Why Should You Use Novel Studies in Your Classroom?




Funny thing about educational research is if you look hard enough you can usually find studies to support both sides of an issue. Very rarely do you find a straight yes or no answer to what is good or bad theory or practice. Generally, it boils down to the common sense of the teacher in regards to his/her individual students and the level of freedom the teacher is given from administration.

Sadly in today's standardized test-heavy climate teachers are given less and less freedom to choose what is best for their students. So many curriculum guidelines have become so rigid that teachers are not able to modify or enrich with their own lessons and materials.

I struggled with this myself while teaching 4th grade. I taught in a very high poverty, low scoring school. Most of my 4th graders could read at a 1st-2nd-grade level. Very few came to me over the years reading on grade level. The biggest challenge I had as a reading teacher was to get kids excited about reading. They saw it as such a challenge and our district used a basal series for reading instruction that was unrelatable and very boring! The students saw no reward for their challenge of getting through a story because the stories were so uninspiring and they had no emotional connection. I knew if I could "turn them on" to a book they would see more value in reading and see a "payback" so to speak.


Fortunately, I was blessed with a principal that valued my knowledge as a teacher and let me teach as I saw best for my students. I started with a read loud time where the kids would get comfortable and I would read to them. Kids in the upper elementary grades don't get read to enough in my opinion. It is reserved for the emergent readers of the primary grades. I chose high interest, generally humorous books that the kids could just enjoy. I didn't strive for any deep thinking for this activity. I just wanted the kids to experience reading as enjoyable. This turned into a favorite part of the school day for the students and for me.

Once I got my feet wet a bit in the classroom I started to develop novel studies for books where a short excerpt had been made in the basal. It is only common sense that reading the whole book is more enjoyable and leads to a much greater understanding by the student. Of course, I was careful to incorporate the skills taught in the basal in my units. I started teaching these novel units alongside the basal stories and the change between reading the basal versus the novel was amazing. I had kids who were reading at a 2nd-grade level actually focused and challenging themselves reading the chapter books that were at a 4th-grade reading level. They actually wanted to read them versus just getting through some worksheet assignment from the basal. More and more these lower level readers were chiming in on class discussions about the books and picking up age-appropriate books by choice in free time. As a teacher, I found it easier to use Bloom’s higher order questions using a novel instead of a short excerpt because you could really dive so much farther into the story and the characters.

I see similar experiences with my own children when they are allowed to read a "real" book vs. a text-based short story. They've never come home from school excited about something they read in a basal, but they have many times come home and we've had lengthy discussions about novels that they are reading!


As for the sought after test scores, I didn’t do any formal research on the subject but my student’s scores certainly did not drop but their love of reading soared! Sadly this is not a statistic that is looked at often enough.

Another huge benefit to novel study based reading instruction is the ability to really enhance the students' critical thinking skills by diving deep with character and plot development. Sadly, we are seeing less and less critical thinking focused activities in the current "test-prep" atmosphere in schools today.

Maybe the most beneficial reason of all to use novels in the classroom is to really tap into the empathy and awareness that books can bring to students. By reading books, like Wonder and El Deafo students can learn about different disabilities and how people learn to live with an excel despite the disability. Books such as Number the Stars and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes can be a great introduction to the Holocaust and bombing of Hiroshima for elementary students. Hatchet and Esperanza Rising are great books to dive in with a character that faces and survives insurmountable odds. The One and Only Ivan helps students empathize and think about the impact that we humans have on the planet as a whole. These are just a few examples of how a novel can get students thinking deeply about issues which can motivate them to enact positive change in our world.


I really encourage you to give novel studies a try in your classroom. I promise you will not be disappointed and your students will thank you for it!



The Power of El Deafo!

A couple months ago I was partaking in a discussion on Facebook about the factuality of the novel Wonder.  Now, I love the book Wonder and feel it has a solid needed place in the classroom, but on the subject of hearing loss which is touched on in the book, I do have definite questions and concerns. I addressed this in my novel study by adding a non-fiction article to help portray the real side of hearing loss so that students reading the novel understand the mistakes made by the author. I understand that Ms. Palacio isn't someone who has walked in the shoes of hearing loss and she did her best and since the rest of the novel is so wonderful I am easily able to overlook it by adding in the non-fiction article while teaching.

