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The Teacher Tip

Evaluating If A Novel Is The Right Fit For Your Students

February 5, 2018

Adapted from A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts. 


If there is a book that you very much want to choose but you are not sure if it is too hard or not, try the following activity. Gather a group of your kids who are representative of the varying reading levels in your room (or kids you are just not sure about) and ask them to do the following:


1. Read a page of the text aloud. Pay attention to how many times they struggle with a word. For many kids, struggling with a word means they will cognitively skip it, or they will have to do tons of work to infer the meaning based on context. Does that amount of skipping or effort seem sustainable across the number of pages in the novel? If not, it is way too hard for that kid. Generally, for a book to be just right, the student should read it at about 96 percent accuracy. While you don’t need this book to be just right for every kid, your percentage of tough words shouldn’t be much more than 7 or 8 percent. Just imagine what that means: If 7 percent of the words are words I am not sure about, then in every hundred words there will be seven I don’t know. That’s a lot of guessing to comprehend the text.


2. Retell what they have just read. Can the students retell the story? Often our students are able to “fake read” - that is, they can sound out all the words but are not making sense of the sounds. Asking students to retell a chunk of a text shows what they have held onto as they read. If their retell feels pretty good, then this text might be OK. But if they struggle to retell a scene they just read, or their retell is either super specific or focused on only one part of the text, then they are holding onto comprehension with their fingertips.


3. Answer a couple of general inferential questions. Ask a question that would apply to pretty much any text, such as, “What does this part show about the character?” While the student’s answer does not need to be perfect, it should make some sense, given the scene.


To learn more about A Novel Approach, visit Heinemann.com. 


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