Teaching Novels While Still Enjoying The Book - Teaching Resources and Lesson Plans - Teaching Ideas 4U by Amy Mezni

Teaching Novels While Still Enjoying The Book

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

Welcome back! This is the fifth video in my series on using novels in your classroom. 

In this video, I talk about how you can teach a novel in your classroom and still enjoy reading it!

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Transcription of Video

Hi, this is Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4U. This is day five of teaching with novels.

Today I want to talk to you all about teaching with novels while still enjoying the book. And I would like to start off with an apology to some of my students from long ago when I hadn’t quite ironed out yet what I feel are best practices for using books and I kind of killed them with work instead of focusing more on targeted skills and enjoying the book.

But as we get better we can share our knowledge with other people. And that’s what I’m doing with you today. Because I always prefer to use books. I think kids get into books more versus like snippets of books, which is really what basals are.

I remember as a kid, I used to think, “what?”, because I was a big reader and you would kind of get this basal that would start in the middle of a book and you’d get into the chapter and then that was it.

It didn’t like what you ever know how it resolved. It used to drive me crazy to be honest. So as a teacher, I feel novels really allow kids to get into the book.

They kind of see how the plot progresses and it gives them more of a chance to get engaged with it and take some ownership and want to know what’s going to happen. I think we can get a lot more bang for our buck if we use novels well.

If you have missed the other sessions they are available. I’ve talked about finding time, finding money, ways that you can use novels even if you’re not teaching language arts.

Today I want to focus on what are some things that you can do if you are reading novels so that the kids still enjoy the book and you still can assess what you need to assess and it also helps not kill you with grading too.

That was one thing I’ve learned. I’ve learned you don’t have to grade everything. So let’s go ahead and get started today. Let me pull open our presentation.

Read Novels YOU Like!

Teaching with novels, tips from my class:

1. Use books you enjoy. Especially for a read-aloud, especially for read-aloud. If you don’t like the book, it’s very, very obvious to kids. And honestly if you don’t like it and you’re reading it aloud, it kind of shows and then the kids aren’t that engaged either.

Sometimes it’s hard because you really need to hit genres that maybe aren’t your favorite, but my advice is if you’re reading the book and you just hate that book, try and find another one.

You know, I know Hatchet for example, kids love that book. I can kind of fake my way through Hatchet, but it’s just not my book, just not my book.

I don’t enjoy it, and because I don’t enjoy it, the kids don’t enjoy it, so I’m better off looking for a different book. 

Sometimes you don’t really have a choice if it’s like a district required book or something, but if you can find books that you personally really enjoy, it makes a world of difference.

2. Chunk the book into age-appropriate amounts. There’s a lot of ways for you to kind of think about this. It’s not just age-appropriate amounts, but also the abilities in your class.

It’s hard for us because like what takes me ten minutes to read honestly would take my son two hours. So you have to consider the kid who’s gonna take the longest on this assignment, how long is it going to take them? Is there a way that you can make it more manageable for them?

But sometimes I would just want to sit and read the whole book, but I find readers like myself, we tend to like gobble the books. We don’t tend to really think about the books. Sometimes it’s okay to slow your fast readers down a little bit because they may read well, but it doesn’t mean that they’re really thinking about what they’re reading.

So I find that for myself, like my brother is a big reader too, that man can remember every little detail of everything. Literally, he will ask me things or say something and then look at me like I’m supposed to know what comes next.

And it’s like a Scooby-doo episode from like 40 years ago. And I got nothing. But I find for me it is because I consume things more like potato chips, like gobble, gobble, gobble, gobble. And I don’t really slow myself down to really think about it.

So sometimes you have to think about your age group, the density of the book, how much is going to be enough that you have enough to talk about what’s happening and hit the standards that you need to do.

But it’s not too much for the kids who need a little more time. And you’re not allowing those faster kids to like race ahead and then they haven’t really put any thought into the book.

So my rule of thumb is I try and break at chapters. I try and do if it’s a normal-sized chapter, like two chapters at a time. Some books have really tiny chapters and you can do three or four, but that’s where I’ll go ahead and I’ll kind of break my book up and I’ll try and section it off by so many pages.

I think my goal tends to be usually for upper elementary, like 20 to 40 pages. That isn’t necessarily the kids reading that all themselves. But that’s how I chunk the work.

4. Don’t force kids who don’t want to read aloud to do so.

I mean if you need to hear them as far as fluency, pull them aside, pull kids aside while they’re working on something and have them read to you privately.

There are some kids who either they’re just crushingly shy or they have anxiety or they just don’t want to read. Making them read in front of everybody when they don’t want to, is not going to give you a true picture of what they can really do.

And I also find that some kids don’t like to read. Like I don’t like to read aloud because if I’m reading aloud, I’m really thinking about reading aloud. I’m not really processing what I’m reading. So those kids who really need to process what they’re reading don’t necessarily like to read aloud.

And if you think about that, we’re talking about two different skills here. You’re reading aloud or you’re thinking about what you’re reading. So some kids just aren’t comfortable with it, just have them read privately to you at another time. So that’s my advice on that.

Using AudioBooks/Knowing When To Stop A Novel

4. Use the AudioBook

And another tip, and I talked about this in another session, is to use the audiobook, use the audiobook. There some audiobooks that are absolutely smack dab amazing. My son has a vision processing issue, so we tend to listen to a lot of audiobooks like, um, he likes to read and then listen to it to double-check his reading or we’ll read books in the car because he can process well in an audiobook.

I kind of struggle with audiobooks because I don’t pay attention, but some of the readers are so amazing that you just really want to read it. We read the Hate You Give audiobook and that was amazing.

What was that one that was made into a movie about video games last year? The audiobook was great. A lot of bad language in that book though.

Um, but then we had Lord of The Flies. It was like trying to listen to paint dry. So if you can check the audiobook ahead of time, check the reader. If it’s a great reader, it will completely engage the kids in a different way from you reading and you can just have the book play or you can mix it up, you know, have you read, have the book read.

But using the audiobook also frees you up to go around and help with checking on kids and their comprehension or you know, helping with something else. Or maybe you put one group to listen to the book that they’re reading while you work with another group, but the audiobooks that they can honestly be a game-changer and it can be pretty cheap to get them.

You can even check them out from your library sometimes. But yes, audiobooks. They were absolutely amazing. I do want to go back to another thought I have, especially for the read-alouds.

Don’t be afraid to just say, “Are we not enjoying this book?” and just ditching it. If the book isn’t working, don’t just keep plowing through it because you’ve started it.

I love A Wrinkle In Time, but I tried to use it as a read-aloud one time and it just didn’t work. Like it was horrible. I cannot do all the voices and I couldn’t, it just didn’t, it didn’t flow. The kids didn’t understand what was going on. I had a hard time reading it out loud and I just finally said, “Are we not enjoying this book?” And they were like, “No!”.

So you know what, sometimes you just have to let it go because you know, for me, read-aloud is a big part of my goal is to increase the level of reading.


Let’s talk about a quick overview of assessment. I am going to do a whole session on assessment, but I wanted to talk about how you can assess students on their reading without actually making them hate reading.

And again, I apologize to some of my earlier students because back in the day you went and you got the book novel unit and every single chapter had like 10 questions or more and you gave the kids all those questions.

And it was honestly a lot of work, especially for the kids who need a little more processing time or who read a little more slowly than others and it does not make them enjoy reading.

1. Assess without making reading a chore.

Whenever you’re using a book, whether it’s a social studies or math, enjoying the reading needs to be a part of it or no one will read the book.

So let’s talk about this. You know, again, whenever you’re doing an assessment, try and think to yourself, how much do I need to really understand and assess what I need to know? Do I need the kids to do this much work or can I get what I need from this much work?

Sometimes we’re just trying to practice, practice, practice a skill and there’s times for that. But I’ve seen kids come home, especially like middle school with this giant list of questions and I just think, “Why?” Like why do they need to answer that many questions on one chapter. If we have a 10 page chapter and you’ve got 10 questions. It’s a lot of questions.

2. Focus on your reading goal.

Focus on your reading goal. I talked to in one of the other sessions about when you’re picking a book the first thing you should do is decide what is the goal for that book. Is it some sort of learning goal? Is it a skill? Is it you’re just reading for the love of reading. You want to focus on your assessment on that goal.

If you’re trying to assess their ability to determine theme, focus on theme. They don’t need to do 20 questions on theme every chapter. 

3.Think about comprehension questions.

My friend’s son was in the advanced reading last year and she would tell me, and he’s a good reader, like a very good reader. He would come home with like 15 to 20 questions that he had to give text evidence for. They were like due the next day or like within two days.

I mean these are kids who have all advanced classes and they have a lot of work. It took hours, hours and I just thought my son would never finish that. Never. It would take so long for him to do it.

Not that he can’t read, but it’s very hard for him to scan a book because of his eye problem. I think if we focus our questions on better questions than we wouldn’t need so many.

