During my first year of teaching, my novel studies were a mess. We didn’t finish the first two books. I was up all night trying to plan the next day. I had no sense of direction and no idea how long any of my plans would take. Now, I can plan an entire novel study in under an hour. This post will walk you through the exact steps I take to plan a novel study quickly.
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Plan A Novel Study Step 1: Get Your Calendar
Every school functions a little differently. Before you plan anything, make sure you have a calendar in front of you.
I usually start with a paper calendar and later transition to a digital calendar after I have some general ideas down. Play around with different calendars and planners until you find one you like.
Before you can even begin planning your novel study unit, you need to know how much time you have.
Some curriculums might dictate that you move through units faster. You might only have 4 weeks to do a whole novel study.
For a novel study, I use my whole quarter. That’s nine-weeks in my district (and most high schools in the United States).
My school is an alternative school; we don’t assign homework. That means all of the reading and work will be done in class, so finishing a novel study in less than nine-weeks is nearly impossible for me and my students.
Figure out your timeframe according to your district and your school.
Mark Important Dates
Then, label your calendar with any days that might affect your teaching time.
I always make sure to label in-service days, holidays, half-days, and even days when I already have an appointment scheduled and I know that I’ll be absent.
At this point, you should know exactly how many teaching days you have with your students.
Also, note which days it might be best to “teach light”.
The day before winter break, for example, may not be the best day to teach an intense lesson. You might not want to leave a sub to introduce a huge project the day you have a dentist appointment.
Block Off Your Buffer Week
I learned early in my teaching career that there is never enough time. Inevitably, a last-minute assembly will be scheduled, a snow day will happen, or your counselors will insist on coming in to discuss college applications.
I always leave the last week of a unit as a “buffer” week. This way, if we need to slow down or reschedule, I know there will still be time to finish.
And if we miraculously end our unit on schedule? Then I have five glorious days to review, teach enrichment minilessons, and have fun with my students.
So in my nine-week novel study, I plan as if I only have eight weeks. That last week is blocked off and completely ignored.
Getting your calendar ready should take no more than 5 minutes.
Plan A Novel Study Step 2: Get Your Book
Your novel choice might be dictated by your school or district. Or, you might have a list of novels to choose from. You might even have complete freedom.
Regardless of how rigid or free your curriculum is, you’ll need a novel to study.
If you already have a book in mind, move on to step 3.
If you don’t, be sure to consider a few things while you make your choice.
First, your novel choice should support your overall goals.
If you’re teaching an African American unit, remember to double-check that the book is written by an African American. If you’re diving into dystopian fiction, make sure you choose a dystopian novel.
I know that sounds obvious, but when you start digging into book recommendations on blogs and social media, you can end up down a rabbit hole and accidentally start planning for a unit that you’re not even teaching.
Another aspect to consider is the time you have and your students’ abilities.
If you only have four weeks and you can’t assign reading outside of the classroom, you may want to lean towards graphic novels or novellas.
If your class contains many high-needs students, it might not be the time to read the entirety of the Canterbury Tales.
Be sure that your novel choice makes sense for your timeframe and your students.
Actually narrowing down your book choice might take a while if you don’t have one prescribed or any ideas before trying to plan. I always recommend talking to your colleagues and consulting teacher Facebook group for ideas if you get stuck.
This step should only take 5 minutes if you have a book idea but might take days if you have no idea where to begin.
Plan a Novel Study Step 3: Choose Your Final Assessment
Your instructional coach has probably preached the idea of “backward design” to you at some point–that’s what you’re going to do here.
Begin with the end in mind. Will your students be writing an analysis essay? Creating a research project? Engaging in a formal discussion?
The final “big” assessment for your unit should shape everything you do during the unit.
Your final assessment will also determine your lesson plans toward the end of the unit.
Decide on your final assessment and then choose a due date on your calendar.
Remember to ignore your buffer week and to leave time for you to grade it afterward!
Work From the Due Date Back
From your due date, plan backward. How much time will students need in class for researching, drafting, and peer-editing? Pen (or type) these into your lesson planning calendar.
For example, a final discussion will only take one day to do (the due date). You might also want to block out the day before as a final prep day for students to organize their notes.
For a large project, however, you may want to mark off several days for researching, a couple of days for assembling the project, and a day of rehearsal. The due date might cover two or three days of class if you’re having students present them to the whole class.
At this point, you might have a couple of days or a couple of weeks planned. Way to go!