While discussing my feelings on Facebook another person asked me if I had read the novel, El Deafo by Cece Bell. She was curious how real and factual it is to a person who walks in the shoes of hearing loss such as myself. She says her students overwhelmingly love the Newbery Honor-winning graphic novel.  I had never heard of the book before so I ordered it to read and I am so happy that I did!



I have been living with hearing loss for almost 25 years. It is a daily struggle to communicate with my family and the world. I have lost many things due to my hearing loss including my teaching career. El Deafo, is the autobiographical story of Cece Bell's struggles with hearing loss told in a graphic novel format that is perfect to get the true feelings across. The book highlights how Cece embraces these struggles and turns them into a superpower! Even though Cece is in elementary school in the book and I am a 46-year-old, I found myself shaking my head in agreement and relating to Cece like I never have before in any other story I have read. It's like so many of the things she was saying I have said or felt so many times!



The message that volume does not equal better hearing was strong in this book and it is a message that the hearing world really fails to understand and yet, really needs to! Talking louder, talking slower, talking more pronounced DOES NOT HELP! It makes it so much more difficult for those like Cece and myself who rely on lip reading to understand.  If the only message that people take away from this story is to not turn up the volume for those with hearing loss the world will be a better place!  That's not the only message though. There are so many I could relate to, the isolation, the feelings of shame, embarrassment, avoidance of situations, putting up with things and people only due to fear, and on and on.  Cece doesn't just focus on the negative though, she embraces some of her differences and turns them into a superpower that draws people to her. I just loved everything about this book.  I also truly believe that you don't have to have a hearing loss to relate to and love this book. It is such a wonderful read for ALL students.

Because I loved this book so much and feel it is important to get this into classrooms I created a novel study.  I have never created a study for a graphic novel before so it was a different process for me, especially with the lack of vocabulary activities. I also wanted to include as much real-world information so that the student walks away with a greater understanding of the factual side of hearing loss and so they can learn to better communicate with those that live with a hearing loss. There is so much great information out there on this subject so I thought  Web Quest activities would be a good way to address this portion of the novel study, especially in the ever more frequent digital classroom!  As with all of my other novel studies, these activities are also available in a Google Drive format for those in a paperless classroom.




If you haven't read this book please do so, even if you don't plan to do a novel study. I just cannot recommend this book enough for everyone!  I hope you will choose to use this in your classrooms to help get the knowledge out there for everyone who lives with a hearing loss or knows someone that does. Knowledge leads to understanding and understanding leads to inclusion and empathy. We never can have enough of that in this world!


The One and Only Ivan in Your Classroom!

Last year my son came home from school and told me, "Mom, I am reading the best book and you really need to make a unit for it!" Not a crazy comment by any means, but from my son it is a bit out of the ordinary because he is a reluctant reader. It takes a really, really good book to hook him into raving about it!  There really isn't higher praise for a book than that!

What is this awesome book you ask? It is The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate. In addition to the highest accolades from Sam, it also won the Newbery Medal in 2013 among many other awards. From Katherine Applegate's You Tube Channel:



I put it on my summer to-do list and I am happy to say I am finally done and my new novel study is published!  I also have to say my son was right, it is a really, really good book! I am a huge animal lover and love animal stories so of course, there's that, but I also really enjoyed the poetic way this story is told through the eyes of Ivan, the shopping mall gorilla.  I was also astonished to learn that this story isn't totally fictitious. There was a real Ivan who lived in a shopping mall in Washington State for 27 years!

While creating this novel study I wanted to incorporate as much of the non-fiction aspects as I could to help the student learn a little about Silverback Gorillas, elephants, living in captivity vs. the wild, and of course the story of the real life Ivan! I hope that your students can walk away from this book with your hearts filled with excitement as much as Sam did!




I want to help you get this story in the hands of your students.  I am offering a giveaway of a classroom set (25) of The One and Only Ivan books, plus a $10 TpT gift certificate!  To enter, please visit The Teaching Bank's Facebook page for the Ivan Giveaway post. Please share the post and leave a comment sharing what you loved most about this book and what you hope your students will walk away with after reading it.  



