Today I'm going to share with you just how I make novels and trade books work as my shared reading texts in my 5th grade classroom. Bear with me, though, because I've put a lot of thought in to my entire year -- yep, I plan my entire year based on our shared reading titles -- and I want to do my best to explain a clearly as possible. Please note: If you have ANY questions, do not hesitate to comment below with those questions.
STEP 1: Gaining materials:Shared reading means every students has a copy of novel while a fluent teacher reads aloud, stopping periodically to evaluate the plot, character actions, etc. This can be expensive, especially if you are not offered any kind of monetary support from your administration. It has taken me at least 8 years to build up a large collection of class sets of novels. GOOD novels. Novels that I LOVE to teach -- not just novels that were cheap and aren't my favorites. I have purchased some class sets of novels from Scholastic, using both dollars and points, requested class sets of admin was feeling generous, and I've received some awesome class sets from Donors Choose. This did not happen over night, and there were times when I taught a book I did not love. As a result of me not loving the book -- my students often felt the same.
I may or may not have a container problem.
That depends on who you ask.
I took this picture last year, so some of the titles have changed,
and my school did away with Journeys.
STEP 2: Know your school district's curriculum map and map out your entire year.I'm lucky enough to teach in a school where I have some freedom over my instructional choices. Our district's school year is broken in to four marking periods, with a specific list of standards that must be taught during each marking period. We have access to materials from a publishing company, but my principal allows me to use additional novels, rather than textbooks and workbooks. I work on STEP 1 over the summer before school starts. It can be cumbersome the first time I do this, but with time it gets easier. I use a cutesy calendar that I found for free on Teacher's Pay Teachers, and find that colorful pens. The first thing I do is write in any school calendar days/holidays. Next, I look at the online curriculum map provided by my district to see what the major skills are for each quarter. Then, I choose the novels that best suit those skills. Then I write those things in, planning a couple chapters per day (this, too, depends on the books and their complexity).
Here are the calendars I created last year. I taught one
section of fourth grade and one section of fifth grade.
Lucky for me a lot of the skills overlapped,
but I knew I would have the fourth again as
fifth graders, so I used different titles.
Here is an up close photo of one of my calendars. They aren't fancy.
And they aren't in depth as far as the structure of my lessons. BUT, there
are no words to describe just how easy it is to lesson plan when I have
a full calendar sprawled out before me. We all know that things happen
and calendars are never perfect. There's always some sort of last minute
assembly, or special project due by 10am, but you weren't told about it
until 9:15am. So, my calendar has changed. Sometimes things happen out
of order. It's natural, and I just have to be flexible. But the overall structure
of my year is created for me in this calendar. And it truly is a lifesaver for me.
Step 3: Determine CONSTANTS and VARIABLES across all shared reading texts.
Whether you plan to read the entire Hunger Games series, or jump around from historical fiction to fantasy fiction, it is important that you have some basic consistencies across all of the books you will teach. These consistencies will help structure your entire week, month, marking period, and year. Your kids (and parents) will love you if you have recurring items that are a constant in their novel-studying lives. To determine these things, you must assess what kinds of things are required for you to teach (some teachers work in schools that separate writing from reading), what kinds of materials are available to you and your students, and how comfortable you are with taking the plunge to focus most of your instruction using novels. My school uses a separate grammar book, so I teach grammar separate from our novel studies. We also use Units of Study for writing, which means our long term writing assignments don't always align with those of the novels. We DO, however, always use our current and past shared reading texts as excellent mentor texts whenever we need to.
Constant 1: In my classroom, my vocabulary lists come directly from our novel. I focus on teaching my students Tier 2 vocabulary words that appear in novels at their grade level. Tier 2 words are words that are beyond basic sight words and high frequency words, but are not words that are only used in specific domains. Of course, if we come across a Tier 3 (domain-specific) word, it becomes a point of discussion, but my students' vocabulary lists are Tier 2 words from the chapters we are currently reading. They receive their list of 10 words (per week) before we read. When we come across the word, we try to identify the meaning of that word through context clues (and probably some guidance from me, if it the context isn't clear). Once we've agreed on a definition based on those context clues, someone does a quick online dictionary search on Learner's Dictionary and - BOOM - most of the time our definition is spot on. This method is two-fold because it allows students to gain new vocabulary from the book versus some random list I found while sipping wine and searching Google. Second, my students receive guided practice almost daily about how to use context clues to figure out the meanings of new words. And, for those kids who know how to do this, it is still a confidence booster that they really ARE smart and they really CAN figure these things out if they need to.
Constant 2: In addition to vocabulary, I pull comprehension and discussion questions from all of the books we read. I use these questions to guide our class discussions as we stop periodically to read. I don't stop all the time, because there is something to be said about fluid reading where we get sucked in to the novels. But sometimes I stop if I think it's complex section or at the end of a chapter. Sometimes these questions ask about a character's motive, or a recall of the events leading up to the climax. Sometimes I turn these questions in to Text Dependent Analysis prompts. I give a weekly assessment (of student vocabulary) and I usually add some of these comprehension and discussion questions to that assessment. Students are able to use their novels to answer these questions -- mostly because they require evidence from the text.
Constant 3: Finally, from the start of the year to the very end, my students are always on the hunt for literary devices in our shared reading books. Last year, we focused mostly on similes, metaphors, personification, and imagery. Next year, I plan to expand our study of literary devices. I have found that being on the constant lookout for these devices has really improved the relationship my kids have with the words on the page. When we come across these items, they make immediate mini lessons on what good writers do. We discuss how an author could have said something boring, but instead used an imagery technique that really illustrated the scene with words. It starts slow, especially with my fourth graders, but as the year progressed, my kids found some great examples of literary devices in their independent reading books as well!
Variables: While a lot of my instruction remains constant, there are certain things that I can teach with certain novels that don't work with other titles. If I'm teaching characterization, Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick is one of the best. If I need to focus on nonfiction text features, a trade book about rain forest food chains is going to be my book of choice. These variables are often standards dictated by my district, and they are the most important when aligning my calendar to the district curriculum maps.
Step 4: Get to know those books.
Despite being extremely busy people, it is imperative that teachers are well-versed in the novels they plan to teach. There are some fabulous items on the internet that can really help you develop lessons, but your kids will know from the start if you are truly vested in a book. I recommend keeping a notebook with each of your teacher copies of the novel. Use this notebook every year. Add to it as you teach, and keep it for the following year. When you are pre-reading the novel before you teach, pull our your constants (as discussed above), write them down, and you will have them as long as you teach that book.
Here is an example of my simple novel notebook. I tend to read new
novels over the summer, late at night, so they definitely aren't fancy.
While reading, I underline vocabulary words and write them in my novel notebook.
I also write any discussion or comprehension questions (and their answers) that I
believe are important to revisit during class discussions.
(below) While I'm reading, or even while I'm teaching, I'll make a quick
note with the first letter or the name of the literary device I find. If my students
aren't on their A-game, I can easily prompt them during our discussion
with these pre-marked devices.
Step 5: Don't give up!
This process didn't happen for me overnight. It may take awhile for you to get in to a groove that works for you and your students. What's important is if you believe that novels will improve your reading class, that you stand up for what you believe in! Your kids will love you for making this choice!
P.S., I am in the process of typing up my novel notebooks. There are no bells and whistles or fancy worksheets. You will find, however, awesome, age-appropriate vocabulary words, kid-friendly definitions, discussion questions, and endless examples of literary devices. They are available for sale here.