How Novel Study Turned My Students Into Readers


I discovered The Giver by Lois Lowry at my school library when I was in fifth grade and fell in love. My first year teaching, I made it a point to read it to my class. One of the things I discovered when I was reading The Giver to my class the first year was that there were so many great themes, characters, conflicts, and opportunities to infer. What does that mean in the classroom? It means that we can provide students with an interesting book, teach them reading stamina, and get multiple hits on 80%+ of the grade level standards for Literature. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think anthology textbooks are useful in the classroom. I also think that mentor text is a beautiful way to model a tricky standard. However, when my students apply what they’ve learned, I want it to be in the type of literature that will have a longer lasting impact on their brains. Don’t take my word for it though, check out this study published out of Emory University that says Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain. This is one of many studies in support of students reading novels; others say that reading fiction teaches us a lot about society and social skills.

How Novel Study Turned My Students Into Readers

My third year teaching I moved to a school with a much different student population. Before my students began reading novels in class, I would catch them borrowing a book from my classroom library, flipping through it for a few minutes, and then asking for a new book. They would tell me “I read it, can I get another book?” Many of my students did the same with their library books. I would offer them bookmarks, but they just randomly read from whatever page they felt like. To an avid reader like myself, it was like being on another planet.

Instead of reading the novels to them, I knew I had to teach them how to read a real book, cover to cover. I had procedures for partner reading, interesting discussion questions, and even sentence starters for them to use to answer on paper and out loud. The first week I heard more moaning and groaning during reading than I had heard in my entire previous teaching experience. Then we started coming together and talking as a group about what we read. I started to hear students argue about the questions I asked, and even pull out the book, turn the page, and say “See, it says that right here!” The second week there was much less whining. After a couple of months I noticed more students checking out longer chapter books, and reading them cover to cover. Students were making their own bookmarks to keep their page, and telling me about the book they checked out. It was like night and day!

Ever since my third year teaching, I’ve incorporated more and more novels into each school year. Last year we read a total of 36 Mentor Text and 5 Novels. My students have different interests, but I’ve managed to find novels that have so many different topics to discuss that I can keep all of my students engaged. War Horse is one of my favorites for this (my husband made a History power point about all of the weapons used during the war and they were hooked), along with The Giver and Number the Stars.

The Giver

This year we’ll be starting off with The Giver first. It’s usually the last novel we read in fifth grade, but the students I will be teaching this year have higher reading levels. It will be tied in with my interactive reading notebooks and mentor text perfectly!

I always print the vocabulary and discussion questions in student booklets, and my students keep them inside their copy of the book. The nice thing about our school’s copier is that you can click the booklet button and it is sent to the copy machine as a stapled and folded booklet. These take me less than 5 seconds to send to the copier, then I pick up my 30 copies and they’re ready to go! You can download these booklets here.

Here is a list of the 5th grade Common Core standards that can be met using The Giver:

  • 5.RL.1 Quote accurately from a text (I make them do this for EVERY question they answer.) & Inferences (What is release?)
  • 5.RL.2 Determine theme, including how characters in a story respond to challenges (Several questions from the novel guide approach this standard.)
  • 5.RL.3 Compare/Contrast two or more characters, settings, or events
  • 5.RL.4 Figurative Language
  • 5.RL.5 Explain how chapters fit together in a story
  • 5.RL.6 Point of view (Jonas’s point of view greatly influences how we feel about the “utopia” at the beginning of the book compared to how we feel at the end.)
  • 5.RL.9 Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (Dystopia novels are big right now, so this one is easy!)
Have I convinced you yet?
The Giver Anchor Charts
Man do I love anchor charts! Not only did we do several anchor charts last year for the standards we were working on while reading the novel, but we even held a Ceremony of Twelve, where my students were given a job. For the rest of the school year, I heard my students referring to their jobs. I chose jobs based on their interests, and I chose a receiver – a boy with light eyes that is also a bit of a class clown, so he enjoyed the attention.
Click on the photo to see it larger.

Here are the student discussion booklets I use while reading The Giver:

What is a book you’ve read in your class that’s had a positive impact on your students?


16 Responses

  1. What kinds of jobs did you assign them and how did you utilize those jobs within the classroom? Thanks.

    1. Hi Caity,

      I do different jobs every time, but my favorite ones are: speaker, recorder, summarizer, and questioner. Each student has the same responsibilities every day for about a week before we switch. I give them some sort of output I want from each person and each group and some guidelines to go with each job. If you do a search for student group roles in Google, I bet you’ll find a ton more ideas!

  2. Has anyone used The Giver when there are kids who've already seen the movie? Or read the book? I almost always have occasions that I choose a text and there's at least one student who's already read it…I wonder what other teachers do when this happens? I usually still have them read the book and complete the tasks as they are delving more into the text however have them not

  3. My sixth year of teaching my principal wanted me to take a novel based approach to teaching reading. Meaning we always had a class novel unit that was paired with other applicable texts. Similar to what you wrote about my students enjoyed "fake" reading. We started with Rules by Cynthia Lord. My students were less than thrilled because they were thrown off by the front cover. However,

    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I absolutely love Rules by Cynthia Lord for that reason! I picked it up a couple of years ago when it was the Scholastic $1 book and I wish I had ordered several class sets. It's such a great read to teach acceptance and friendship!

    1. Jen,<br /><br />I&#39;ve never had parents complain. I always read the chapter aloud to them where he dreams about the girl, and most of my students connect that the pills get rid of the weird dreams. I&#39;ve read it with my class for 5 years and they all thought the dream was strange, but we never really discussed puberty or anything like that. I remember reading it myself in 5th grade and I

  4. I found that my kids did a lot better after we began reading novels. My kids loved hearing the novels, so I started getting the audiocassettes, too.

  5. There are so many books I want to teach each year! Currently, the best book I teach is The Bread Winner by Whitmore. It is historical fiction set during the Depression. It has a girl main character, which I like. <br /><br />One of the other books I teach that is a big hit with the students is Dying to Meet You by Klise. It is an epistolary novel (told through letters) and has lots of clever word

    1. That&#39;s great to hear Chelsea! It&#39;s nice to connect with other 5th grade teachers. I&#39;m following your blog now. 🙂

Comments are closed.

April Smith

Curriculum Writer and Online Professional Development Coach. 


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