We have something in our county called Book Bash and when it first started, one of the choices was to be on like a book quiz team and they would come up with the craziest questions like “what color cup did so-and-so use in the book?”

Honest to God, who cares? Like what does that have to do with the book? It doesn’t really teach you anything, but the kid’s got a photographic memory or can memorize a whole lot of junk, you know?

So I would say to you, look at your list of questions, anything that’s a rote memory question, scratch it off. You don’t need it. It doesn’t tell you anything either just me as the kid can look through the book and find it or they have a good memory.

But look at your questions that ask which ones are higher order thinking skills, which ones really show me that they can process the book, apply what they’ve learned or analyze what they’ve done. You know, things like that.

Those are your questions. If you have just a few good questions like that, that you require them to support with text evidence, you don’t need 50 other questions. It is too much for the kids when they’ve got a lot of other homework to do. And the thing is it really doesn’t support your goal.

That that’s what I feel is something we miss. We think, well these are all good things. Well it might be good but is it necessary?

4. Vary the Activities

Again, like for my son it is hard to go back in the book and scan. So maybe you have some questions, you have some vocabulary, you have some discussion where you can pop from group to group and listen to what they’re talking about and assess that they understood whatever you’re looking for through discussion.

Maybe there’s some partner activities where they can work on making the story arc, the plot line or they track how the character has changed or something like that.

Or if you’re looking at social studies and you’re doing ancient Egypt, they can track facts about ancient Egypt or Egyptian culture that they found in the book.

Look for different ways that you can assess student learning of your targeted goals.

5. Ask for Text Evidence

I think especially with all the testing that we have, what we want to know is can they support their evidence.

There’s too many kids who just want to make an argument, not even just kids, adults too, they want to make an argument but they have no support. Well it isn’t so because you say so, but there has to be a reason why you came to that.

And I think as teachers that’s a big responsibility we have to get kids to see that you have to build an argument or if you have an answer for something, there has to be supporting reasons for that. So it’s important that you work that in because this is an expectation. It’s throughout all the classes.

Every teacher that asks for evidence is going to support the other teachers who also need to ask for evidence. If we all work on it, it’s going to get easier.

6. Allow Partner Work on Bigger Assignments

Allow kids to work with the partner for certain things.

Not necessarily for everything, but you’d be amazed sometimes if you have a book long project, what you can get with partners. I’ve had kids who work on developing an interview, like one is the interviewer and one is the character and they interview, they make a fake interview and they’ve recorded it.

You get some amazing work and stuff that if you had them do it by themselves, you might not get as good of work from them. Some kids like to work by themselves all the time, but you know, the real world is that you’re going to have to work with other people sometimes.

So sometimes it’s okay to make kids use a partner. Not all the time, but sometimes. I don’t necessarily let them use partners to answer comprehension questions, but sometimes it’s better to have a partner for some of the longer projects, like the tracking of a character or the tracking of a plot.

Sometimes that it goes so much better if they have a buddy, then the work can be divided. It gets done faster. You can still see that they’re understanding it or if they didn’t understand it, maybe their buddy could help them along with it. Sometimes you get that bonus too.

So I hope that helped you. I hope this gives you some ideas on how you can perhaps use the book without, you know, making kids hate reading. And I, like I said, I look back on some of the things that I did now and I think, oh, I’m so sorry that I did that to my kids.

I find that when you get giant list of comprehension questions, it’s often just too much for the kids. You’re over assessing or your assessing things that you don’t even need to assess. 

We’re going to talk about scoring all of this work too because I used to score every single piece of the novel assessments, but you don’t necessarily have to do that.

We’re going to be talking about that in the last session tomorrow I’m going to be talking about integrating novels into other subjects aside from language arts because there is a place for it. I’ve actually read some articles about teachers using books in classes that you wouldn’t think they’d be reading books in.

I want to talk about how to organize and prepare so that you can have a successful novel study.

Preparation is really key. It can mean the difference between sleeping and not sleeping. It helps a lot. And then the last one again is on assessment.

So we’ve already had a few, they are available on youtube and other locations like my blog if you’d like to go back for the ones who’ve missed.

But otherwise, hopefully you’ll join me tomorrow for integrating novels into any subject. And I am Amy Mezni from TeachingIdeas4U. You can connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, my teachers pay teachers store or my own website www.teachingideas4u.com.

Thanks for coming and I’m glad that you’re here.

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Teaching Novels While Still Enjoying The Book