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The Beauty of Friendship Through the Eyes of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

The Beauty of Friendship Through the Eyes of the Shopping Mall Gorilla

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 YouTube Channel:

I put it on my to-do list and I am very proud of the novel study that was born from Sam’s suggestion! 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, animals 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 their hearts filled with as much excitement as Sam’s was.

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.

Sally Kneifl, who teaches in the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public Schools in Macy, NE. was the winner of my giveaway of a class set of The One and Only Ivan books, the novel study, and a gift card. Sally wrote to me to share the deep and positive experiences her students had reading this book.

“I wanted to thank you again for the books that we received from you, The One and Only Ivan and share the activities that we did to culminate the unit.

Students wrote a short summary, some facts that they learned about the real Ivan the gorilla and gorillas in the wild, as well as their favorite part of the book. I found a book called “Actual Size” by Steve Jenkins.

We researched the true story about the real Ivan.

The students completed a WebQuest about Gorillas and they learned many facts.

The author Katherine Applegate mentioned the documentary about Ivan, so I ordered the National Geographic special “The Urban Gorilla” which featured Ivan.

The students created a display on the hallway wall where other students can learn fun facts and compare their hands, feet, height and arm length to a life-sized gorilla.

The librarian is also reading it to the younger kids, so it didn’t just impact my grade levels…it is going to impact the entire elementary and middle schools. I love hearing the students talk in the hallway when they are sharing their writing and they know all of the information about Ivan or gorillas, and they are explaining it to the High School students or our Special needs students. Any chance for my students to feel smart or have pride in their work…I will take it. It is always a struggle at our school. Thank you again…you blessed many.” -Sally Kneifl

You can find the Urban Gorilla documentary that Sally mentioned within my The One and Only Ivan Novel Study and Actual Size by Steve Jenkins by clicking the image below.

Thank you, Sally and the students from the Umoⁿhoⁿ Nation Public Schools for sharing their work and joy with me!

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.

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.

Follow the Race with Stone Fox!

Follow the Race with Stone Fox!

An exciting and heartwarming book to use in the classroom is Stone Fox, by John Reynolds Gardiner!

From the Back Cover: 
A Race Against Time! 

Little Willy’s Grandfather is sick, and it’s up to Willy to save their farm from the tax collectors. Their only hope is the prize money from the National Dogsled Race. But a lot of other people want to win the race, including Stone Fox, who has never lost a race in his life. 

Do Willy and his dog, Searchlight stand a chance against the toughest racers around? Can they win the race to save the farm-and Grandfather- before it’s too late?

This is a great book to read in the spring during the Iditarod. Students can follow along with the race in real time as they read the book.

I used this novel study every year in my 4th-grade class. My students always enjoyed the book with its heartfelt story, action, adventure, and lessons on courage and perseverance. It is a great book to draw in reluctant readers.


Take a Lit-Trip with Number the Stars

Take a Lit-Trip with Number the Stars

I came across a wonderful discovery, 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. The 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 takes 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.