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How to use Novel Studies to Teach about Literature and Life

In a world desperate to rebuild a love of reading, teachers are nearly our only hope. It is obvious that the majority of students don’t go home from school and pick up a book to read for fun. In fact, the vast majority of them don’t even own books at home past the age of 7, and the odds of them visiting a library are slim.

So what are they doing with all of their free time? Homework, duh.

Are you sensing my sarcasm? Students’ evenings are full for sure…full of technology. So while they may be reading texts, snaps, comments, and captions on the latest tik tok dance video, they are not engaging in the type of deep reading that we, as educators, desire for them.

So what do we do? How do we help technology-crazed students see the value of reading and feel the deep enjoyment that a book can offer? Two words.

Build the Love of Reading with Novel Studies

Novel. Studies.

And great news, educators! You can save the youth of the world all while helping them master nearly every Reading Literature Standard (and even Informational Text and Writing Standards too).

With so many teaching directions available with novel studies, it might be difficult to narrow down and focus. I begin by choosing the novel and begin building my unit from there. Most often, my novel choice stems from the needs of my students or the issues I observe in my classroom.

Are they making wise choices? Are they accepting of others? Are they being kind? Are they looking for purpose? Their needs (or what I deem are their needs) heavily influence my novel choice. So yes, I teach them standards, but I also teach them about life.

6 FANTASTIC Novels for Novel Studies

This list of novels will activate your students' brains and spark awesome conversation about life (and of course, about Literature).

Tiger Rising Novel Study Unit

1. The Tiger Rising

Students instantly connect with 12 year old Rob Horton’s life struggles. Rob experiences grief, loss, a huge move, bullying, adn issues with friends. While not all of your students have experienced loss, big moves, school changes, and struggles with friends and bullying, like Rob, many have. The Tiger Rising is packed with familiar themes and subjects that are sure to captivate your class.

Subjects: Friendship, Relationships, Grief, Family, Emotions, Abuse, Empathy

Number the Stars Novel Study Unit

2. Number the Stars

This historical fiction piece teaches students about a life vastly different than their own, but they will connect with 10 year old Annemarie Johansen and her struggles with bravery and friendship amidst World War II. Students will find it difficult to put this book down during Annemarie’s journey to save her Jewish friends from concentration camps.

Subjects: War, Friendship, Bravery, Loyalty, Courage, Empathy, Fear

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing Novel

3. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Students will find it very easy to connect to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and its 9 year old narrator as he struggles with a difficult younger brother and the parents who supposedly worship him.

Subjects: Sibling Rivalry, Family, Love

Old Yeller Novel Study

4. Old Yeller

Trigger Warning! If you love dogs and cry easily, you may want to pass on this Historical Fiction novel. 14 year old Travis Coates bonds with a stray dog, and they team up to protect his family and home, but beware, the ending may break your heart.

Subjects: Courage, Grief, Responsibility, Family

Bunnicula Novel Study

5. Bunnicula

Full disclosure: I actually don’t love this novel, but my students LOVE it.

Bunnicula follows the Monroe family including Chester the cat, and Harold the dog. Harold and Chester are the main characters, and their friendship is tested when their human family brings home a strange bunny. Chester notices that the bunny’s fur pattern resembles a vampire’s cape, he slept odd hours, and appeared to have fangs. Is he a vampire?

Subjects: Friendship, Kindness, Acceptance, Belonging

Wonder Novel Study

6. Wonder

If your students struggle with showing empathy or accepting differences, this is your choice, but be aware, this novel is lengthy. “Auggie” Pullman, a 10-year-old boy, suffers from a genetic condition called Mandibulofacial Dystosis that left his face misshapen. He feels like a normal kid on the inside and wishes others would get to know him for who he is. Initially, Auggie is homeschooled until he transitions to Beecher Prep Middle School where he faces bullying and discrimination because of his appearance, as well as the routine trials of growing up.

Wonder is also a movie, so if you’re looking to master RL.4.7, here you go!

Subjects: Empathy, Understanding, Belonging, Disabilities, Life Struggles, Family, Support, Friendship, Kindness

Check out the Blog: Build the Love of Reading with Engaging Novel Study Activities (Coming Soon)



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