At one point in my teaching career, my class schedule worked out so I had this 15 minute block of time when the kids came back from specials and before they had to go to lunch. It was not enough time to really teach anything, but it was definitely enough time for them to get in trouble if there was not a structured activity. I had a K-5 class of students with a HUGE range of abilities. I had a few who were verbal, one with a genius IQ, and several who were non-verbal and required a personal assistant to navigate the day. So, what to do that would engage this wide range of kids? I decided to be CRAZY and read a novel.
I started with Charlotte’s Web. We talked about the rules: you had to sit at the table, you had to be quiet, and you could not touch others around you. (It took about 3 months to get these rules consistently followed.) I really did not know what to expect, but it turned out amazing.
Most of the students (all but 2) didn’t really seem to listen. But, they were learning to sit quietly for a good block of time. This turned out to be such a wonderful skill. Parents and later teachers, alike, were very thankful for it. It also turned out that two of my students really enjoyed listening to me read. I wish you could have seen this group of students. No one would believe they would sit and listen to a story, but with consistent expectations, they all got there by the end of the year.
Interestingly, my highest level student was the most problematic. He just could not stand the thought of being quiet. He wanted to talk ALL THE TIME. So, I used this quick strategy: I place the number of post-it notes in front of him that I planned to read that day.
As I would finish a page, he would remove the post-it note. It worked like a charm the very first time. I also used some visual cue cards, like “quiet” and “listen” for my lower level students. These did not work quite as quickly, but it was an important part of shaping their behavior.
At the end of the novel (which took about 1 1/2 months), we all spent an afternoon watching the movie with popcorn. It was a great reward, and they all loved it. By the end of the year, we had read:
- Charlotte’s Web
- Wizard of Oz
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Because of Winn Dixie
After that year, I worked this time into my schedule purposefully. It was always a learning process in the beginning, but the end results were always worth all the time and effort.
If you would like to try it, consider trying one of my novel units from my store on teacherspayteachers. I have created an activity to go along with each chapter to increase the level of engagement and participation. Click on the first two pictures below to download a free sample from each unit. Directions to access the complete unit are included in the free download.