Last year I used novels in my classroom for the very first time. I was able to get four classroom sets of novels through a Donors Choose project. I was very excited to have the novels but I didn’t know how to use them with a whole class. I discovered that Allison Wienhold had a lot to say about this topic, so I read all of her blog posts. I definitely recommend following her blog.
Right now, I am teaching Brandon Brown quiere un perro by Carol Gaab for the third time. I finally feel confident teaching this novel and I want to share what has been working well for me. I will walk you through how I prepared my students for the novel and the process of actually reading it.
BEFORE THE NOVEL
Before I use a novel, I figure out what vocabulary and topics I need to teach in advance. I don’t like to spend a lot of time teaching new words during the novel because it really slows down the pacing. The story won’t be enjoyable if students get tied down with too many unfamiliar words. Therefore, I spend about 2-3 weeks teaching necessary vocabulary in advance.
I created this document to organize my thoughts as I prepared to teach Brandon Brown this year. I started by making a list of the essential vocabulary. I noted words that I think are harder to acquire and don’t have a gesture. I also wrote down possible themes to explore with the novel. This really came in handy when I created activities and stories to use in my classes.
After looking at the essential vocabulary, I determined which words would be the best to target. I made this decision based on what my students already knew and the frequency of the word in the novel itself. After considering these factors, here are the structures that I chose to target:
- Already acquired or familiar structures: hay, es, está, tiene, ve, va, quiere
- Brand new structures: regresa, lleva, recoge, duerme, se despierta, hace ruidos, cierra la puerta, abre, come
- Structures with no gestures: como (like), pero, también, tampoco, con, solo, para, por, que, de repente, ya, porque, así que, todo, pronto, entonces, ahora
- I made a list of these structures so I remember to include them in stories and other activities. I slowly incorporate these structures in class so students start to become more familiar with them in context.
Lesson Ideas / Resources
Here is a list of resources that I used to teach these target structures in advance. I created most of the materials myself but some also came from other teachers. I will link everything that I can and give credit where it’s due. I will also try to list items in the order that I used them so you can see the progression.
- Card talk: family members, birthday, age, and pets
- Personas famosas y sus mascotas: slideshow of celebrities and their pets
- Play doh pets: students make their own pet using play doh
- ¿Con quién se queda el perro? song activities (Kristy Placido)
- Simon’s cat: vocabulary introduction, PQA, and movie talk slideshow (quiere, se despierta, duerme, hace ruidos)
- Simon’s cat: written story to read the next day
- El perro horrible: mini story and a short movie talk clip
- Read and draw: students read the sentence and draw a picture on their white board to show their understanding (quiere, cumpleaños, va a cumplir, hace)
- El chico quiere una mascota: a class story that I tell using student actors
- I wrote this story myself and use this document as a script and as a class reading. You can change the character names for your own classes because these are the ones my own students chose.
- Miguel y sus mascotas: movie talk clip, story slideshow, comprehension questions (recoge, lleva, va, pet vocab, rooms of the house)
- Closet space: vocabulary introduction and movie talk slideshow (cierra, abre, la puerta, recoge, lleva, pone)
- Closet space lesson plans (created by Lauren Tauchman)
- George quiere un gato: a story to read in class
- Un cumpleaños terrible (created by Niki Tottingham)
- The present: movie talk slideshow (created by Travis Murray)
- The present: a week of lesson plans (created by Carrie Toth)
- The unfair game (the present): slides I created so students can play the unfair games using sentences from the movie talk “the present”. I usually have students play this game individually rather than on teams. They write their answer (translation) on their own whiteboard. If they get the answer right, they decide if they want to keep the mystery point value. If they choose to keep it, they have to accept the points whether it is a negative or positive value. Then I reveal the value on the next slide. That’s why it’s “unfair”. Kids really enjoy the suspense of not knowing the point value. It keeps the game interesting and lets them reread sentences from our story. If you want the original game rules, read this post here.
DURING THE NOVEL
While I am teaching the novel, I rely heavily on the teacher’s guide. I would see if your school can buy this for you because it’s not cheap. It saves me time and contains great activities so it is worth the money in my opinion. I can’t share documents from the teacher’s guide, but I can share activity ideas.
Typically, I try to read one or two chapters a day with my students. We spend about two weeks total on the novel and it feels like the perfect pace. We read the chapter and then complete an activity. I will mix up how we read the chapter, but most of my classes prefer that I read aloud while they follow along with their own book.
I like to mix up the activities so we aren’t doing the same thing each day. I have learned not to kill the joy of a novel. This means not going overboard with comprehension questions and assessments. I did that my first year and students got burnt out quickly. I’ve been saying this a lot but it’s true: less is more.
