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How To Teach Novel Studies: Part 1 Comprehension

How To Teach Novel Studies: Part 1 Comprehension

Some of my most vivid childhood memories of school were the novel studies that we read for various subjects. It was my most favorite way to learn skills, history, any topic really! I am a lover of books and getting to read an entire book from cover to cover as a school assignment put me in heaven! I am sure this is a major reason why as a teacher my passion is to create and teach is novel studies! I love to introduce new books to students and as a community, get immersed in the book together. I love for a student to pull us off the schedule with a question or comment from something they read that leads the class in a lively discussion. That’s where the real memorable learning takes place after all!

Novel studies are my largest product line simply because I like to focus on what I love. I want to work with my passion! I often get questions from readers asking how I would set up novel studies in my classroom. I decided to write a small series explaining my methods.  For the most part, all of my novel studies include comprehension questions, vocabulary/grammar skill work, extension activities, and assessments. Today’s post, part 1, deals with the comprehension aspect of the novel studies.

Novel Studies Part 1: Comprehension

In my opinion, one of the most compelling reasons to use whole novels in your reading instruction is to boost the comprehension skills of your students. A complete novel allows the student to delve deep into the character’s minds and work through the plot from a detailed beginning to an end. You just can’t achieve this level of deep understanding and thinking using short passages only. Students need to be exposed to all methods of reading instruction and complete novel studies fulfill a critical piece of the puzzle.

In order for your student to dig deep into the comprehension, they need to be able to have the time to get lost in the narrative. Complete chapters will help them fall into the world of their book. The goal here is for students to be thinking at the higher levels of the cognitive domain and to immerse themselves in the affective domain of Bloom’s Taxonomy.


To achieve this I only use narrative questioning for my novel studies. The student needs to write out a complete statement in order to answer the question. Multiple-choice questioning for this is just not adequate to get the student to move beyond the lowest level of knowledge questioning of Bloom’s. You don’t want students doing quick guessing games to show what they’ve learned as they move through the book!


Here’s an example from chapter 1 of the comprehension questions from my Fish in a Tree Novel Study.

You can see that the questions will not allow the student to quick-skim the book. They can only answer if they’ve read and the questions force them to think through the thought processes of the character and to put themselves into the character’s shoes. This type of questioning will take the student into the highest levels of both the cognitive and affective domains of Bloom’s.

You can also see that there are only 5 questions for the chapter. The questioning I use in my novel studies generally is only 1-6 questions per chapter. Students don’t need to be inundated with questions to dig deep and to show understanding of what they’ve read. If the questioning is thorough only a few questions are needed. I try to have at least one question per chapter no matter how small it is. Of course, there are some exceptions where a chapter is so short that it’s not necessary to assign questions just for the sake of assigning work.

Another reason for not overburdening the students with questions is to minimize the disruptions as they read. The more they have to stop to answer questions the less likely they are to get lost in the story. You want them to go all in!

All of my novel studies offer a Google Drive™ format to use with your students in addition to the printable format that is shown above. This allows you to use novel studies in a 1:1 classroom, to save paper, and to easily engage students that are absent. Here’s an example page from the Google Drive™ format of my Esperanza Rising Novel Study.

Going through a story in this manner in regards to comprehension has worked very well for me. It forces those reluctant readers to put forth the effort in letting themselves read deeply. The non-reluctant readers will just be thrilled to be reading a complete book so you’ve already hooked them!

Join me for part 2 in my series to learn the methods I use to try to turn my students into book detectives with vocabulary/grammar skill work using novel studies.



You can find my Fish in a Tree Novel Study and Esperanza Rising Novel Study that are mentioned above in my store. I also offer over 90 titles ranging from grades 1 to 8 where I am sure you’ll find something to engage your class in some deep reading.


Explore Friendship, Perseverance, and Empathy with Shiloh in the Classroom

Explore Friendship, Perseverance, and Empathy with Shiloh in the Classroom

Shiloh written by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor is a wonderful book to use for a novel study, literature circles, or book clubs 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:

  • Animal abuse laws in your area.
  • 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.

Shiloh is an inspiring story of friendship, empathy, and perseverance that will be enjoyed by all the students in your classroom.

How to Teach Grammar, Spelling, & Punctuation in the Language of Teens

How to Teach Grammar, Spelling, & Punctuation in the Language of Teens

I used the Daily Oral Language sentences for grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice in my classroom for years as bellwork. I saw a solid improvement in students’ everyday writing. The short morning lessons paid off and translated well to the standardized testing that the students would take during the year too. Even though I felt this method was very effective I have to admit it was fairly boring for both me and the students. I figured there had to be a better way!

In my quest I came across an article from the Los Angeles Times, about the effects of texting on the grammar skills in tween/teens:

YSK, teens 2 fluent in TXT

This particular quote caught my eye:
“Basically, kids aren’t able to “code switch” — shift between standard grammar and the abbreviations used in text messages, Sundar said. Those abbreviations have essentially become the words for them.

Adults not raised on text-friendly abbreviations in their formative years are able to shift between formal and informal language, Sundar said. Kids consuming a steady diet of “textual adaptations” aren’t.”