Don’t worry yet about making sure you have peer-editing sheets or the actual project assignment–that can all be done later. Right now, just get your framework done for the unit.
This step should take between ten and fifteen minutes. Remember, you’re just penciling in ideas–not creating anything yet.
Plan a Novel Study Step 4: Schedule the Reading
At this point, you might already have very few teaching days left. By the time you account for assemblies and statewide testing and squeeze in an essay, much of your class time is gone.
And we haven’t even scheduled the actual novel yet! Now, it’s time to do that.
It’s difficult to estimate how long a book will take to read if you haven’t taught it yet.
My Reading Time Formula
I have a formula I use to determine how many days we’ll need to finish reading a book in class:
Days of Reading = Book Length/Weeks of Reading/Days of Reading Per Week
- Find the audiobook version of the novel on Amazon (or YouTube or wherever).
- Note the length of the audiobook and convert it into minutes. (This is the “Book Length” in my formula above.)
- Look at your calendar and decide how many weeks you have to get through the novel. (This is “Weeks of Reading” in my formula above.) Divide the length of the audiobook in minutes (Book Length) by the number of weeks you have to read the novel (Weeks of Reading).
- Decide how many days a week you’ll read. I recommend sticking with just two or three days per week, so you’re students don’t get burnt out. (This number is “Days of Reading Per Week” in my formula above.) Now, divide the number you got in step 3 by the number of days per week you’ll read.
As an example, let me use a novel study that I’m planning right now with A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. According to Amazon, the audiobook is 7 hours and 43 minutes, for a total of 463 minutes.
I want to read the whole book in five weeks, so I’ll divide 463 by 5 for a total of 92.6 minutes of reading. That means each week, we’ll need to read about 92 minutes to get through the whole novel.
Each week, I want to spend two days reading and answering reading questions. So, I’ll divide 92.6 by 2 for a total of 46.3 minutes.
That means twice a week for five weeks, I’ll need to spend about 46 minutes reading the book with my students.
Now, you can play around with these numbers. For example, if you want to assign thirty minutes of reading outside of class each week, you can subtract that from your total time.
Forty-six minutes works well for me because I have ninety-minute block classes. We can read for forty-six minutes and still have time to answer questions and summarize the events together.
Mark Your Reading Days
Now that you know how often you’ll need to read, you can mark those days on your calendar.
For my A Long Way Gone novel study, I marked off every Monday and Wednesday from weeks 2-6 on my calendar.
Now, understanding my formula through a blog post might take a minute, but the actual math should be quick.
Planning your reading schedule should take no longer than five minutes!
Plan a Novel Study Step 5: Work Backwards and Fill in Your Calendar
By now, a big chunk of your calendar should be filled in. You’ve scheduled reading days and the due date of your final assessment.
You might also have blocked off days for work time, research, peer-editing, or presenting.
Now, jump to the end of your calendar (ignoring the buffer week of course) and start filling in everything else you need to cover.
Do you have a day to introduce the final assessment? Will you need time to teach skills related to the assessment like writing thesis statements or finding credible sources?
Are there other programs that your school or district requires you to use? If you’re doing an independent reading program, don’t forget to include time for that.
Don’t forget to also include lessons that your students might need to relate to the novel.
I always plan for some kind of introduction to the book and the author. Usually, this is a slideshow that covers crucial background information also.
After you fill in the empty days on your calendar with other needed activity, you’ll probably have very little time left to fill–if any.
If you have a day or two that’s completely blank, that’s ok! You’ll find something to fill it. If time isn’t stolen from you by an assembly or a snow day, you can assess your students’ work to see what skills you need to re-teach on those empty days.
This step could very easily only take five minutes, but could take longer depending on your calendar, your assessment, and how detailed you want to be.
But Congratulations! You created a novel study plan in under an hour!
What to do After Creating a Plan for Your Novel Study
I hope you feel great now that you have a schedule. It always takes a load off of my shoulders.
(If this is too easy, maybe you should try planning a literature circle next!)
Obviously, however, there is still a lot to create and plan. You have the rough calendar and ideas, but you might not have all of the worksheets, assignments sheets, or quizzes and tests ready to go.
This is when I will start asking to steal material from colleagues. It’s also when I start looking at Teachers Pay Teachers.
There are some really great resources created by other teachers out there.
For my A Long Way Gone novel study, I definitely purchased an introduction presentation from another seller. That’s a resource that would take me a long time to research and put together.
I’d rather spend a few dollars and move on to tackling the next day.
If you’d like to do the same, check out some novel studies that are already down for you: