Teaching the class novel

As a teacher of literacy, I have always enjoyed teaching whole-class novels. With novels, one can teach skills, vocabulary, writing, history – the list goes on and on! When the school year begins and students see the class novels lined up on my bookshelves, they ask me daily, “When are we going to get our books?” For me (and I would like to presume, many of my students) having a physical book to call their own is something magical; a feeling of ownership; a relationship with text.

However, choosing to teach the class novel brings up a myriad of questions for me:

  • Is “teaching” even the correct word to use when using a whole-class text? Shouldn’t students read it organically and have rich discussions about the book’s themes, characters, etc.?
  • How do I select books that everyone in the class will enjoy?
  • When do I use novels as anchor texts or for close reading
  • In a perfect world, each novel would correlate with a larger, interdisciplinary unit, but when will I have time to plan with my colleagues?


Thankfully, I am currently in a situation where I am able to create my own curriculum. I consider myself extremely lucky, especially because in the past, I have not had as much autonomy with what I teach.

Designing my own curriculum is fun – don’t get me wrong. I honestly enjoy it, especially since I can tweak it from year to year and class to class. However, I’m a perfectionist, so I’m constantly wondering how I can make things better.

One year, I used curriculum on Engage New York. Everything is laid out in modules and all of the resources are done for you. Day-by-day lessons are organized so all you have to do is review and print! The convenience of Engage NY is great, especially for new teachers. However, I often found that I was modifying the lessons extensively to meet the needs of my students. I also found that not all of the units were appealing to me or my students (The Lightning Thief is one of the novels used and this is quite a difficult text for nearly all of my sixth grade students).

There were pros and cons to Engage NY and I like that I can pull resources from there to supplement my teacher-created curriculum. (My students loved reading Steve Job’s commencement speech, which is a great resource for teaching students how to provide evidence to support claims.)

So will I teach novels this year? Definitely. However, the way in which I do so changes with every text and every class. I’ve had to scrap some of the novels I taught last year due to lack of student interest or reading levels.

Here’s a look at novels I used last year:

Here’s a list of novels I am contemplating for this year:

Some of the books listed will be in literature circles, so students will have a choice as to what they prefer to read. I enjoy starting off the year with Freak the Mighty because it’s high interest (and there’s a movie!) This year, I want to offer more of a variety in the types of stories my students are reading. The Red Pencil, a story about a young Sudanese girl, Amira, who struggles with her village being attacked and the journey to a refugee camp, will hopefully lead to rich discussions about worldly events.

While I’m still in the planning stages of the upcoming school year, I like to think that each year is better and that through novels, my students not only learn skills (theme, character development, etc.), but I also hope that they come to appreciate the stories that are being told. And maybe, learn something about the world or themselves along the way.

What are your favorite novels to teach? Tell me in the comments!



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