I've seen a lot of posts recently by teachers that are teaching novels for their classes and feeling like it is not going well. In many ways, teaching a novel as a unit is easy: most publishing companies have provided very complete Teacher's Guides for their novels, and a teacher simply needs to use the resources that they have developed. The input is already there, in the text itself, and it's comprehensible to students (well, if the text was chosen well!). By previewing available novels and choosing ones with his or her students in mind, the teacher can be assured that the content itself will be engaging.
But then there's all that other stuff: How do I choose the right novel? How do I know if my students are ready to read it? How do I structure the pacing? How do we complete the act of reading? How do I assess comprehension? These questions are all really, really important, and a successful novel unit will depend on how you answered them. It's much easier to allow students to self-select their reading (through independent reading programs known as "FVR" or "SSR"), and for that reason many teachers have opted to do away with the novel "unit" altogether...
- Begin tangent -
FVR is an important component in a language classroom, and once you've spent a year or two with TPRS®/CI and feel (somewhat) confident with your TCI skills, then I would definitely sit down and spend some time figuring out how to implement one in your classroom (if you're at that point, check out my FVR board on Pinterest or visit Bryce Hedstrom or Mike Peto's sites). But if you're just wading into the TPRS® waters, then I would spend all of my mental energy on developing your essential skills as a teacher.
- End tangent -
...however, reading excellent novels with your whole class can be amazing. Many of the novels that are available are filled with incredible cultural content. The themes of the novels are highly relatable to students, and the discussion that they generate is fantastic. By reading the novel together and working through well-chosen activities planned by the teacher, students are able to learn more about themselves, their classmates, their own culture, and the target culture than they would if they were just reading the novel on their own. (Individual, pleasure reading has its own list of powerful benefits--so don't teach novels to the exclusion of FVR!)
In this post, I won't address many of those novel-unit-planning questions that I listed earlier. For that, I'd recommend seeking out training from TPRS Publishing or looking for sessions about using novels at your state, regional, and national conferences. Many authors have presented on how to use their novels--and novels in general--in the past and are available to lead trainings for your district or organization (Mira Canion, Carrie Toth, Kristy Placido, Carol Gaab, Karen Rowan).
In a training on reading at this year's AFLA conference, Scott Benedict reminded me that we must never make reading a chore for our students. If we are moving so slowly through a novel and bogging down each chapter with the same, boring set of pre, during, and post-reading activities, we will kill that novel for our students AND we will kill reading. Any activities that you use during a novel unit must enhance students' reading experience. If you've not chosen the novel well, it is impossible to read it without it becoming a chore because you have to move slowly and do laborious comprehension activities. If you've chosen the novel well, however, there are many activities out there that will enhance students' reading experience by boosting comprehension, personalizing the content, expanding their cultural knowledge, and improving their language proficiency.
I dare to present this game as one such activity.
¿Es posible? (Is it possible?) is a fairly common post-reading activity. You give students a list of pieces of information (facts, events, character's opinions, etc.) based on the reading, and they need to say whether or not each piece of information is possible or not. It's similar to a true/false activity, but it requires students to employ critical thinking skills because the answers are not found explicitly in the text. This is a great activity and I use it often. An easy way to make a reading activity become less chore-some is to turn it into a game! Injecting a competitive element into an activity that you already use will almost always increase the fun factor of the activity. I saw this game board format on Pinterest a few days ago for a preschool activity and thought that it would be perfect for language classes--not only because it will allow you to informally assess the depth of students' comprehension of the text and most likely require them to re-read the passage, but also because it will expose them to game vocabulary in the target language in a comprehensible and non-threatening format.
To play the game, first create a set of game cards based on a reading. The set that I made includes cards based on the first two chapters of La hija del Sastre by Carrie Toth and Carol Gaab (I have permission to publish this activity on my blog--always ask first!). When you make your set of cards, some of them must contain information that is “possible”, and some of the cards must contain information that is “impossible” (or untrue) based on the reading. Occasionally, you might include information that could be technically possible, but extremely unlikely. If a card is debatable, each participant must defend his or her position on the possibility of the information using evidence from the text itself. If they cannot reach a decision, the teacher can come over and act as a judge: hearing both sides (supported by evidence) and making the final call.
Here's how to play:
- Put students in pairs. Each pair should have a game board, two game pieces (could be anything), a set of game cards, and two copies of the text.
- Each student puts a game piece on one of the “El comienzo” spots. The objective will be to move his/her game piece space by space to the STAR space at the finish.
- The first student (whichever student is older) takes a card from the “Montón” (draw pile). He or she reads it aloud and then announces whether it is possible “Es posible” or impossible “No es posible”. If needed, he or she should be allowed to search the text in order to arrive at his or her decision. Doing so allows students another chance to read the text, providing them with more comprehensible input!!
- If the information on the card is possible, the player moves his piece forward one square. If it is not possible, the player moves his or her piece backward one space. If the statement is not possible and the student’s game piece is already at “start”, then it does not move.
- The player discards the card in the “Pila de descarte” (discard pile), and the other player takes his or her turn.
- Game play ends when one of the players reaches the STAR space!
What games do you use when you're working with a text?