“Novel Time” is what I call the time of day when the teacher reads to the students. I have used this throughout my career and, in every one of my classrooms, it became the favourite part of the day.
Novel Time is an excellent activity to strengthen students’ vocabulary, aural skills, and subject comprehension. It requires very little preparatory time and can be an effective remedy to a negatively-charged day. Even if your class includes students from different grades, every student learns something. A younger student may not get as much from the text as an older student does, but the older students model the excitement that can come from a novel. An added bonus is that it is a flexible activity that can be used to fill spare time during the day or help to refocus a class.
Here are 8 strategies that make Novel Time work and the lessons I learned along the way:
1. Schedule Novel Time Regularly
I schedule about 30 minutes a day for Novel Time. Early in my career, I tried to do this in smaller blocks of time and discovered students were not as engaged as when I scheduled regular, large blocks of time. So, I developed novel time into a set period everyday and, with that structure in place, we make the most out of Novel Time.
2. Social Science or Language? Social Science and Language!
Novel Time can be counted towards Social Science or Language instruction. Typically, I find a novel that fits a Social Science topic that is being covered or will be covered in the next month. For example, choosing a pioneer novel while studying colonialism allows students to live that experience.
When I read the book Slave of the Haida to my students, they lived the experience of Kim-ta the slave. The novel engaged my students and they learned and remembered more about the traditions, way of life, and values of the Haida people than any textbook could have taught them. This was a great alternative to spending three months with a textbook and potentially overwhelming my students.
3. Choose a “Good” Novel
I choose the books we read three ways:
- I choose novels that fit the curriculum a month down the road: By choosing a novel that fits the theme of an upcoming subject, students have the opportunity to “live” the experience and come to the unit with more background knowledge.
- I choose from novels that I am familiar with: I choose a novel that I have read in the past and know the students will enjoy. Students like serious novels as much as they do funny ones. Varying the type of novel that you read is important. When I have spent too long in the same genre, students are less engaged.
- …but I am open to new books and suggestions: Students aren’t the only ones who can learn from a good novel. For my entire career, my classes and I had done numerous exercises and lessons on Terry Fox, but it wasn’t until I read the novel Run by Eric Walter that I gained a greater understanding of the day-to-day life of Terry Fox.
4. You Read to the Class
It may be tempting to use Novel Time as an opportunity to get students to do oral reading practice to the group. I found that this did not work for three reasons:
- New vocabulary and content can be difficult: As a teacher, I am able to adapt words that are more difficult to students’ levels. Younger readers often do not have that skill.
- You surrender your ability to keep the group engaged: As the reader, you control how the story is being read. If a student is reading a new story, they will probably be more focused on reading and pronouncing the words than on giving a lot of thought to keeping their audience’s attention. Sometimes I have acted out parts of the story through changing the volume, tone, and pitch of my voice. I have scared more than one student with a sudden well-placed exclamation, and that keeps the students interested in the plot.
- Students don’t all read at the same level: Some students can read very well, but others at the same age and grade level struggle. Reading to the group can cause stress to the reader – and frustrate listeners.
5. Keep a Record of the Novels You’ve Read
Eighteen years ago, I began keeping a record of the novels we read in class. Novels offer great opportunities for writing assignments. Because students have come to know the characters and the setting, writing what would happen next or writing to change the novel are less daunting. Over the years, we can look back at the pictures or stories that classmates have written about the novel.
6. Extend Activities Past Novel Time
Because students know the characters, setting, and other features of the story, take the time to have students do some work from a familiar novel.
Here are some activities that I have used in the past:
Quizzes can be found in exercise booklets or printed from the internet.
Bring printed pictures from the story or settings in the story. Encourage students to explain why elements from the picture are important to the story.
Build or use character profiles. This forces students to think about the individual characters in the novel. I usually choose the main four or five characters and randomly ask students to answer questions about one of them.
7. Regularly Test Students’ Listening Ability
While I’m reading, I occasionally stop and ask students questions about what they’ve just heard. Generally younger students are asked the basic recall questions while older ones are given the why questions. To keep my students focused, I kept a marking sheet for each novel and recorded a grade for students’ listening.
8. Bring the Story Outside of the Book
Being creative with how you use the material in the book can help students better understand and connect with the material. Last year, I portrayed one of the bad guys from a novel as he came to visit the class. I behaved like the character and the class enjoyed asking him questions and listening to his side of the story. He was not invited back because he was as rude to the class as he was in the novel.
Another exercise I do is hold a class vote at the end of each year on the Best of Novel Time. Our topics for voting include: Biggest Surprise, Best Sayings, Best Friends, Meanest Character, Funniest Moment and Favourite Novel. This allowed the class to talk avidly about the novels they had heard and refresh each other’s memories about plots, characters, and themes