English-- Novel Units

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by Ms.H, Aug 23, 2009.

  1. Ms.H

    Ms.H Companion

    Apr 24, 2007
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    Aug 23, 2009

    English teachers, how long (time-wise) do your units last? How many different reading assignments are included?

    My units for novels always last forever. I feel like I am already asking enough of them in terms of how much of the novel to read each week, and I can gurantee they would complain a lot (more) and not read (more often) if I paced the reading and assignments any faster. However, this pace seems to cause each unit to drag on forever. For example, A Tale of Two Cities takes 5-6 weeks, Frankenstein takes about 5. The Hobbit, for a lower grade level, takes almost two months. (We don't necessarily talk about the novel in class every day during that time period-- there are other things to do too.) I guess information that would help would be as follows:

    1. How long do you typically give your students to get through a novel?
    2. About how many sections do you typically divide it into, if any? (Whole book is due in three weeks? First half of the book is due in two? A chapter a day?)
    3. What type of assignments, if any, do you tend to include with your reading requirements, and how often?
    4. How much time do you give them in class to read/ read together in class?

    I always feel like I have to have some sort of assignment due or something every time I ask students to read, because I am afraid that they won't read if there is no grade attached, and I am afraid that the students who do read will feel cheated that they had no way to demonstrate the work they put in. This ends up to be a lot of work and a lot of grading, though, since I tend to divide books up into small sections (a couple/few chapters) and have some sort of assignment for each one.

    Thanks for sharing answers to any or all of these questions!
  3. dovian

    dovian Comrade

    Aug 18, 2007
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    Aug 23, 2009

    Hmm. This is something I struggle with as well. 5 years into this job and I'm still trying to get the hang of the long novel unit.

    First, the Internet is your friend. If you search for the books you're teaching you will likely find loads of other people's units, plans and activities. That will give you an idea of how much time it "should" take. I find that a whole book usually takes 4-6 weeks.

    One thing that I tried last year with my seniors that I liked was giving them a timeline for the unit. It had dates that specific pages had to be read by and assignments that were due with them. It can be helpful to the kids to see what is coming up. I never say "read the whole book by x"; my kids usually need more short-term deadlines to keep them motivated.

    Types of assignments vary by book and group, but here's a couple ideas:
    -Before we start I have them do a little internet research on the time period or setting. You can have them present their findings to the class, or do a sort of carousel thing. If they give a presentation you could whip up a quick rubric to grade them as they speak - fast and easy and you don't have to read anything. If they do a carousel you can make them keep their notes and collect a packet when you're finished the book of stuff they should have. I use a date stamp for this kind of activity so they don't try to do it all at once at the end.
    -Pick a passage, or have them pick a passage, and analyze for a specific literary feature.
    -Give a self-check quiz. 3-5 questions, they can swap papers and see how they did and again, you don't have to grade anything. You can add that to their packet if you want.
    -"Connection" assignments - pick a poem or short story that speaks to a related theme, or a historical document from the time period. Then they can make posters, Venn diagrams, comp/cont essays.

    Reading in class depends, again, on the level. My IB seniors are expected to read at home. We might start a book or a chapter in class but most of the reading should be done elsewhere. With the 9th graders I do more reading in class together, because they tend to need more help. For plays, though, I will let any of my classes read together in small groups, sometimes with a list of study questions to help, because reading a play on your own can be difficult.

    That was kind of rambling but I hope some of it helps. Sounds like a packet or portfolio approach might help you solve some of your problems.
  4. bandnerdtx

    bandnerdtx Aficionado

    Jan 15, 2007
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    Aug 23, 2009

    If I read a novel in class, it's going to take about 4 weeks for the average length novel.

    Like you, I always like to do an activity every day, so I slow myself down, but then I find that by the end, they are hooked enough into the story that they want to read straight through. That speeds things up.

    One thing I've started doing is moving away from feeling the need to read the entire novel. I've started doing segments of many novels rather than focusing on one big piece. It has its drawbacks, but I can get through more material, and I can expose them to lots of different authors.

    That doesn't help you at all does it? LOL.
  5. Alex2Eng

    Alex2Eng Rookie

    Oct 26, 2008
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    Aug 25, 2009

    I think one of the best strategies I feel is productive is to tell the students that there will be x amount of quizzes for the novel. A history professor I had told us we would have 20 quizzes during the semester. Each quiz was 5 short answer questions based on the previous nights reading. Each quiz was a point on our final grade or 20% of our final grade. It sure got everyone to read the textbook assignment for each class because we knew every point on our grade would matter. I feel like if an English teacher said there would be 10 quizzes on a novel, all the students would read because they would have no idea when the quizzes would be.

    I'm not a teacher yet, but I think that's a good strategy. Has anyone tried it? It sort of like a pop quiz, but the students know there will be a quiz on the reading, only they don't know when.
  6. foxteach1

    foxteach1 Rookie

    Jul 18, 2009
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    Aug 26, 2009

    I taught middle school language, and did usually three novels each year. (We also did a Shakespeare play, a poetry unit featuring TS Eliot, and a research paper.) I also mixed writing, grammar, etc. in during the novel studies, so we didn't discuss them every day. Usually, they read a chapter or two (depending on book and grade level) for Mon, Wed, and Fri, and then we did writing/grammar/etc. on Tues/Thurs. Writing assignments were usually based on the novel, and for every few chapters they had vocabulary pages to complete (definition/synonym/antonym/sentence/picture). I gave a vocab test at the end of the unit along with the book test.
    One difference would be when the 7-8 class studied The Taming of the Shrew--that was an everyday thing because we read it out loud dramatically as a class and discussed as we went. Then they had homework and small group assignments based on the scenes, characters, etc.

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