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Teaching with Novels

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5 Tips for Teaching with Novels

As the school year is starting, you may be knee deep in teaching your tenth novel, or working on starting your very first one. Either way here are some tips to keep it successful for everyone. Remember this will only be my third year teaching with TPRS novels, so I am still learning and growing. I do not claim to be an expert, just someone who has figured out best practice for me. 





Pick an easy novel to start

I am a big fan of starting with a novel that is easier than the level of the class. Why? They build Confidence and make reading FUN. My first year teaching I had my Spanish 4 class read Cajas de Carton as their first novel ever. IT WAS TERRIBLE. It was way too hard, the students just got frustrated and gave up, so I felt defeated and doubted if using a book was a good choice. Check out this ranking of the novels by Bryce Hedstrom as a starting point. Also, here is a page with Posts sorted by novel, to see what I have taught when. When in doubt, start easier and work your way up. 


Get the Teacher's Guide

If the book you are teaching has a teacher's guide, you MUST buy it. Yes, they are expensive, but that is because they are worth their weight in gold and are FULL of amazing ideas, resources and will save you a ton of time. Your time is precious, do not waste it doing the work that has already been done for you. If you are teaching a new novel that does not yet have a guide, search Pinterest, blogs and the Internet before you try to reinvent the wheel. Check out Novel Basics - Part 1 - Research & Find Funding to find out how to get this guide paid for and Novel Basics - Part 2 - Organize & Plan to get ready to teach. Finally, if it will be your first novel, read How to Teach Your 1st Novel and Teaching a Novel 101 - Presentation.

Work Smarter, Not Harder - enlist help

Once you have chosen your novel and devoured the teacher's guide, it is time to see what else is out there. I always search Pinterest, blogs and the Internet to get ideas of what others have already done with the novel. Follow #langchat and teachers are always tweeting new, current authentic resources to go with novels. If you do not see what you need, tweet out a request or post a topic on the IFLT Facebook page. You will get many helpful replies right away. My novel resources page is where you will find links to all posts about novels I have taught. 


Don't just print off the chapter questions

As you may know, I am on maternity leave and my substitute is the retired teacher I replaced at my school. She is very traditional and I know my sub plans that I left using novels were going to be a stretch. I left binders and a Google Drive full of resources, the official teachers guides and chapter by chapter slide shows with links to authentic resources. When I stopped into school, I saw a stack of printed questions by chapter. She mentioned that students were having a hard time filing these out while reading. *sigh* 
How I personally use the questions provided by the teacher's guide is projecting them in a slide show while we read the chapter. This prompts me to stop and discuss the questions as a class, circling and working together. I typically have only assigned students to fill these out as a one day sub plan, usually after we read the chapter the day before. 


Keep it interesting!

If you are centering your class around novels, you have to mix up each chapter or it will get VERY boring very fast. Make sure to only introduce a couple new key vocabulary words each chapter. Any more than this and you should have picked an easier book. I personally do a lot of the culture front loaded before starting the novel, such as films and authentic readings. Once you get started reading, who wants to wait a whole week for the next chapter. You have to keep momentum for the novel to stay fresh and entertaining. Here are a few posts I have on mixing it up - Teaching a Novel? Spice it Up!5 Activities for a Novel No Prep Post reading activities for any novel


What are your top tips for teaching with novels?

More reading & novel resources

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