The room was abuzz with discussion. This was exactly what I had been aiming for as I began planning my novel study and is one of the core benefits of novel studies in my classroom.
As I moved from group to group, I listened to the lively debate about character relationships. I overheard a discussion on point of view. And I even watched students discuss and support their inferences.
It might not have been the most peaceful environment to curl up with a good book, but it was easy to see that my students were immersed in their novels beyond what I had provided in the day’s reading comprehension focus question.
So why do novel studies work so well with upper elementary students?
It all starts with the opportunity to read engaging texts. It is human nature to love a good story. We have long been storytellers and story consumers. The novel studies I was doing with my third graders just used that to my advantage. It got them excited and engaged in deep thinking about reading comprehension strategies.
The Benefits of Novel Studies
Ever thought that novel studies take too much time or effort compared to the outcomes you get? Today my aim is to change your perspective and encourage you to get started.
There are actually a number of research-based benefits of using novel studies in your classroom. I’ve already mentioned engagement, so what are the other benefits of novel studies?
Novel Study Benefit #1: Building Background & World Exposure
Looking for an opportunity to expose students to experiences outside their current reality? Novel studies are just the ticket. For my city-dwelling students, the novel study I planned around Charlotte’s Web exposed them to the realities of farm life that they may not have otherwise had.
Whether you’re looking at sharing new cultures, historical time periods, or just an understanding of life circumstances outside their own, a good novel study can be the key to opening the door to understanding.
Novel Study Benefit #2: Authentic Vocabulary Building
“What’s a hullabaloo?”
This question arises every single time my students read Charlotte’s Web, and I love it!
Suddenly, I’ve got free reign to engage my students with context clues and transferring new vocabulary outside of the text.
First, we puzzle it out together based on what’s going on in the story.
Then we practice making some chaos of our own to create a big hullabaloo. We talk about times we’ve been a part of (or noticed something that might be considered) a hullabaloo. Basically, we dig deep in a short time span.
By the end of the 5-minute mini-lesson, my kids are masters of hullaballoo.
How do I know? Because for the next month, I hear it anytime things get a little crazy.
And of course, I use it to my advantage when the classroom gets noisy. What’s all the hullaballoo?
It quiets them down immediately EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.
Novel Study Benefit #3: Communication & Dialogue Skills
These days we've all got speaking and listening standards to address.
The use of literature circles during your novel study teaches students how to cooperate, take turns, and have engaged peer discussions. Of course, this takes some modeling and guidance (maybe even some significant support, depending on the student).
However, it is an important skill to build as students look toward the future. I’d much rather watch them build it during a 3rd grade novel study than see my students ten years later, clueless about how to have an intelligent discussion about learning.
Novel Study Benefit #4: Development of Social Skills
As they dive into the plot of a novel, kids are exposed to the situations, confrontations, and challenges faced by the main characters.
Whether you’re working through Holes novel study and discussing Stanley’s unfortunate situation of being punished for a crime he didn’t commit or experiencing the thrills (and challenges) of being independent like Claudia Kincaid in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, your students are pushed to think about how they’d react.
In fact, studies have actually shown this helps develop essential social skills, like empathy. There’s even a type of therapy based on the practice (called bibliotherapy)! Clients are given a book with a character in a similar situation to their own to help develop a coping strategy.
Novel Study Benefit #5: Engagement & Excitement for Learning…yes, this again.
So I know I already mentioned this one, but it is such a critical piece that I felt compelled to give it a little more time.
A well-planned novel study leaves your students wanting more.
I, personally, love to plan the day’s reading to stop at a cliffhanger moment! It leaves my students wondering (and making predictions about) what’s going to happen to those beloved characters they’ve become so attached to.
Using a novel study as an anchor across multiple subject areas builds engagement. Whether they’re designing a pen for Wilbur (Can you tell I love using Charlotte’s Web?) or considering the natural resources available to Brian as he tries to survive in Hatchet, your kids are connecting the plot of the story with the standards you need to teach across the curriculum.
These hooks encourage deeper thinking and problem-solving. They also mean that the learning lasts longer and sticks with students across the year.
At one school I worked at the kids were so excited about getting into 5th grade so they could read Hatchet and go design their own shelters in the nearby woods, they were begging for the math and science lessons needed to make their design the most stable and secure by the time they actually got to reading the book!
So why not take the leap?
Now that you know all the benefits of novel studies for your students, why not take the leap? Take a peek at all the great novel studies I currently have in my TPT store. There are nearly 200!
While it takes planning, designing a novel study can be a great way to dig deeper and cover more standards than you can with the basal or trade books. Heaven knows students don’t dig passage practice. And the good news is if you're looking for low-prep, I've done all the hard work for you!
Engage your readers and create a novel study they’ll remember for years to come.
Need some inspiration for novels? Here's a list of my favorite winter novels to use for novel study units.
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