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Planning a novel study

By Jackie, from ROOM 213

There is a lot of support out there for ELA teachers: strategies and tips on social media, blog posts about classroom activities, and resources on TpT. All of these help with specific tasks and texts. However, what if you want to design your own novel study - how do you pull together all of the amazing ideas that other teachers share into one coherent unit? What are the steps of planning a novel study that hits the standards and keeps students reading?

It does take some careful planning. However, if you spend a few minutes with me here, I'll give you a road map that you can follow, so you can get your students engaged in a full class novel 🗺

It all begins at the end

When planning your novel study, you need to do so around the standards and outcomes required by your curriculum. However, it's important to remember that you don't have to hit every standard when you plan your unit. Ask yourself: which standards best lend themselves to the novel we are going to read? Then, pick a handful that you and your students can focus on. That way you and your students can concentrate on skill building (and the love of reading) without getting overwhelmed.

Also, at the end of your novel study, your students will likely do some final assessments of some sort. When you know what these are - and the skills they will need for success - you can create the activities and shorter assessments they will need to build those skills.

✅ So, step one actually happens at the finish line and with this question: what do your students need to know and what skills do they need for success? You will then need to plan lessons & activities that will help them attain those skills.

Scaffold skills when planning your novel study

Yes, we need to begin with the end in mind with our eyes firmly on the standards and outcomes of our curriculum. But we also need to:

  • Break down the skills students need to achieve each standard/outcome
  • Create lessons and activities that will target those skills
  • Scaffold these skills in a way that leads to student success
  • Do all this in a way that fosters engagement

You're probably saying, yes, I know that. But how do I make it happen? 

First, look at that final assessment. What skills will your students need? Mine are doing a final essay on a lesson learned by a character that combines character and thematic analysis. So, as I planned my novel unit, I built in short activities and assignments that allowed them to do that. We begin with learning how to identify key facts and to support those facts with evidence. Then, they practice analytical writing with short (easy-to-grade) paragraphs.

An example of these short analytical assignments:

My International Baccalaureate class is currently reading The Poisonwood Bible. The novel is narrated by the four Price daughters and their mother, and each has a distinctly different tone. I wanted my students to be able to identify how Kingsolver uses tone to develop character, and so I gave them this assignment:

Analyzing text with short assignments👉🏻 You can grab the slideshow I used (you’ll have to edit it for yourself) by clicking here. My students also build on their skills for passage analysis with an activity I call Quotable Quickies And, you can get more strategies on this post: 5 Strategies for Teaching Author Purpose.

✅ ✅  Step Two choose activities and short assessments that allow students to build the skills they need to achieve the standards you identified.

Engage with Essential Questions

Essential questions can be that one thing that drives engagement. That’s because you make the switch from the typical chapter questions to ones that focus on what each student can learn from the book, things that they can apply to their lives. 

The questions can be simple: what can you learn from this writer? What can you take away from reading the book that will help you in your life?  Or, they can be more specific to the book: What can we learn about the power of human kindness in The Book Thief? Note that even though the last one focused on a specific text, it’s still framed on an aspect of human nature that most of us can relate to.

Then, as you read the novel, after each reading chunk, you can ask students to reflect on and discuss what they are learning about the essential question. And, when they can relate to the issues and lessons in the novel, they will engage more with it.

✅ ✅ ✅  Step three: think about ways you can connect the themes in the novel to the students' lives.

Plan your novel study with time for both reading and skill-building

Ok, everything I said already goes right out the window if we can't get students to read the book, right? And even if we can manage that Herculean task, they will all be reading at different rates which is a huge management issue.

Let's look at each of these:

For me, the best way around the issue of not reading is to create classroom activities for the book that students will want to participate in (more on that to come). Then, they may be more motivated to read so they can participate too.

When it comes to the pacing issue, I  balance time to read in class with classes that focus on skill-building activities. On reading days, students get a big block of time to read, but I also include some short activities to break things up, like quick discussions or writing prompts. And, if a student has read ahead and is all caught up, I don't punish them with more work to do; instead, I encourage them to read another book of their choice. The students who typically read ahead are quite happy to do so.

And while I do need to give students time to read,  I don't drag the novel study out too long because nothing kills engagement like taking weeks and weeks to read and discuss a book. This means that I need to either give them more time to read in class and/or expect they do some for homework.

Skill-building days come after students have read the assigned section of the novel. During these classes. I try to build engagement while honing the skills students need for success. That's up next!

✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ Step 4: plan a mix of reading days and skill-building days

Use the 3Cs: Collaboration, Critical Thinking, & Competition

planning a novel study

If I want my students to get engaged with the novel study, I know that daily chapter questions are not going to do it. Instead, I plan activities that require students to do lots of critical thinking and collaborating. This begins with teaching them how to close read and includes lots of group discussions about the novel.  (Click here for a PDF on fostering strong group discussions)

I love to talk about ideas in the books I read, and my students are no different. Giving them a chance to just chat about the book with few parameters - other than what they found interesting or significant - makes for a more natural experience. Now, we do have to work on the outcomes, but I start with discussion because it's just more interesting. So many of our classes start with these instructions: go in your groups and discuss what you think was important in this section. Then, after they've had a chance to chat, I'll give them a more focused, skill-building task to do, like taking a close look at the way a character is developed or a symbol is used.

And, when we do collaborative work, any time I can add in a bit of competition, the students get even more into the task. Something as simple as some chocolate for the group who finds the best supporting evidence for their assertions can get them very excited about textual evidence.

However, I try to balance this with independent work as well - because not everyone likes group work. So some classes are full of collaborative activities, while others are focused on quiet, independent work. For example, we will do writing prompts, or after they've read an important chapter, I might ask students to do a Write-Around  where they need to decide what was most important in the text.

It's also important to remember that variety is always a good idea - even a great activity gets old if it's used over and over again!

✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ ✅ Step 5: use a mix of skill-building activities, including the 3Cs

I hope you've found something to help you with planning your novel study. If you'd like more help - and some activities you can use, check out my short course. After a few short lessons, you'll have a fully planned unit you can use with your students!

And if you'd like to check out some resources to help with your novel study, click below:

📖 Active Learning Exercises for Any Text

✏️ Learning Stations for Any Text

💻 One-Sliders for Any Text

My friends at the coffee shop have some resources for you to check out too:

Presto Plans: Creative Book Reports for Any Novel

Addie Williams: Novel Study Bundle

5 Interactive Poetry Activities Your Students Will Love

Do your students find joy in poetry? When teachers begin a poetry unit, they already face the challenge that students will already have their walls up before you even start. Typically, this reluctance comes from previous experiences where they've felt confused and unengaged by poetry. In some cases, this is a result of their experience with poetry simply being analysis without engagement.  

Teachers can help students find joy in poetry by making it a more interactive process. We can get them to move around the classroom, discuss poetry with peers, include an element of competition, and much more in our poetry instruction. These strategies sometimes come more easily with for other genres in our ELA curriculum, and we sometimes don't see them as translating to poetry, but they certainly can!

Try these 5 interactive poetry activities that your students will love. 


The first interactive activity that you can use to make poetry more engaging for your students is collaborative Snowball Poetry Writing, which combines collaboration and acrostic poetry! Here’s how it works: 

  1. Each student gets a sheet with a topic (i.e. D-R-E-A-M) that is written vertically down the left-hand side of the page. 
  2. To begin, the students must write a line in the space provided on the right-hand side of the first letter (i.e. "D").
  3. Then, they must crumple their page and throw it before retrieving another "Snowball," which underwent the same process. 
  4. Their new page will contain a new topic (i.e. R-O-S-E). They must read the previous line (the one next to "R") and write their own next to the "O." 
  5. This process continues. Once a sheet is filled, it will be returned to the person who started with that page to complete a good copy of the poem.     

When students are done, you might even consider having a poetry read-aloud where each student who wrote the final copy can read the poem aloud and credit each of the collaborators.  

If the idea of students throwing crumpled up paper balls around the room sounds like total chaos, it usually is, but in the best kind of way.  Test assured that the chaos is short-lived and quickly tamed once they get back to writing.  If you are really hesitant to give it a try, start by having students try to hit a target at the front of the room instead of throwing them around.  This will keep the paper balls contained to one area.


Although we do not typically associate poetry with competition, adding a competitive element to your poetry instruction with poetry challenges or escape rooms is a fantastic way to raise the stakes and keep students engaged. You might be wondering what exactly is a poetry challenge...

Poetry challenges are escape room-style, competition-based games that require students to apply their understanding of poetry concepts to escape a scenario. For example, I like to use a poetry challenge to help students with their comprehension. For instance, since many standardized texts include  comprehension-based multiple choice questions with poetry, I provide students with a backstory where they are transported into a magical book and must answer 10 questions correctly to reveal a mystery word to escape.  

