The Whole Novel Method: Teaching Students to Think

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

I have discovered a way to teach novels or literature while teaching writing that best balances the learning experience for English students and gives us the tools to succeed in keeping with the Common Core Standards (CCS). 

I did not come up with this method on my own, but found out about it through a very insightful teacher Ariel Sachs who believes that fiction should be read as an unbroken whole by students before it is ever discussed or studied.  The article is entitled “Reading Fiction Whole” and is in Education Week Teacher: PD Sourcebook.  You may subscribe to it here.  You can also follow her blog here.

Think of it this way: We all take a field trip to see a well talked about and well recieved film in the theater and then after the first scene, we stop the film and the teacher stands up and starts asking questions about it before we have seen the rest of it.  This is how many of us teach short stories or novels and this movie example is the same feeling students have when reading text.

Some ideas she suggests:

1. Framing the Project – She gives each student a ziploc bag with the novel, a note from her introducing the text, and a pad of post-it notes that are to be used to stick into places in the text that the student wishes to discuss when they get to the end of the book.

2.  Provide Real-Time Support – Ask daily how the reading is going.  Give them time to read independently three days a week.  Pair them up strategically by levels (high/low) to read to each other and make notes together.

3.  Tracking Progress – She uses the sticky notes for this, requiring at least 4 notes per night but gives stronger readers more responsibility. 

She has many other great ideas, and I suggest that if you are a teacher of English, you check out her article in the magazine.  You have to subscribe to it, but I have benefitted greatly from the articles within its pages.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

4 thoughts on “The Whole Novel Method: Teaching Students to Think

  1. I have found that reading fiction in parts and having each part discussed separately skews my view of the book towards that of the teacher. I think this idea is great in overcoming that in the future for other students.

    This method is similar to our study of Philosophy, where we are given a week to read and digest an article, and all in one go we have to explain how we feel about it, what we think is wrong, right, the strengths and weaknesses.

  2. These are good ideas for high school students who are (one would presume) more responsible. I’m a retired middle school language arts teacher. When I taught, my students could read the book front to back as quickly as they wanted to. The daily chapter assignments were for those who had to be pushed to read at all. We had reading time in class at least two days a week. We did do some “peicemeal” discussions, but the best discussions were always after everyone had finished the book.

  3. I really like this idea. There’s so much to be gotten from good literature, and this seems like a great way to extract a lot in a more holistic fashion.

    On a more personal note, I really value what you’re doing with your blog and published books (congratulations!). I’m a student at a Christian college, and am encouraged when I see successful writers who are working to forward their beliefs through their craft. I try to do this on my blog, I’d love to hear any critiques you have on any of my writing!


  4. It’s one of those things that one would think would be self-evident, but thinking back, much of my high school reading for class was broken up artificially.

    The only time I think it helped was reading plays, because we read those aloud. Slow work but helpful, especially for Shakespeare.

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