of kids who just don’t like those books. I know my co-teacher told me, “I finally figured out my kids really hate mysteries”. They just don’t like to read them and cause she was trying to use mysteries and they just wouldn’t engage.

She switched to something else and they got into the book. So sometimes we have to kind of ask ourselves if the book isn’t working could it just be that it doesn’t connect with the kids?

Maybe we need to pick something fresh. Two: Student’s suggestions. Again, I find that kids are pretty receptive to a new book if their friends suggested it or they know somebody who liked it. They are just like us. I know people on my Facebook are like, “I’m looking for a book to read who has suggestions”. I know I might go out on a limb and pick a book that I don’t usually read if I know my friend liked it.

It’s the same thing for kids. Three: A student vote, especially with read-aloud. I had certain read-alouds that I chose every year, like my nonfiction ones. I always tried to work in a nonfiction read aloud. But I would usually let kids have a vote.

Teaching Novels In Every Subject

So again, I would do that for the read-aloud where I might have read some of those Sunshine State books and maybe I had some kids who had some suggestions and we let kids give a short one minute summary of why they liked the book.

And I just set the class vote. I would let the kids vote on five or six books and we’d narrow it down to like the top three and then we’d vote again and pick from there.

Even for my nonfiction books, I had a few go-to books that I knew kids really liked. Sometimes I skimmed sections of it rather than reading every single word.

But I would just give the kids  three books and say, “let’s vote on which one the class is more interested in”. That often will help increase the buy-in because it’s kind of funny how oftentimes there’s a strong lean toward one or two books.

And so then you’re picking the books that hit more of the interest and it helps the engagement. So I hope that helped you.

And I hope that gave you some ideas, especially if you’re looking for ways to increase student engagement. Don’t feel bad if you’re picking a book to use because you know it fits your needs and it’s because the school already owns it.

We as teachers don’t have to buy all new stuff constantly for our kids. The teacher salary can only spread so far. So sometimes you make due with what you’ve got, but try and come up with a lot of choices that you have so that you have stuff to fall back on.

If every year you know that you have certain units that you have to hit, like if you’re a social studies teacher trying to incorporate books, maybe you come up with a few titles for ancient Greece, maybe you come up with a few titles for a revolution, and then you can easily pick from there the next year.

So keep a list. Maybe you keep it on your Google Drive or you keep it somewhere on your phone. Like a go to list. And I will say if you are in a subject area and you are trying to get book suggestions, I have found that Facebook groups that are targeted to whatever you’re teaching are a wonderful place to get suggestions.

I’m in a middle school social studies group and a high school social studies group and the teachers are always asking like, “Hey, who has a great book for WWII?” and people will give all kinds of suggestions.

If you use Facebook but you haven’t joined some sort of group that connects to what you teach, I make a suggestion that you go do that.

And there’s just a wealth of knowledge on some of those groups.

My name is Amy and I’m from TeachingIdeas4U and you can find me on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube. You can connect with me in my TPT store and at my own website, I thank you for joining me tomorrow I will be talking about finding time to read novels in your classroom.

So I hope to see you again. Thanks for coming.

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Selecting Novels For Your Classroom