Winter break is a time for teachers to recharge, reset, and most importantly, REST, but when you're feeling up to it, it can also be a great time to reflect and play around with ideas for the following year.
As fellow ELA teachers know, it's a beautiful thing when we get bookworm students, but the reality is that most teens today simply don't have a connection to books. This month 11 other incredible ELA teachers and me have teamed up to bring you novel options to help your students fall in love with reading.
You can use these as class novels, for lit circles, or as recommendations for your classroom library - and/or even your own TBR list!
I know we've all heard it: A student saying, "I'm just not a reader" or "I don't like to read", to which I always respond, "maybe it's not that you don't like to read, but that you have yet to find a book that you like." 9 times out of 10, if I put a novel-in-verse (NIV) like Punching the Air in a reluctant reader's hands, they are beautifully surprised - not only at the content and the layout, but also at their own buy-in while reading.
Punching the Air by Ibi Zoboi and one of the exonerated five, Yusef Salaam, is a heart wrenching and poetic story of identity, anger, systemic oppression, family, freeing art, and second chances - all through the eyes of a young black teen male.
It's a beautiful piece for reviewing and analyzing poetic devices, looking into social justice issues, and inspiring creativity. Many of my students could not put it down when we read it whole class and whenever I recommend it for independent choice reading, students always give it 5-star reviews.
It can be a little heavy, but it's the perfect depiction of "fiction is a lie that tells us true things", and there's few things students appreciate more than realness. There are also sooo many options for supplementals, and as a quick read, it fits perfectly within a larger unit (I paired it with Frankenstein - see here for info and here for resources).
Disclaimer: the text includes profanity, and scenes of violence and racist slurs
When Samantha from Samantha in Secondary chooses a full class novel, she likes to consider a few things. Is it accessible for all students? Is it highly engaging? Does it have strong literary merit? Will students actually ENJOY reading it? When the answers to all of those questions are a resounding YES then she knows she’s picked a good one.
Enter: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds.
Long Way Down is a novel in verse that takes place over the span of ONE MINUTE. (Yes- one minute.) It’s high energy, incredibly thought-provoking, and students are consistently captivated by it. It’s also a short read with plenty of depth which makes it perfect for concurrently running a choice reading unit right alongside it. (Samantha’s favorite!)
To read more about how Samantha teaches Long Way Down, click here to read her full blog post. She also has a done-for-you teaching unit that you can check out right here.
If there’s one regret Amanda from Mud and Ink Teaching has in her teaching career, it was not teaching A Thousand Splendid Suns SOONER.
In Amanda’s experience, there has been no other novel as powerful at uniting a classroom full of readers through empathy. Set in a tumultuous time frame of Taliban rule in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns tracks the story of two women and their intertwining lives.
Students love the relationships between the characters and find them completely relatable -- even half a world away. The human connection between the main characters and students’ own lived experience is palpable and one of the most unique ways she’s ever seen students connect with a novel that seemingly has so little in terms of “relatability”. That’s why she uses the Essential Question, “Why do relationships matter?” to thread the unit together. They study the psychology of attachment theory, examine the science behind isolation vs. community, and so much more.
And here’s the thing: Suns is tragic and deals with a LOT of trauma, but the novel ends with hope. Real hope. So many of the books in our curriculums and on our library shelves are tragic start to finish, but this one is so special.
If you ever consider teaching it, Amanda has a complete unit set with materials and you can grab it here!
Krista from @whimsyandrigor uses the oldie but goodie The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin to hook even the most reluctant reader while also engaging my most avid book lovers.
Why? Because Raskin has created an incredible mystery that not only the characters in the novel have to figure out but the reader is left to muddle through the clues as well. And, wow, is it a mystery!
There are A LOT of characters to keep track of so Krista assigns each student one character to pay extra attention to and at the beginning of each class period, experts share what details they have gleaned from the most recent reading.
She also hangs a poster at the front of the class to keep track of clues the characters receive. Every year, the students gather around the poster, point excitedly to clues, make informed (but often wrong!) guesses, and beg to read during class. What else could an English teacher ask for??
Warning! It is EXTREMELY difficult to not give anything away while the students are making their wild claims. Be prepared to keep a neutral expression while students are reading! It is a challenge but so worth it just to see their eyes bright and eager to read this classic novel!
Molly from The Littlest Teacher was gripped by the exotic work of fiction, Life of Pi, the first time she dove into it. Rightfully acclaimed as a “modern classic,” Life of Pi is the epic story of a sixteen-year-old boy who finds himself adrift on the ocean in a lifeboat along with a small menagerie, the most shocking member of which is a fully-grown Bengal tiger.
Out of painful circumstances, Pi embarks on a journey of self-discovery and cultural exploration. He finds himself seeking answers to difficult questions, and finding those answers in unusual places.
Students are likely to find Life of Pi an unputdownable treasure that will have them exploring right along with the brave teenage protagonist.
Whether you use this as a whole-class novel study, or an option for independent reading, check out this post with ideas for fun post-reading activities students can complete after reading Pi, or any novel.