What Is a Novel Study?
A novel study is essentially the process of reading and studying a novel closely. There are three formats the novel study can follow, namely:
- The whole-class format
- The small group format
- The individual format
Each of these formats comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. Which you will use in your classroom will depend on several variables, including the novel study’s purpose, class demographics, time constraints, etc.
This article will look at activities you can use with your students in a novel study. Though the focus will primarily be on the whole-class format, the activities outlined below can easily be adapted for small-group and individual novel studies.
But first, let’s take a look at some of the many considerable benefits of the novel study.
What Are the Benefits of a Novel Study?
The benefits of this type of learning are many and varied. Essentially, the novel itself serves as a jumping-off point for a diverse range of learning experiences that can benefit students’ learning in many ways.
Here are just three of these benefits.
1. Encourages a Love of Reading
As teachers, we are well aware of how much literature can enrich our lives. However, for many of our students, reading is a chore in and of itself and is to be avoided whenever possible.
The novel study sets aside time in class to focus on reading in an engaging manner that not only encourages students to enjoy reading but helps them develop the tools and strategies required to get the most out of the books they read.
2. Builds a Wider Knowledge Base
Sharing books in this manner creates opportunities for students to become exposed to experiences far beyond those of their daily lives. Not only will they enter new and unfamiliar worlds through the portal of fiction, but they’ll also be exposed to the experiences and opinions of other students in the class. These experiences and opinions may differ markedly from their own.
It will also widen the student’s knowledge and understanding of text structure, vocabulary, punctuation, and grammar. Novel studies are an extremely effective way to practice comprehension skills and improve critical thinking.
3. Boosts Class Cohesion
Whole class novel studies help your students to flex their muscles of cooperation as they work their way through a text together. They also help students to understand each other, take on board the opinions of others, and learn to defend their own thoughts and opinions.
While reading is often viewed as a solitary activity, reading in this manner can become a social experience that helps students to bond as a class.
What Should I Do in a Novel Study?
There are many different ways to undertake a novel study in your classroom.
For example, some teachers like to read the entire novel to their students first before going back through it as a class, focusing then on student interactions with the text.
Other teachers like to weave guided reading activities into their novel study sessions. However, this often works better with smaller groups where students can be grouped according to ability and assigned texts accordingly.
What shape a novel study takes in your classroom will depend on your student demographics and learning objectives. However, we can helpfully divide the various activities into pre-reading, during-reading, and post-reading. You can select those that suit your situation best.
Now, let’s look at some of these.
How to Start a Novel Study
Your novel study begins even before the first page is read. The activities below will help students tune in to the book they are about to read.
This is a crucial stage of the novel study, especially if the book is of historical significance or deals with historical events and where some background knowledge may be essential for understanding the novel.
- Examine the Covers
Before opening the book, have students examine the covers closely, both front and back. What can they tell about the book before opening it based on:
- The cover illustration?
- The title?
- The author’s name?
- The blurb on the back?
It’s useful to do this as a whole-class discussion to allow for sharing ideas. Ask questions to encourage reflection and get students to make predictions about the novel based on their answers and observations. For example:
- What information does the cover provide?
- Does the cover illustration intrigue you? Why?
- Does this novel remind you of any other books you’ve read? Why?
- Do you recognize the author’s name? What else have they written?
It can be pretty surprising just how much information you can glean from a novel’s covers.
- Generate a List of Questions
Once students have had a good chance to examine the novel’s covers in small groups, get them to generate questions they have about the book and its contents.
These questions may be based on their expectations in the first activity, but they may also be general questions related to common elements in all novels. For example:
- Where is the story set?
- When is it set?
- Who is the main character/protagonist in the novel?
- Who is the antagonist?
- What is the nature of the central conflict?
- What happens in the climax? Resolution? Etc.
While most of these questions will not be answered entirely until the students have read the novel, asking these questions will get the students thinking about the novel’s structure from the outset. This will be extremely useful for later activities.
- Take a Peek Inside
Now, it’s time to open the book to look closer. Task students to go ‘finger-walking’ through the book and, without reading the novel, explore the book’s pages for more surface information. For example:
- When was the book published? Why is this significant?
- Are there any illustrations inside? What impression do they make?
- Does the book have chapters? What do the chapter titles tell us about the story?
- Open a random page and read it. What language register does the writer use? What point of view is employed?
Encouraging students to work in small groups can be helpful here. You can also ask prompting questions to help students maintain focus during this activity.
During Reading Activities
The whole-class format is perhaps the most widely used in the classroom context. In this format, each student will usually have a copy of the text and follow along while the teacher or another student reads.
The reading will pause at intervals to allow the students to engage in discussion, ask questions, or complete various activities supporting learning goals related to the text they have been reading.
