Tips for Choosing a Novel to Study

About Daisy Filler

Mrs. Filler, or Savage Fill to her students, has been teaching high school English for a decade. In addition to the standard core English class, she has taught inclusion, honors, accelerated honors, and AP Language and Composition. Sometimes, she teaches creative writing and reading intervention. Her love of teaching comes second to her love of family.

Teaching literature can be rewarding. Sadly, it’s an activity that can fall by the wayside as teachers weigh other standards, but it need not to for the sake of our society.  Already very few students in their early teens read daily as cited by Nancie Atwell. While we cannot ensure that our students read every night for the rest of their lives, we teachers can at least consistently encourage reading each year with the novel study. But what novel (or novels) does one use? New teachers or teachers wanting to try something new for a whole-class novel study might find the following tips useful.

Know what other teachers in your district use

Before setting your heart on any novel, know what teachers in the surrounding grades use. For instance, I need to know what the 7th-9th grade and 11th-12th grade teachers use since I teach 10th. I do not want to repeat what has already been taught, nor do I want to steal my colleagues’ thunder in the upper levels. Some teachers may argue that exposing students to a novel more than once can benefit students; however, I would challenge their reasoning. Are they fighting for a particular novel on behalf of their students or themselves? Furthermore, there is a broad selection of literature out there, and our students should not be limited to fewer studies than possible.

Check to see what is available

Check your department’s and school library’s class set of books. If the selection is slim to none, you could inquire as to whether your department or library has a budget set aside for books. Or, you might have access to a class set of iPads, Kindles, or other electronic devices. In some cases other teachers may  ask for donations in order to acquire more novels.

Select material that motivates you

Getting students motivated is easier when you are motivated. Considering how much energy and planning is needed to create (or in some cases, find) a decent novel study, you do not want to waste time on something lukewarm. Definitely avoid material that you despise, too. If you don’t feel it, don’t teach it.

Pick a book that fits into your curriculum

In addition to choosing books that you like, temper your decision with books that fit into your curriculum. This could be based on theme, topic, or genre. For example, students studying Elie Wiesel’s speeches could read a novel about World War II (this includes but is not limited to Wiesel’s Night) or any novel that depicts the main character surviving a horrific event; it does not have to take place in the same time period.

If possible, choose both a classic and a modern novel

Well-reasoned debates exist for both classic and modern novels. I dare opine that both deserve to be taught. Teachers could lead students into classic literature by first using modern literature, like Walter Dean Myer’s Scorpions to lead into Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or vice versa. Should you find yourself only able to teach one novel, though, then decide based on your class makeup. Students who struggle to read might be too frustrated to read classics, so I’d use a modern novel instead. (Alternatively, you could find an abridged version or film version of a classic novel.) Honors students should read classics. Regardless of my class make up, though, I would push to use both types of novels. I would not want to shortchange the students who struggle, and at the same time, I would not want to ignore the value of modern literature. Hopefully you are able to use both, too.

 

Now tell us some novels you use in your classroom!

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About the Author:

Mrs. Filler, or Savage Fill to her students, has been teaching high school English for a decade. In addition to the standard core English class, she has taught inclusion, honors, accelerated honors, and AP Language and Composition. Sometimes, she teaches creative writing and reading intervention. Her love of teaching comes second to her love of family.

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