This post originally appeared on the blog The Teaching Bank.

Funny thing about educational research is if you look hard enough, you can usually find studies to support both sides of an issue. Very rarely do you find a straight yes or no answer to what is good or bad theory or practice. Generally, it boils down to the common sense of the teacher in regards to his/her individual students and the level of freedom the teacher is given from administration.

Sadly, in today’s standardized test-heavy climate, teachers are given less and less freedom to choose what is best for their students. So many curriculum guidelines have become so rigid that teachers are not able to modify or enrich with their own lessons and materials.

I struggled with this myself while teaching 4th grade. I taught in a very high poverty, low scoring school. Most of my 4th graders could read at a 1st-2nd-grade level. Very few came to me over the years reading on grade level. The biggest challenge I had as a reading teacher was to get kids excited about reading. They saw it as such a challenge and our district used a basal series for reading instruction that was unrelatable and very boring! The students saw no reward for their challenge of getting through a story because the stories were so uninspiring and they had no emotional connection. I knew if I could “turn them on” to a book, they would see more value in reading and see a “payback” so to speak.
Learn how one teacher used novel studies to help her students' love for reading soar.
Fortunately, I was blessed with a principal that valued my knowledge as a teacher and let me teach as I saw best for my students. I started with a read aloud time where the kids would get comfortable and I would read to them. Kids in the upper elementary grades don’t get read to enough, in my opinion. It is reserved for the emergent readers of the primary grades. I chose high interest, generally humorous books that the kids could just enjoy. I didn’t strive for any deep thinking for this activity. I just wanted the kids to experience reading as enjoyable. This turned into a favorite part of the school day for the students and for me.

Once I got my feet wet a bit in the classroom, I started to develop novel studies for books where a short excerpt had been made in the basal. It is only common sense that reading the whole book is more enjoyable and leads to a much greater understanding by the student. Of course, I was careful to incorporate the skills taught in the basal in my units. I started teaching these novel units alongside the basal stories and the change between reading the basal vs. the novel was amazing. I had kids who were reading at a 2nd grade level actually focused and challenging themselves reading the chapter books that were at a 4th grade reading level. They actually wanted to read them vs. just getting through some worksheet assignment from the basal. More and more, these lower level readers were chiming in on class discussions about the books and picking up age-appropriate books by choice in free time. As a teacher, I found it easier to use Bloom’s higher order questions using a novel instead of a short excerpt because you could really dive so much farther into the story and the characters.

I see similar experiences with my own children when they are allowed to read a “real” book vs. a text-based short story. They’ve never come home from school excited about something they read in a basal, but they have many times come home and we’ve had lengthy discussions about novels that they are reading!

Learn how one teacher used novel studies to help her students' love for reading soar.
As for the sought after test scores, I didn’t do any formal research on the subject but my students’ scores certainly did not drop and their love of reading soared! Sadly, this is not a statistic that is looked at often enough.
Another huge benefit to novel study based reading instruction is the ability to really enhance the students’ critical thinking skills by diving deep with character and plot development. Unfortunately, we are seeing less and less critical thinking focused activities in the current “test-prep” atmosphere in schools today.
Maybe the most beneficial reason of all to use novels in the classroom is to really tap into the empathy and awareness that books can bring to students. By reading books like Wonder and El Deafo, students can learn about different disabilities and how people learn to live with and excel despite the disability. Books such as Number the Stars and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes can be a great introduction to the Holocaust and bombing of Hiroshima for elementary students. Hatchet and Esperanza Rising are great books to dive in with a character who faces and survives insurmountable odds. The One and Only Ivan helps students empathize and think about the impact that we humans have on the planet as a whole. These are just a few examples of how a novel can get students thinking deeply about issues which can motivate them to enact positive change in our world.


I really encourage you to give novel studies a try in your classroom. I promise you will not be disappointed and your students will thank you for it!

The Teaching Bank: Teacher-Author on TpT

The Teaching Bank: Teacher-Author on TpT

I started my adventures in education over 25 years ago. The majority of my teaching time was in the fourth grade, but I have also worked with third and sixth grades. One of my favorite things to teach was novel studies. I loved the community a book could create among the classroom. The deep discussions and laughs we all shared as we discussed a common book were my favorite times.  I loved to see a student who was a reluctant reader get hooked on a book, especially when in many ways they only knew reading as being something tiresome coming from a basal. Students going on to choose additional books to read for pleasure by authors that we read were my greatest feelings of success.  

After my autoimmune hearing loss worsened to a degree that required me to leave the classroom, I began The Teaching Bank as a way to stay connected to the education field and continue in the work that I love. The obvious choice for me was to expand on the novel studies that I had created in my own classroom, which continues to be the main focus of my store and my favorite thing to create. Over the years, I have added other curriculum items for social studies and math to use with my own children at home to supplement what they are doing in school and for their teachers to use as well. I stay current with best practices volunteering in the classrooms and schools of my own children, collaboration with other TpT Teacher-Authors, reading educational publications, and attending professional conferences. My teaching style is to be a facilitator of learning. I believe in guiding my students to become independent learners and thinkers using a hands-on interactive approach. My goal at The Teaching Bank is to provide quality lessons and units that are practical and ready to teach to help other educators lead their students to become independent thinkers.

To learn more follow my blog, facebook, and youtube channel.