We all know that teens use “text speak” to communicate their ideas in the minimum of characters used. This wreaks havoc on conventional grammar, spelling, and punctuation! It is sometimes painful to read! Sadly teens are allowing this “text speak” to sneak into their everyday writing in the classroom. Students need to learn proper writing conventions for application to the real working world. How can we help our students learn to “code switch” so that they can utilize the convenience of texting but still be able to use the proper conventions of grammar, spelling, and punctuation?

I decided to combine the DOL type practice with “text speak”. This way students get to do the practice in a way that seems more interesting and practical to them, in their “language” so to speak. At the same time they are learning that even though “text speak” has its place in casual texting conversations, conventional writing rules need to be applied in the school/work world situations. It was the best of both worlds!

The set up is the same that I used for DOL, approximately 2 sentences per day for bellwork. I have a weekly sheet with 10 sentences written in “text talk” that need to be corrected using the proper writing conventions. Each morning as bellwork the student will correct 2 sentences on their own and then as a class, we go over them as part of the morning routine.

For example:
Passage: n Aug he didnt nvr do gud

Answer: He didn’t do well in August.

As you can see it does look like some kind of Alien language! To tweens and teens, it is their language and a challenge to translate into proper English. It is almost like a puzzle to them to use the familiar text speak to get it back to regular English. It also reinforces the idea that their “text speak” is a valid form of communication and really should be acceptable among friends and casual acquaintances via texting but it is not appropriate for regular writing in school or most importantly, in the working world. This helps to clarify the difference between the two.

Try out a free sample here:

If you are looking for a practical, interesting, and dare I say, FUN way to give your middle/high school students some grammar, punctuation, and spelling practice, check out Alien Text Talk. The full product can be purchased by the quarter, the semester, or for an entire year! Each download includes a printable format, an interactive notebook format, or a digital format to use in Google Drive™!

Filling the Holes in Reading Instruction

Filling the Holes in Reading Instruction

Holes, written by Louis Sachar, is a wonderful book to use for a novel study, literature circles or book groups in your classroom.

Holes was first published in 1998. Holes was named the U.S.National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 1998 and was awarded the 1999 Newbery Medal to name just a few. In 2012, Holes was ranked number 6 among all-time children’s novels in a survey published by the School Library Journal.

Summary of Holes:
(from the book jacket)

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes. 

It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption. 

Holes is a great novel to accompany a study of:

  • Inventions and inventors
  • Fossils
  • Famous outlaws
  • Texas
  • Illiteracy
  • Homelessness

I offer a complete novel study to accompany Holes 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.

This is a great novel to use in the classroom to help show students the power of questioning, tolerance, and perseverance. It is a humorous, relatable story that sends a positive message.

Interactive Social Studies Instruction in a Classroom Low on Time and Money

Interactive Social Studies Instruction in a Classroom Low on Time and Money

My youngest son is a highly visual and hands-on learner who has an IEP. He excels when he’s actually doing something, not just being lectured to. Social Studies has always been his favorite subject and unfortunately when he was in fifth grade the method for instruction for social studies did not set him up for success and I could see him losing interest in the subject. To combat this I created materials to complement his school instruction while helping him retain his interest and learn the material in a way that better meets his needs. The Interactive Notebook format is perfect for my son’s learning style and works very well with the American History curriculum. Even better to engage his interest is to use Google Drive to complete all the work electronically. He much prefers to type and manipulate using the computer rather than traditional paper and pencil methods.

I know my son is not unique in his learning style and I know the need for better quality materials is there, especially after looking over the curriculum materials that were provided to him via a top name educational publishing company. With this in mind, I decided to dedicate a year to creating materials for my son while also offering them in my TpT store. I was very pleased with the results of the work with my son and I am happy to see the demand is there for the products from fellow teachers.

With budgets getting cut for curriculum materials I knew I needed to provide something that included everything a teacher needs and/or includes links to free resources. All of my units contain an informational slideshow that goes along with the activities. I also include links to free online resources that can be utilized while working through the units.

I am also aware of the time restraints put on teachers for social studies instruction to accommodate testing schedules so all the activities can, for the most part, be completed in a single class period so that you can fit in social studies without missing out on the important content. I also include an IntelliNotes™ format to use when you are short on time, but still need to hit the high points.

This product line contains units to take you from the early days of North America to the beginning of the 20th Century.

There are 53 units total and they are:























All of the units follow a similar format and contain both a printable and Google Drive format and includes:

  • Contain a cover sheet in both color and black & white.
  • Links to helpful online resources.
  • Guide with a link to Google Drive file and instructions on how to use.
  • Intelli Notes™ format to use when you are short on time.
  • Tutorial guide showing how to make all foldable activities.
  • Two different vocabulary activity versions (foldable or flash card). The file also contains blank editable pages so that you can add or change the vocabulary to best fit your needs. **This is the only editable portion of the products.
  • Interactive notebook activities to cover each topic within the section to help students pinpoint and highlight the main ideas and concepts.
  • An End of Unit Assessment.
  • Answer keys for all included activities

From the first unit, Early People of North America:

You can buy each unit individually, topics bundled together at a 20% discount, or find the full year bundle for at a 25% discount.

I really enjoyed creating these units and am so pleased with the progress and enjoyment I saw with my son. I hope that you can find as much success within your classroom or homeschool as I’ve had!