Below, I will share some activity ideas for each chapter. Again, less is more. You don’t have to try to do every single activity that is listed. I just want to share a variety of ideas and you can choose what you’d like to do. I will also link to other blog posts that have helped me teach this novel.
- Kahoot PQA before starting chapter 1
- Chapter 1 of BBQUP (post from Travis Murray)
- Carrie the dancing dog resource
- Kahoot for chapter 1
- Chapter 2 of BBQUP (post from Travis Murray)
- Students draw their ideal birthday gift and we discuss
- “Find someone who…” birthday edition (teacher’s guide)
- Kahoot for chapter 2
- Brandon Brown mafia (inspired by Travis Murray)
- La Bicicleta by Carlos Vives and Shakira (music video)
- La Bicicleta (Just Dance video as a brain break)
- Learn about ciclovía in Colombia and watch video
- Reader’s theater for scene at the park
- Digital breakout game ch 1-4 (post from Travis Murray)
- Activity ideas for ch 1-4 (post from Elicia Cárdenas)
- Learn about different animal sounds in Spanish
- Play charades with new vocabulary
- Activity ideas for ch 5-6 (post from Elicia Cárdenas)
- Bring in blankets and have students make a fort to read in
- Play the game “1, 2, 3, toca la pared” (we play outside if the weather is nice; otherwise we go to the gym or the commons)
- Using Nearpod drawings (post from Travis Murray)
- Learn about street dogs (perros callejeros)
- Quizizz comprehension check for ch 3-6 (this is not an actual quiz, this is a site called Quizizz where students can complete questions at their own pace)
- Reader’s theater works well for the scene with the doctor; I have a bunch of toy doctor props from the thrift store that make it fun to act out
- PQA: How do you feel about going to the doctor?
- Running dictation relay race with chapter events
- Listening comprehension assessment (include in teacher’s guide)
- Create a story tower with events from chapter 8
- Play “strip bingo” using sentences from the chapter
- “Amigos” slideshow for class discussion on friends (teacher’s guide)
- “Vaya” slideshow – fun expressions to use with friends (teacher’s guide)
- Comprehension crossword puzzle (teacher’s guide)
- Pencil game slideshow (chapter 9 and 10) – read Martina Bex’s blog to learn how to play this game if you are not familiar with it.
- Sequencing – students take sentence strips and work with a partner to place them in order (teacher’s guide)
- Birthday party for Brandon (teacher’s guide)
- Learn about piñatas and students create their own
- I do this with my classes after we finish the novel. I used to do paper mache piñatas but it would take a lot of time. Now I just have them make a paper bag piñata and read about traditional piñatas in Spanish).
- Quinceañeras – students can learn about this cultural tradition through this reading
- Novel review comic – students draw to show their comprehension)
As I mentioned above, it is possible to kill the joy of a novel. Too many assessments will do that. Students do not need to be tested on every single part of the book. You can do that if you choose, but I do not. I like to do assessments half way through the book and at the end. I try to assess reading, writing, and listening. I don’t assess on speaking but I know some teachers do. Many of the assessments I have used are in the teacher’s guide, so I can’t share those. I will link anything else I can, though.
If you want to read about how to assess a novel, I would read this blog post from Allison Wienhold called “How to assess a novel.” She has been using novels much longer than I have and knows what she is doing. I would not call myself an expert in this area by any means. I still am figuring it out myself.
- Quiz on chapters 3-6 – I created this quiz for the first part of the novel. It’s by no means a perfect assessment but it’s what I came up with. I haven’t used it this year but I shared it so you can see an example of what I used last year. Like I said, I’ve been trying to do less summative and focus more on formative.
- Final novel writing assessment – At the end of the novel, I have students complete a final writing assessment. Their job is to retell the story including the major events. I provide them with a word bank in Spanish (no English translations, just a list of words in Spanish). If they use the word in a way that makes sense during the retell, it shows me that they understand the word. I do not require them to use the words, it’s just a little extra support. I like any writing form that Martina Bex creates because hers have a rubric at the bottom. It makes it easy to grade and shows students what I am looking for.
That’s how I teach a class novel with my students. I hope that the resources I have created and gathered can help save you time if you use this novel. Even if you don’t use this novel, you are still welcome to use any of my resources. Again, I recommend getting the teacher’s guide if you use a class novel. They aren’t cheap but they are worth it.
I hope all of this was helpful! Let me know if you have any other questions about teaching a class novel. Thank you so much for reading my blog!