Similarly, you might have students show their understanding of different types of meter (iambic, trochaic, dactylic, etc.) to escape a volcanic eruption by sorting poetry cards into their correct meter type. You can also test your students' understanding of poetic form and literary devices to find a rainbow treasure by sorting form/device cards to the poem they relate to to reveal a mystery word.  There are lots of options, but adding in that competitive element will engage your reluctant poets to learn the basics of poetry analysis before diving into annotation.  If you are new to escape rooms, you might want to start with a figurative language escape room. Develop puzzles or riddles that allow students to show their understanding of terms like metaphor, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. to escape! 


Writing poetry can be daunting. Tapestry poetry, through its emphasis on collaboration, is a great way to ease students into the form. Tapestry poetry was developed by Shernaz Wadia (of India) and Avril Meallem (of Israel). These two women started writing tapestry poetry over email. With tapestry poetry, two authors each write a 9-line poem based on the same title and then work together to meld it into one finished product. Here's how it works:  

  1. Put your students into pairs (or allow them to choose their own partner).
  2. Get one of the students to select a title for the poem.
  3. Only the student who selects the title is allowed to use it in the poem (to avoid repetition).  
  4. Both students write a 9-line poem.
  5. When they are done, they will work together to interlace the two poems into a single poem. All 18 lines must be included in the final poem, but students are permitted to make small grammatical changes (singular to plural, verb tenses, etc.), and adjustments to adjectives and adverbs. However, the majority of the poems should remain intact.  

You can download this FREE tapestry poetry activity here. 


Have you ever read Billy Collins' poem Introduction to Poetry? In this poem, Collins poignantly describes what I think is one of the main challenges of teaching poetry. From the perspective of a teacher, the speaker says they want the students to “walk inside the poem’s room / and feel the walls for a light switch.” Instead, “they begin beating it with a hose / to find out what it really means.”

Students that I’ve taught in the past seem to have a tendency to try and discern what a poem is about—sometimes to the detriment of their overall reading experience. With poetry, we also tend to get caught up on traditional analysis, so much so that we can easily forget to reflect on the way we experience the poem.

To make my poetry unit more interactive, I encourage open communication about the poems we read by using poetry discussion cards that have no assessment piece. Instead of focusing on the language of traditional analysis, the questions I like to ask are like...

  • What do you think the poet felt when they wrote this? 
  • What do you think is the most important line in the poem?
  • Which words in the poem stood out to you? 

You can grab these FREE poetry discussion cards here. These discussion cards not only work for any poem, but they also work for song lyrics as well. In my experience, new students to poetry tend to connect more to music lyrics than to written poetry, even though they are closely related. You can these discussion cards to get your students to respond to the lyrics of a popular song as a way of easing them into other poems. 


Have you tried using found poetry in your classroom? Found poetry is poetry that is made by taking words, phrases, or passages from an existing text and recontextualizing them in a new poem by changing the order of—or omitting—certain words. A common example of found poetry is blackout poetry, where the poet redacts (or blacks out) certain words from a newspaper, magazine article, or book, for example, to create a poem out of the remaining words.  Here are some ideas for texts you could provide to students for blackout poetry: 

1.  Newspaper article 
2.  A photocopy of a book or text you read as a class 
3.  A magazine article 
4.  A famous poem 
5.  Song lyrics 
6.  Social media captions

Another fun found poetry idea is the cut-up technique, where students cut out words from a provided text (like a page from a magazine) and rearrange the "found" words into their own poem. An assignment I often did with students was to provide them with all the individual words from Robert Frost's famous poem, "The Road Not Taken."  I would print it on magnetic paper and have students cut out each word.  Then, I would provide them with a metallic surface (usually a baking sheet from the culinary tech lab) ad have them rearrange the words to create a new poem.  I called the activity Robert Frost Rearranged!  

To keep things more simple, you can also easily provide students with newspapers or magazines (ask parents to send in any old ones they aren't using to build your collection), and have students cut out and paste the words to create a found poem.

What I like about found poetry of all types is that it adds a physical and tacticle component to poetry, which is especially helpful for our kinethestic learners. It's also great for expanding our students understanding of what poetry is. 

There you have it! Happy poetry month, teachers, and I hope you and your students love these new activities! 

Looking for more ideas to make poetry interactive?  The bloggers at The Secondary English Coffee Shop have you covered. 

