Independent Reading and Class Novels

Independent reading vs. classroom novels: how do you handle both concepts? Read this post for practical ideas to cover both in your secondary ELA classroom. #HighSchoolELA #IndependentReading

Teachers are currently experimenting with independent reading and class novels for high schoolers.

I do both. 

I define independent reading as a student choosing a book and reading that book. Sure, I might suggest books to students based on my relationship with them, but ultimately, the book chosen depends on what the student finds interesting. I absolutely encourage students to read graphic novels, comic books, magazines, coffee table books, and on.

Independent reading vs. classroom novels: how do you handle both concepts? Read this post for practical ideas to cover both in your secondary ELA classroom. #HighSchoolELA #IndependentReading

As students read, I conference with them. I don’t have a checklist and set of questions. We talk about the book because I am genuinely interested in what they read. I want students to see me as a reader, as someone who values their opinions and their “take” on the book.

If you are looking for a few concepts to cover, normally, students and I discuss a few of these questions:

  • What made you pick up this book? Was it the cover? Now that you’ve read part of it, was the cover an honest representation of the contents?
  • Tell me about the author. Is the writing style interesting? Is it a different sort of sentence structure and vocabulary than you are accustomed? Would you read this author again? Should I buy more books by this author?
  • Have you ever read this “type” of book before (genre)? What books relate to this genre-is it a bit of a mystery and a bit of a psychological thriller? (I’m always interested in how students classify books compared to how I sort them.)

And on. If a student raves about a book, I write down the title and author so I can read the suggestion. I treat students as readers whose opinions I value, because I truly do.

When students do lit circles, I provide choices in how they show their understanding for me. Some students might draw scenes or create notes from certain chapters. Others might create infographics. I ask students what they want to showcase: the stories themes or characters? Even though I do allow student choice, I do organize my lit circles with a schedule. Students know what they will discuss in class each day.

I still believe that classroom novels, books that the entire class reads together, have benefits for students too. I know some schools are no longer reading as a class, but my school is not. This is my approach.

I am in book clubs, and I keep the atmosphere “book club-ish” as we read our classroom novels. Sure, I scaffold materials and hold students accountable for reading. We complete typical activities: graphic organizers, character identification, time lines.

I simply consider this approach valuable because I am modeling for students what they will need to do as they read a more difficult text independently. Typically, classroom novels are more challenging than independent reading which provides me the opportunity to support students. I never want them to feel left alone.

I model for  students how to write down important ideas from what they read: frequently mentioned characters, a timeline, a recurring element. We discuss what we noted and what we didn’t, and why. We borrow ideas from peers. The classroom novel is a collaborative effort where everyone should work together to analyze and study it.

Part of working through a classroom novel with students is giving them tools for life: This approach works for me, what will work for you? Let’s figure it out so that you can take that approach and apply it to science class, to your job some day.

I am quite laid back with the independent reading and class novels debate because I find value in both. If you’re looking for another perspective, read what Melissa from Reading and Writing Haven suggests concerning independent reading and class novels.

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