Monday, May 16, 2011

Turning reluctant readers into EAGER readers through Classroom Novel Studies

Many students today struggle with reading, and as a result, they say they "don't like reading". How can we change that for our students? How can we turn reluctant readers into EAGER readers? I do it by incorporating novel studies into my classroom.

Lately, I've been working with my 4th and 5th graders on a novel study of Paul Fleischman's Seedfolks. This is a book I first did during my first year of teaching; the kids really enjoyed it then and I have looked forward to doing it every year since. After checking out the lexile level of the book, I decided it would also be appropriate to do with my 4th and 5th graders this year. If you're not familiar with the story, check it out at Scholastic.

Each chapter in the book is told by a different character in the story- many of them from other countries and cultures. This makes it a great starting point for a multi-cultural unit for any classroom. Furthermore, as the garden grows, the sense of community among the gardeners also grows, and it gives students the chance to think about what a community is and what it means to the people in it.

During the study of the book, we not only read the book, but we also learn cross-curricular content. Since the story is about a garden, we learn about the life cycle and parts of a plant. Because many of the characters are immigrants, we learn about past & present immigration to the US. We also do some "garden math" to figure out how many people can fit in the garden or solve other problems that the gardeners might face. During the study of one book, we are able to cover four content subjects- Reading, Science, Social Studies, and Math.

Today, we worked on Chapter 2, written by Ana. First we did a vocabulary word sort to help familiarize them with some of the more difficult words in the story. I divided the students into two groups, and each group got a piece of poster and an envelope filled with words and categories. The first group's categories were "People", "Places" and "Things". They had words like "Rumanians" or "Mexico" or "Guns". The second group's categories were "Words that show ACTION" and "Words that DESCRIBE". They had words like "suspicious" or "watched". The students categorized the words, and then we discussed them as a class.

If you've never done a word sort in your classroom, I highly recommend it. I'm always amazed and impressed about how well this easy activity works. The students have to discuss why they think a word goes into a particular category, and while they are working, you can circulate and stop to discuss as needed. A word sort can be done for almost anything!

After the word sort, we read the chapter and then answered some questions about Ana. When they come back to me on Wednesday, we'll write Cinquain poems about Ana. I always alternate a chapter with content that is related to the story.

When I first started teaching (in middle school), and I told my first class of students that most of our work in our ESL Language Arts class would be based on novel studies, you should have heard the groans! By the time we finished our third book and were ready to start on Seedfolks, the kids were super excited and couldn't wait to find out what book we would be reading next.

A well-planned novel study with carefully selected books can be invaluable to your classroom- almost any objective can be taught at some point in the novel study. It demonstrates to students that reading can be fun and enjoyable- even in school!! Each year, I turn a classroom of reluctant readers into a classroom of EAGER readers by showing them how much fun reading can be. I also try to live by example- when we have silent reading time, I take out my book and read right along with the kiddos, which shows them how much I value reading, too.


  1. I'd love to see a copy of your plan. I'm working on my Boyo's 5th grade Lit list.

  2. Mia- My lesson plan book is your lesson plan book! I'll bring it to the next event with me. Also, e-mail me at and I'll send you more good stuff.