A winner will be chosen from the Facebook comment section at 10:00 PM CST on Thursday, September 28. I will announce the winner on the Facebook post and contact the winner via Facebook messenger to deliver the electronic $10 TpT gift certificate and to get your mailing address for delivery of your class set of 25 books.

Please check out the completed The One and Only Ivan Novel Study that contains both a printable and Google Drive™ compatible format available in my store. 



I can't wait to read your comments and thoughts! Good luck! :)



Back to School Organization



It's that time of year again, the end of summer and the new beginning of a school year. Mixed feelings are sure to be had with missing the relaxing days of summer, time spent with family, etc.  There are also good feelings to be had with the anticipation of a new year, starting with a fresh slate.

One way to start off on the right foot is to have a classroom organized like a well-oiled machine ready the first day. To help you with this I have collected some ideas to help you save time from tedious hours of web surfing. I have included some web links below and a link to a Pinterest board that is chock full of classroom organization and money saving tips. Hopefully, these tips will help you devote the little bit of free time you have left to fun things and not work! ;)


Organizational Ideas for the Classroom Pinterest Board



Back-to-School Tips and Resources for Teachers











Good luck on a bright new school year! Let it be your best one yet!



Fight for Net Neutrality!






This is true, not just for video, but for all digital materials offered online, including teaching resources from sites such as Teachers Pay Teachers! Fighting for Net Neutrality is fighting for the freedom of what you have access to and how much you can be charged to access it. 

Don't give up that power to the cable companies!
#NetNeutrality



Using Google Lit Trip with Number the Stars

I came across a wonderful discovery recently, Google Lit Trips



This site is amazing to expand the background knowledge of a novel and to add a whole new dimension to the book.  From the Google Lit Trip site:

What is a Google Lit Trip?
Lit Trips are downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. Along the way, placemarks with pop-up windows contain "just in time" resources including relevant media, thought-provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about "real world" references in that portion of the story. Our focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students.


It is free to use for individual educators and classroom teachers. There is an option to sign up for a multi-user registration to use within a classroom. All you'll need on your computer is to download Google Earth. The Google Lit Trip "Getting Started" page explains all you need to do.


One of the available titles for a Google Lit Trip is Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry.




This Google Lit Trip maps the journey Annemarie and her family take between Denmark and Sweden to help their Jewish friends escape the Nazis.






Along the way, you can make a stop and read about the location. This information can tie into the story and/or add background information to the reader to enhance the story using photos, videos, Google Earth visuals, and descriptive information.




If you are using my Number the Stars Novel Study, I highly recommend you check out this accompanying Lit Trip to enhance the learning and enjoyment of the novel for your students.





I can't sing the praises of this Lit Trip highly enough. It is such a fantastic addition to using this novel in the classroom. 




Using Google Lit Trips for Bud, Not Buddy

I came across a wonderful discovery recently, Google Lit Trips



This site is amazing to expand the background knowledge of a novel and to add a whole new dimension to the book.  From the Google Lit Trip site:

What is a Google Lit Trip?
Lit Trips are downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. Along the way, placemarks with pop-up windows contain "just in time" resources including relevant media, thought-provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about "real world" references in that portion of the story. Our focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students.


It is free to use for individual educators and classroom teachers. There is an option to sign up for a multi-user registration to use within a classroom. All you'll need on your computer is to download Google Earth. The Google Lit Trip "Getting Started" page explains all you need to do.





This Google Lit Trip maps Bud's journey to find his father.





Along the way, you can make a stop and read about the location. This information can tie into the story and/or add background information to the reader to enhance the story using photos, videos, Google Earth visuals, and descriptive information.



If you are using my Bud, Not Buddy Novel Study, I highly recommend you check out this accompanying Lit Trip to enhance the learning and enjoyment of the novel for your students.




I can't sing the praises of this Lit Trip highly enough. It is such a fantastic addition to using this novel in the classroom. 