Poetry Task Cards by Addie Williams 

6 Activities to Kick Off Poetry Month

6 Activities for Poetry Month


Espresso Shot: 6 Activities to Kick Off Poetry Month

It's National Poetry Month and we here at the Coffee Shop would love to share some of our favorite activities that you can incorporate into your poetry unit or use throughout the month. 

Tracee Orman: I love to show students that poetry is not and should not be as painful and daunting as they may think. I start out by using short, easy-to-read poems that students can digest easily. (Poems by William Carlos Williams, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Carl Sandburg are favorites.) Then we slowly work up to more complex poems. Along the way I have them try out writing parody poems in the same format as the poems we read. Incorporating the reading and writing breaks up the unit and makes it more fun. You can download a guided presentation with handouts here: Guided Poetry Presentation & Handouts

Nouvelle ELA: I LOVE poetry and I really look forward to celebrating it in April, but I also have a lot of students out on vacation or band trips or whatnot. Here is an Independent Poetry Analysis that you can send home with kids or use as a sub plan. It’s available in paper and digital, so you can even use it for hybrid and remote learning.

Presto Plans: One of my favorite ways to have students respond to poetry is with a Poetry One-Pager. This activity gets students to present their interpretation of a poem onto a single piece of paper using both text and illustrations. At the heart of this artistic exercise are the elements of strong literary analysis. The result is a colorful, enlightening product that will give you further insight into your students’ perception of any given poem.  I always provide a framework and templates for those students who need extra support, but also give more freedom to those who are stronger with poetry analysis.  You can learn all about how I approach poetry one pagers by clicking here

The Daring English Teacher: I love teaching poetry, but I find that sometimes students (and teachers) can be a little intimidated by words in verse. That is why I love my Sticky Note Poetry Analysis teaching resource. Not only is this unit engaging and hands-on because it incorporates sticky notes, but it is also a fool-proof way to teach poetry! This poetry unit makes teaching poetry a breeze! It includes step-by-step analysis instruction and multiple activities that can be used with any poem.

Room 213

Students often need a little more nudging when it comes to poetry, but I find that once you get them engaged, they actually enjoy it. So, I’ve come up with quite a few ways to lead them into it, including poetry bingo, scavenger hunts, and challenges. You can read more about these on my blog post, 5 Ways to Make Poetry Fun and Accessible.

Addie WilliamsToo often students (and teachers) are intimidated by a poetry unit, but I think it’s the perfect time to have fun with language and words.  One of the most effective ways I’ve found to start off with poetry is to have students write a poem all about their pet peeve.  It’s fun, non-threatening, and is sure to get students talking!  Here’s a link to the Pet Peeve Poetry activity to get started right away… everything is included. I love to read what they come up with and students love to share their pet peeves with each other. 

We hope you have a wonderful time celebrating Poetry Month with your students! Share your favorite activities with us on social media! Find us on Facebook and Instagram.

Tips for Teaching Students to Show Evidence From the Text

Tips for Teaching Students to Show Evidence from the Text

Tips for Teaching Students to Show Evidence From the Text

By Tracee Orman

Do your students struggle with showing evidence from the text while responding to questions?

Even though this skill is introduced in elementary (the first reading anchor standard in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) requires students to read the text closely, make logical inferences, and cite textual evidence to support those conclusions), it is still a skill that needs to be reinforced and practiced each year in secondary school.

Of course, before you teach it, it’s important to let students know why it’s such an essential critical-thinking skill. We are preparing students for the real world in secondary education. And in the real world, future employers, future clients, future partners are all going to require “evidence” to support a conclusion. Practicing this skill will help develop their ability to question information, decipher fact from opinion, draw conclusions, and cite evidence.

But this skill doesn’t need to be practiced solely in a research unit. You can have your students practice it often while reading a novel, short story, or short nonfiction article. Here are some tips:

• Be consistent in asking for evidence from the text with your text-based questions. Students will only respond with text evidence if you demand it every time.

• Think quality over quantity for questions. Are you just asking a number of questions to assign busy work or do you truly want students to practice a higher-level skill when answering a question? It’s perfectly OK to only have one, two, or maybe three questions maximum for follow-up after a chapter in a book or an article. If your questions do not require students to read the text closely, are they really necessary?

• Require evidence even in opinion-based questions. It’s great for students to have opinions about things happening in the text–that’s what helps them make connections. But remember to still require evidence from the text when they share their opinion. 

• Use sentence stems. I always like to post sentence stems (or sentence starters) for students while they are reading and responding to the text. It definitely helps students who are struggling to begin and/or complete their responses. 

