There is nothing more exciting than introducing students to a great piece of literature. Conversely, there is nothing more disappointing than students’ lack of enthusiasm about a book you truly love. Unfortunately, your fervor about a novel does not always translate into cheers and applause on the part of your students.
Reading a novel requires a lot of investment. Even novels with high-action plots take a while to build momentum. How can you quickly bolster students’ interest at the start of a new book? Below are six sure-fire ways to get your class excited about a new novel.
PLOT PIECES. Divide students into groups. Assign each group one page from a different part of the novel. After they have read the page, ask students to compose a paragraph that outlines the plot of the novel. To do this, students will have to use context clues gleaned from their excerpt. Ask students to elect a representative from each group to present their plot summaries. Compare plot summaries and revisit these summaries at the end of the novel. Asking students to conjecture the plot of the novel will pique their interest in the book and help them extract information from context clues.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Ask students to read the first page of text silently. Next, ask for a volunteer to read the first page aloud. Then, ask students to write down as many things as possible that they have learned from the first page. Next, ask students to write down three questions they have based on their reading of the first page. This activity will help students read context clues and it will teach them to site text evidence when making generalizations about a novel.
COVER UP. Read a summary of the novel from the back cover, from the inside flaps, or from an Internet source. If you prefer to leave the novel a mystery, read an excerpt from a select part of the book. You can also print out this summary or excerpt so that students can refer to it. Next, ask students to design a cover based on information gleaned from the summary or excerpt. Allow students to explain their cover design.
If you are reading a novel that is divided into parts, have students design a cover at the end of each part of the novel. Revisit cover designs at the completion of the novel and ask students to write a paragraph discussing their various understandings of the novel. This activity will help students chart the ways their understanding developed throughout the reading.
FRONT MATTER. Though students read novels throughout their schooling, very few are taught the importance of the title, copyright, and acknowledgments. The pages that contain this information are called the « front matter. » In small groups, ask students to explore the front matter of the novel.
Instruct students to list 10 things they learned from these pages. In a more open-ended version of this activity, you can ask students to answer the following questions: Free Reading School Novel Website What does the front matter tell you about what will and what will not be in this novel? What does the front matter tell you about the novel’s plot and themes? A good explanation of front matter can be found at Vox Clarus Press’ website. Just search « Vox Clarus Front Matter. »
LAST LINES. Instruct students to read the last sentence or the last paragraph of the novel silently. Next, ask someone to read these last lines aloud. From these last lines, ask students to draw a comic strip that shows the plot of the novel. Each frame of the comic strip should contain narrative and dialogue. The last frame of the comic strip should be based on information gleaned from the novel’s last lines. Thinking about the ending of the novel will whet students’ appetite for the actual plot.
BEGINNING AND ENDING. Ask students to read both the first sentence and the last sentence of the novel. Next, ask the students to construct a poem, paragraph, or short story using the first and last sentences of the novel as the first and last sentences for their writing. Your students’ writing should summarize what they think will be the plot of the novel. Revisit these summaries at the middle and at the end of the reading. In a reflective paragraph, ask students to compare their initial impressions to the novel’s actual plot and themes.
When beginning a new novel, consider using one of the above activities in your classroom. These activities provide a new lens through which to view your new novel. Starting the study of your novel in a unique and unpredictable way will bolster your students’ interest and engagement.
James Guilford, a graduate of Emory University and Columbia University, has worked in education for a decade. Download full lesson plans for teaching a novel here. These lesson plans provide step-by-step activities that are directly related to the ideas presented in this article.