In general, novel study activities will focus on:
- Building vocabulary
- Improving comprehension
- Making text-to-text connections
- Making text-to-self connections
- Making text-to-world connections
In the following section, we’ll look at each of these in turn.
Reading is a fantastic way to build vocabulary; when your students encounter new vocabulary while reading, encourage them to employ several strategies to decipher the word before resorting to their dictionaries.
Firstly, what clues to the word’s meaning can the students find in the word itself? Do students recognize the word’s root or affixes? Does it resemble any other words they already know the meaning of?
Secondly, students should look at the context in which the word is used, not just in the sentence itself but also in the preceding and following paragraphs. What clues can the students find to the word’s meaning?
After analyzing the parts of the word and exhausting context clues, students can look up the word in dictionaries. However, they will still need to do some legwork to make the new word stick. Some valuable ways of committing a new word to memory include:
- Sketching a visual interpretation of the word
- Making a list of synonyms of the word using a thesaurus to assist
- Apply the target words in personal contexts (in conversation/writing sentences)
- Reading Comprehension
Vocabulary is only one aspect of comprehension. Novel studies afford students a valuable opportunity to develop their deep comprehension abilities.
Beyond just understanding the meaning of the words in a novel, students will work on their understanding of skills such as:
- Identifying the central idea/themes
- Examining character/plot development
- Distinguishing between fact and opinion
- Comparing and contrasting
While activities for teaching some of the more basic comprehension skills may be more self-evident, activities for teaching higher-level skills, such as inferencing, may require a bit more thought and planning.
We can define inference as the process of deriving a conclusion based on the available evidence in the text combined with the student’s background knowledge and experience.
Put simply, inference involves reading between the lines.
Inference = What is in the text + What I already know
To encourage students to use inference while completing a novel study, ask questions building on prompts such as:
- Why do you think…
- What do you think would happen if…
- What can you conclude about x based on what you’ve read?
- How does the writer feel about…
- How do you think x feels?
If you want to learn more about teaching inference in the classroom, check out our thorough article on the topic here.
- Making Connections
While vocabulary building and developing reading comprehension skills are a big part of what novel studies are all about, this type of reading lends itself to a deeper exploration of the power of the written word.
Too often, our students read prescribed texts without ever making any personal or profound connections to the material they read. Students can better understand what they are reading by exploring ways of connecting to a novel. There are three main types of connections we can explore:
- Text-to-self connections
- Text-to-text connections
- Text-to-world connections
Let’s look at how students can make each type of connection in a novel study.
This is all about the student making a personal connection and responding to the text as an individual. Essentially, this type of connection is about encouraging the students to share their thoughts and feelings on various aspects of the novel. This sharing can take the form of oral contributions to class discussions and debates or in the form of a written response.
Either way, question prompts are a great way to kick things off. Here are some examples to get the ball rolling.
- What does this incident remind you of in your own life?
- Which character do you identify with the most?
- Have you ever been in a similar situation? What happened?
- What would you do in this situation?
These connections are all about the student linking the novel they are studying to other texts they have read or seen. This could include other novels, comics, nonfiction books, websites, and poems.
Here are some useful prompts to encourage your students to make text-to-text connections.
- Have you ever read anything like this before?
- How is this text similar to/different from other texts you’ve looked at?
- What other fictional character does the hero of this novel remind you of?
Making a text-to-world connection requires students to think about the novel in terms of the wider world. Here, students forge links with the broader culture and current affairs. Text-to-world connections will frequently require students to tie the novel into other areas of learning, such as social studies and the sciences.
Here are a few helpful text-to-world prompts.
- How do the events described in the novel relate to real-world events?
- What issues explored in the novel are pertinent in today’s world?
- How does the world described in the novel relate to the world we live in now?
The number of possible activities you can do to complete a novel is almost endless. Which activities you choose will depend on what aspect of the novel and/or objectives you are trying to teach. Here are just a few popular tasks students regularly complete after they finish reading a novel.
- Create a timeline of events.
- Graph the plot.
- Write a character profile.
- Design an alternative book cover/blurb.
- Write a summary of the novel.
- Write an alternative ending.
- Have a formal debate based on themes or issues explored in the novel.
- Write a book review.
Well, that’s enough to start a novel study in your classroom. However, if you’d like to read more on reading comprehension strategies you can employ in your novel studies, check out our depth article on the topic here.
The flexibility of the novel study format lends itself well to almost any age group; just be sure to choose a text that matches the general reading ability of your class. For older kids, you may even want to involve them in deciding what text to study.
However you decide to choose your novel, just be sure to read the text thoroughly in advance to stay one step ahead of your students – and don’t forget to have fun with it!
The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.