4 Ways to find more value in reading novels for class

Everyone knows that reading stories and novels definitely helps your students learn more vocabulary. That’s a given. I also think that reading helps students get used to native feeling sentence order and rhythm.

Teachers will also know that it can be tricky to commit to reading a whole novel without forgetting about it or getting bored with it half way. How many times had I started a story in class, only to drop it after a month or so.

At least until I established some guidelines for using reading activities and homework in a meaningful way.

1) Make sure the story you chose is appropriate for your class’s reading level.

If you choose material that is too difficult, students will avoid reading it at all costs and will become bored because they don’t really know what is going on in the story, even if they are looking up vocabulary words. On the flipside, if a story is too easy, then they will also grow bored, and besides, they won’t get anything out of it.

How do I remedy this?

I will print out the first page of a prospective story and have my students read it out loud in class. If they zip through it and don’t ask any questions, I toss it as too easy. If they struggle through it and have no idea what they just read, then I toss it for being too difficult. An appropriate text will be reasonably easy to understand, while still providing some new vocabulary.

2) Make sure the story you chose is interesting enough for your class’s age level.

This is the tricky part. How to find material for beginning students that isn’t too childish. Adult students don’t want to feel like they are back in elementary school. This will turn them off the story, and maybe off you, so quickly.

How do I remedy this?

First of all, I do not even try to have my students read a novel at least until they have been in class several months and have a good idea of all of the present tenses. Secondly, I have a pretty good library of books that I myself enjoy, even if they are easy to read. Here are the books I read for each level/grammar studied.

Level 1 (late)- read after to be, present continuous, present simple: The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne

Level 2- read after past simple, past continuous: The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Level 3- read after present, past (higher fluency): The Big House in the Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Level 4- read after all major verb tenses: Riding Freedom by Pam Munoz Ryan; The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Level 5- high fluency: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle; The Giver by Lois Lowry

3) Make sure you actually finish reading the story

Usually it isn’t enough to just make the novel homework. Eventually students will realize that there isn’t anything making them read it and they’ll stop.

How do I remedy this?

Work with the novel in class. You can ask specific questions from the texts for them to answer to make sure they understood what they read. I also suggest reading out loud from the novel. You could read the beginning of the next chapter. This will also get their interest to do the homework. By reading out loud, you can practice different aspects of speaking: pronunciation, fluency, and rhythm.

4) Bonus: Movies

If there is a movie version of the book, you can watch it after you finish the story. This way, they’ll have a better idea of what’s going on in the movie, since many students have an easier time reading than listening.

You can also involve writing or conversation by discussing how the movie differs  from the book.

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