Sentence stems

• Model sample responses. In addition to sentence stems, students need examples so they know what your expectations are. If you are comfortable using a strategy such as ACE, RACE, or RACES (restate the question, answer the question, cite the source, explain your response, summarize your answer), then by all means use it. I personally don’t use RACE or RACES in high school; instead, I allow students to simply answer the question, then support it with evidence from the text. I find this to be easier when transitioning to research writing to avoid wordiness, but you should use whatever works best for you and your students.

Text Evidence sample response

If you need fun nonfiction articles to practice this skill with students, you can download this FREE Show Evidence from the Text resource. If you want additional practice passages that can also be used in Google Classroom or other online platforms, you can download the full version HERE.

Show Evidence From the Text

For additional resources and help, check out these blog posts from Room 213:

Teaching Research Skills: Active Learning

Teaching the Process of Literary Analysis

Thanks for reading!

LGBTQ+ Novels for Your Classroom Library

Here at The Secondary English Coffee Shop we believe teachers should do all they can to help students feel welcome, safe, and accepted in their classrooms.
One way to do that is to fill your shelves with books where students can see themselves represented, and this week's espresso shot is all about books that can do that for our LGBTQ+ students.
Here are some recommendations that will help these teens feel seen, heard, and included in our classrooms - and our content. 

Nouvelle ELA

The Princess and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang: This charming graphic novel introduces us to Prince Sebastian and his trusted friend Frances. Frances is a talented young dressmaker who longs to become famous, but she is forced to keep her identity secret because her client, Lady Crystallia is really Prince Sebastian in disguise! This book explores gender identity, friendship, and loyalty. Its whimsical drawings and fairytale vibes make this a truly touching read for any age. Check out more LGBTQ+ book recommendations for middle school and high school at my blog.

Cemetery Boys,
by Aiden Thomas, tells the story of 16 year-old Yadrieal, a transgender male, who is struggling to be accepted in his family and is simultaneously caught in a mystery surrounding his cousin's murder. It is such a unique book that will appeal to so many students. It's a mix of paranormal romance, fantasy, and suspense. But it especially delves into the Latinx culture with themes of LGBTQ+ acceptance, colonization, deportation, and racism. Recommended for teens 14+

All Boys Aren’t Blue, by George M Johnson is a gripping book that includes a series of essays following Johnson's journey growing up as a queer Black man in Virginia. In addition to describing Johnson's own experience, it directly addresses Black queer boys who may not have someone in their life with similar experiences.

ROOM 213
You Should See Me in a Crown, by Leah Johnson, tells the story of Liz Lighty, who has never felt like she fit in her prom-obsessed town. She has her hopes pinned on a music scholarship that will help her escape, but when it doesn’t come through, she is convinced to compete for prom queen and the scholarship that comes with it. In order to do so, she has to put herself in a spotlight she doesn’t want. She feels anxious and unworthy, and to make matters worse, she falls for the competition. The best part about this book is that it’s not about being queer or coming out - it’s a fun story that just so happens to have a queer main character. Our LGBTQ+ students need to have books to read that normalize who they are, rather than making it being an obstacle a character has to overcome.

The Daring English Teacher

David Levithan's Boy Meets Boy is a story about a gay high school sophomore named Paul who attends a school like no other. In this love story, Paul meets Noah, a boy who is new to the school, and Paul immediately is attracted to him. However, teenage relationship drama ensues when Paul’s ex-boyfriend wants him back, and now Paul needs to decide if he wants Noah or his ex. Readers will enjoy the fun romance, teenage love drama, and idyllic setting this book has to offer.

Addie Williams

Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a beautifully written coming-of-age novel. Ari and Dante are complete opposites, but when the two meet at the swimming pool, they find a way to connect and their connection builds into a strong friendship. As the two grow closer, they must come to terms with their own identities and face the truth about their relationship. This book deals with issues of mental health, families, racial & ethnic identity, and LGBTQ+ topics. It is well-loved in my classroom library.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson tells the story of twins, Noah and Jude. The plot is told from both of their perspectives at different points in their life. The twins go from inseparable early in life to not speaking in only a few years. We learn about the challenges that each face that bring them to this point. The early years are narrated by Noah and focus on his love and obsession with Brian and the emotions he faces in losing his first love. The later years are narrated by Jude and highlights the challenges she faces in dealing with love, loss, failure, and guilt. The book shares the journey of the siblings finding their way back to each other.

Happy Reading!

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