Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Novel Teaching

I always feel a bit at odds and ends when I teach novels.  I know that's weird for those of you who teach lots of novels all the time, but I usually teach plays and verse stuff, long or short.  I'm pretty comfortable teaching The Faerie Queene or Donne's sonnets, and super happy teaching plays.  Short stories seem more straightforward to teach.

But novels!  First, they're often pretty darned BIG!

I assigned the novel for over break reading.  I hope they did it! 

So I started in today trying to introduce characters, and trying to weave bits of those characters through the whole of the text.  I'll pick up more, but I want the students to start paying close attention, and I can tell they didn't.  Of course, it's an intro to lit course, and they're in the course to learn to read better, so it's completely reasonable that they didn't read with quite the attention I did.

Still, For a couple of the characters, I traced bits through the novel (Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie): one character's a bit of a bully.  Later, we learn that he's been sexually abused as a child by a priest.  And they also cut his hair off.  Then later still, the mysterious Big Mom character tells him he has to forgive the priest. 

Students need to learn to pay close enough attention to tie these things together, to remember the sexual abuse incident when the forgiveness talk comes.

But I don't feel like I know quite how to teach students to read this way.

Or how to teach them to get at the bigger picture at the same time.  I tend to be a smaller, tight focus sort or reader, I think.  I like to work through small passages and explode them to get at the bigger issues.

How do you more expert folks teach novels?


  1. One of my favorite ways to get students digging into a novel is to ask them to make predictions. (This works only if they haven't read the whole thing yet, so I'll assign the first couple of chapters or whatever.) The questions can be something like "Based on what you've seen so far, how do you expect this conflict to be resolved?" Or "In a contest between character A and character B, who wins and why?" These questions work well for small-group work too, especially if you make them find textual evidence to support their predictions. It's a nice discussion-starter, and it will reveal to you how carefully they're reading the novel. (Or not.)

  2. Nice idea, Bev. I struggle with that, too, esp. since the students read at different speeds, so some finish the book in two days, while others----do not. I do close reading exercises with some novels, where they choose from a list of passages to discuss in groups.