Using Google Lit Trips for Esperanza Rising

I came across a wonderful discovery today, Google Lit Trips



This site is amazing to expand the background knowledge of a novel and to add a whole new dimension to the book.  From the Google Lit Trip site:

What is a Google Lit Trip?
Lit Trips are downloadable files that mark the journeys of characters from famous literature on the surface of Google Earth. Along the way, placemarks with pop-up windows contain "just in time" resources including relevant media, thought-provoking discussion starters, and links to supplementary information about "real world" references in that portion of the story. Our focus is on creating engaging and relevant literary experiences for students.


It is free to use for individual educators and classroom teachers. There is an option to sign up for a multi-user registration to use within a classroom. All you'll need on your computer is to download Google Earth. The Google Lit Trip "Getting Started" page explains all you need to do.



One of the available titles for a Google Lit Trip is Esperanza Rising, by Pam Múnoz Ryan



This Google Lit Trip maps Esperanza's trip from her home in Mexico to California.




Along the way, you can make a stop and read about the location. This information can tie into the story and/or add background information to the reader to enhance the story using photos, videos, Google Earth visuals, and descriptive information.


If you are using my Esperanza Rising Novel Study, I highly recommend you check out this accompanying Lit Trip to enhance the learning and enjoyment of the novel for your students.



I can't sing the praises of this Lit Trip highly enough. It is such a fantastic addition to using this novel in the classroom. 




Using Shiloh in the Classroom

Shiloh, written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, is a wonderful book to use for a novel study or for literature circles in the classroom. Shiloh, was first published in 1991, and among the numerous awards given was the Newbery Medal  in 1992.  Shiloh is an endearing book that will draw the interest of the most reluctant of readers and is relatable to both boys and girls.




Summary of Shiloh:

(from the book jacket)



When 11-year-old Marty Preston finds a young beagle up in the hills behind his home near Friendly, West Virginia, he is convinced that the poor pup is in trouble. Certain that the dog is being abused by his owner, Judd Travers, Marty names him "Shiloh" and immediately feels that he will do anything to save the dog from further harm.

When the dog runs away from Judd to Marty's house, Marty is faced with a number of ethical dilemmas: Should he tell his parents? Should he return the dog to the abusive Judd? Should he steal food to feed the mistreated pup? Marty finds that there is a fine line between telling the truth and lying by omission. He struggles to stand on the principles he knows are right, even if they go against the law.

As Marty's half-truths begin to pile up, however, the villainous Judd comes closer and closer to finding Shiloh, who Marty has hidden in the woods. Then when Marty discovers that Judd is poaching, he blackmails him and makes a deal to work for Judd to pay for the dog, but this is not what he tells his parents. In the end, readers will rejoice when Marty and Shiloh are allowed to be together.




This is a great novel to accompany a study of:
• Investigate animal abuse laws in your area.
• Explore the role that the animal control department plays in your community.


I offer a complete novel study to accompany Shiloh for use in the classroom or homeschool. The unit includes both a printable format and a Google Drive™ format for use in a paperless classroom or with Google Classroom.






Here's a preview sample of my Shiloh Novel Study:



Please go to my TpT store to see this free preview as well as the complete CCSS alignment checklist for grades 4-6 in its entirety. Please email with any questions you may have!



Teachers, Let's Flood the World with Kindness!

Today is Inauguration Day here in the United States. This election and upcoming inauguration incite many different feelings amongst us. No matter who is President of the United States, as teachers we have the power to instill great knowledge and empathy in our students. Let's take this opportunity to channel our power into spreading kindness and truth throughout the world!











Fellow teachers and sellers at Teachers Pay Teachers have come together to flood the site with free resources for you to use in your classroom to promote kindness, empathy, compassion, civic knowledge, critical thinking, equality and respect for all people. 






Please search for the hashtags #kindnessnation and #weholdthesetruths for hundreds of forever freebies to use in your classroom to help encourage and preserve these values that we all hold dear.



Please check out my contribution to the cause, Choose Kind Activities for use with Wonder by R.J. Palacio.
Many of my fellow TpT sellers are participating in the project. Click on the images to get a sampling of some of the resources you can find searching with the hashtags:


Image HTML map generator

Image HTML map generator




Let's work together to make the world a kinder, gentler place for everyone!