How Novel Study Turned My Students Into Readers - Performing in Education

How Novel Study Turned My Students Into Readers

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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?

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Written by
April Smith