Teachers love novel studies. Students LOVE novel studies. However, novel studies can be a struggle for several reasons.
As a teacher, I want to talk about EVERY. SINGLE. THING. That’s obviously not always the best option. Because, well, the novel study would take 2ish years.
Still, I wanted my students to dig into the richness of a novel. The character development, plot line, inferences to be made. The flashbacks, the foreshadowing, the connections. OH my! Too good!
So, I figured out a way for my students to close read and analyze key points of a novel, and not just any novel, but for all novels.
What’s hard for students to recognize is how the events in the plot line connect with one another. The best way to watch these events unfold is in a novel.
So many elements of the exposition relate to the conflict, the character development, the reactions and motivations the characters demonstrate, as well as to the theme and the resolution. It’s easy to miss these connections in most novel studies.
The design of this particular novel study makes it easy for students to see the progression of that “Plot Roller Coaster” or “Plot Mountain” they’ve been drawing since 1st grade. The tabs in the novel visually connect to the unfolding of the plot line. One of my students LITERALLY shouted, “THAT is so cool!” They love the tabs and to see the plot unfolding and connecting just by looking at the tabs makes they feel like they are truly analyzing and close reading.
With this novel study, my students were able to make deep, meaningful connections to critical parts of the novel that changed the direction of the plot line, or that opened the eyes of the reader’s understanding of a particular character’s perspective or lesson learned.
There are two things that I LOVE about this novel study: you can use it with any novel, and you can use in a variety of different ways with your students. Here are some ways that my students used the novel study in my classroom with the books A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park and Wonder by RJ Palacio.
This novel study’s flexibility allows for an interactive and rigorous whole group graphic organizer. Because the students were focused on a particular set of paragraphs in the text, as a class, we were able to dig deeper into a paragraph (or two or three) and really study a character, the setting, mood and tone of the section, and the perspectives of the character. The graphic organizers were perfect for launching student discussion, making deep connections, and understanding how perspectives are formed based on the experiences of the characters prior to this section.
The collaborative aspect of meaningful, deep conversations that are guided by the graphic organizers in a small group are amazing. It’s based on the student’s analysis of a particular section of the text, but also leads the students to foreshadow, flashback, and make connections throughout the text that are focused on rigorous ELA standards and skills. Also, the students are able to learn from each other, by sharing their thinking and their perspectives in the small group setting. It’s amazing to see their “brains on the paper” as they work together and share their own thoughts and opinions and conclusions.
Often time, when you assign nightly reading from a novel, it’s hard to decipher if the students really read and gained the information you wanted them to get from the text. However, what I’ve found with the assigned reading and then providing them with these analysis graphic organizers, the students are definitely focusing in more on the skill or aspect of the text I want them to focus in on.
Parents are even noticing the students’ focus on their reading when using these as their close reading guides:
“My kiddo showed me this in his book today! Love the color, book-mark style, AND the focus on text details!”
– Alison, a parent of a student in my class
Since my students are required to read a portion before coming to class, this novel study is perfect for Socratic Seminars. The fact that students can use these novel study guides and the graphic organizers included to formulate new thinking or a deeper understanding, lends perfectly to whole group, student-led conversations based on one particular section of text. For example, in Wonder, the chapter “A Tour of the Galaxy” in Part 2, the students were required to close read the first three paragraphs. The questions and conversations that came up during student led discussion were amazing:
- “Via definitely feels alone. She’s just floating around the sun – Auggie. I’ve felt this way before because of my sibling…”
- “This is crazy how alone Via feels. And she’s the OLDER sister! She definitely feels like she has to be the protector because she’s older. But I’m glad she has Gran.”
- “I think it’s crazy the analogy Via uses. It shows her true perspective of Auggie, even though she really loves him. She just knows what she ‘has to do’ to survive in Auggie’s world.”
When working in small group, or even whole group, it’s easy to quickly observe the skill the students are struggling with, or they are mastering. This helped me determine small groups for reteaching as well as skills I needed to refocus on for mini-lessons.
Rigorous, Deep Thinking:
Oftentimes, novel studies present “right there”, basic comprehension question. With all the juicy goodness in a novel, why just ask surface level questions? (Also – let’s be real – we also know that this is not what the students need as we prep for state testing or benchmark assessments.)
The questions on the study guides require text-based evidence to support ALL of their analysis and answers. The students are guided to answer the “Why?” and “How?” and “I know this because…” when focusing on:
- Character Perspective
- Mood and Tone of the text
- Character Traits and Motivation
- Author’s Purpose
- As well as: exposition, rising action, falling action, & climax
For example, in both A Long Walk to Water and Wonder, students are able to recognize how a character’s physical traits can affect their personality and motivations. They were able to recognize the actions and reactions of the main characters affect supporting characters. They were able to determine the author’s purpose of including certain details and how the details affect the resolution. The students were able to digest and break down the climax of the story and how the main character truly was affected and changed.
What are some of your favorite novel studies to do with your kiddos?