Novel studies are often reserved for students in middle and high school; but, this this doesn’t need to be the case. It is possible to make this leap as soon as a child is ready to read a chapter book semi-independently. Yes, that is right, semi-independently. By starting when students are still needing assistance to read a chapter book, you are building in the idea of deeply considering the content of the book into the concept of reading a novel instead of trying to instill this idea later – don’t fret if your child is already reading chapter books independently, you haven’t ruined them and now is a perfect time to get started.

Keys Steps for Setting a Child Up for Novel Study Success

– Choose a book that is right for your child. Choosing a novel that is not too hard or too easy is essential. If the novel that is chosen is too hard, the child will spend too much effort trying to figure out the words or the storyline and will not be able to adequately consider the theme and more subtle elements of the story. An easy book is as much of a problem, as without some challenge the effort a student puts into their thinking decreases drastically. A perfect novel choice will create a productive struggle for your student.

– Find a novel study that is more than a series of comprehension questions. No one likes to spend time regurgitating facts out of a book without any consideration for the nuances of a story. Might I recommend a Smart Simple Novel Study? Smart Simple Novel Studies are different than most novel studies as they include schema activation, predictions, space to record independent thinking, journal prompts, get out of the book activities and personal reflection questions. Each of these sections give students the opportunity to do more than read the words written in the book, they allow children to spend time with a novel, roll the content around in their brains, and make decisions with and without the guidance of the parent/teacher. 

– Give your child enough credit for being capable of big thinking. Your confidence is contagious. Let it spread.

– Be prepared to help your child through their first novel study or two, I’m not suggesting you do it for them but rather that you are available to help them organize their thoughts and learn how to navigate this new territory. You wouldn’t put your child behind the wheel of a car or set them free with a set of knives, a few pans and a gas stove without some guided practice so why would you ask them to figure out how literature alone?

– Start as soon as possible. This may mean waiting because your child isn’t reading independently yet or it may mean starting right now because you see that they are capable.

– Allow enough time. Novel studies take time. Even for quick readers, students need time if they are going to actually dig deep into the content of the book and isn’t that the goal? Rarely would I recommend spending anything less than three weeks on a study and some could easy take six or seven weeks as you move towards some of the longer upper elementary and middle school books. In general, I have found that one to two sections of a Smart Simple Novel Study a week is a good pace. I definitely lean towards the one section a week side for younger and less experienced novel study kiddos.

– Study the 10 Things All Good Readers Do together.

– Check in every day or two and talk about the responses your student is sharing. My boys and I check in at the end of their literature block each day if we haven’t talked during the block. This way I can talk to them about their answers and I can also guide them if I feel as though their answer is incomplete. I’ve also been known to make a big deal out of creativity and depth of thinking in these moments.

Though most often I find that sometime in the middle of second grade is an ideal time to begin using novel studies, some children will arrive at this moment earlier in their reading careers and some later. It’s more about watching for the signs. You knew when your child was ready to start walking and you helped them make those first few steps. You can do that with this too. Get started. Don’t be afraid. Keep it smart. Keep it simple, Keep encouraging deep thinking.