Question Detail

Thoughts on Teaching Parts of Novels

Mar 31, 2013 6:55pm

What your thoughts are on teaching selections from novels rather than the whole novel itself? I've always believed that novels are to be understood as whole works and that breaking them into pieces destroys cohesion and meaning. However, I'm finding that teaching the level of critical reading required by the common core takes a lot of time and is often done best when texts are chunked into smaller sections.

When is it appropriate to take representative sections from a longer novel rather than asking students to read the whole thing?

Thank you!

  • English Language Arts
  • 9-12
  • Common Core / Planning


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    • Apr 1, 2013 8:40pm

      Hi Maia-

      I generally cover the content of whole novels, but I do in-depth CCSS work on a chapter or two. For example, you could break up the class and ask them to jigsaw the first five chapters. Ask each group to create a graphic novel that delivers the most important plot points and then present the student work to the class. This gives students the necessary exposition to move on with the Common Core work. Then, you can spend a week or two on a chunk, and jigsaw the remainder. You could do the same by reading chapter summaries, showing video clips, etc.... to bring the students up to speech. This allows you to maintain cohesion and meaning, but you also get to spend more time on the critical reading of the most important parts of the text.

      I am sure there are countless other ways to do this, but this is how I am able to get through Jungle Books and Merchant of Venice at the end of the year.

      Good luck. No matter what, I'm sure you'll do awesome.


      • Apr 2, 2013 11:15pm

        Thanks Katie! I love the idea of jigsawing parts of the book. What supports do you use to help students who are summarizing, say, chapter three without having read chapter two? Does that ever become an issue in your classroom?

        I'll definitely use some of these ideas for the novels I'm working on right now!

        • Apr 3, 2013 6:58am

          Maia- It never seems to be an issue. As the students present the different chapters, things seem to fall into place and fill in any misunderstandings. Generally, as long as students understand plot, they can make inferences about previous conflicts. When I do it, I ask each group to create a 6 cell comic strip for each person in the group and then I project them using my document camera. The kids are hysterical looking at each other's drawings during the presentations. You can even have the students cite textual evidence within each cell.


          • Apr 3, 2013 9:35pm

            Wow!! This is helpful. Thanks for the great idea! I will definitely use this for my last novel unit this year.

            • Apr 21, 2013 8:35am

              When studying longer works, your question is appropriate for sections that you want to highlight.

              Teachers do this every day in the classroom when they want to highlight certain areas of importance. Excerpts are not a substitute for the whole, but a palatable piece of the meal.

              • Sep 4, 2013 12:38pm

                I like interspersing sections of novels within a whole-novel study. For example, last year I brought in a chapter of Their Eyes Were Watching God to read in conjunction with the romance in The Great Gatsby.

                I've been able to use exerpts from other great books that I've never had the chance to teach in whole--like On the Road and My Antonia.

                The focus of CCSS is depth of reading, and comparison (standard 7) is augmented by adding excerpts from great fiction and nonfiction sources.