Posts Tagged ‘class novels’

Movie First, Book Second

Read Book before Novel

Book before Novel

Want your students to get the most out of reading a class novel?

Want more of your students to actually read the whole book?

What to build internal monitoring of the text and increase comprehension?

Show the move first; read the book second.

I know it sound like ELA teacher heresy, but before you hang me like the 19 accused witches in Salem, let me plead my case.

First of all, I am a reading specialist, as well as an ELA teacher. The reading research backs up my position. If we want to build comprehension, maximize vocabulary growth, and engage the author and text, we should front load as much as possible. Activating prior knowledge, scaffolding content vocabulary, reader response theory. Pre-teaching!

My caveats up front: I don’t always show the movie before everything we read. Not every short story or novel has a movie. And I won’t show a bad movie. No one is excited to read the book after watching a bad movie.

Why watch the movie first?

  1. Watching the movie first levels the playing field. When we read a grade-level novel aloud to the class (listening comprehension), listen to an audio book, or have students independently read, we reward good readers more than poor readers. The Matthew Effect (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) is reinforced. Good readers understand more, retain more, and perform better on reading quizzes and tests because they are good readers. It’s not a matter of more effort; it’s about reading skills. Poor readers (those reading below grade level) cannot access the same understanding, retention, and achieve the same rewards (good quiz and test grades) because the grade-level text is at the frustration level for them. The fact is that both good and struggling readers benefit from pre-teaching by showing the movie first. The movie simply makes the book more comprehensible. Students are much more likely to be able to read a novel at instructional or independent levels after knowing the characters, plot, theme, and (of course) the visualizations. One final note… no teacher would begin teaching The Diary of Anne Frank by reading page 1. Students obviously need some historical context. The same argument applies to movies first.
  2. Motivation. We all want our students to achieve the success of reading the whole book. I hear from students (not mine 🙂 all the time that they never finished a novel in middle or high school, including some of the brightest kids making it into prestigious universities. They learned to get by without reading. Online chapter summaries, essays, chat rooms, and movies make it easy. You don’t have to read to succeed. Watching the movie in class before reading takes away the “cheating” incentive. I find, and my students say, they are much more interested in reading the book after watching the movie. The movie piques their interest much more often than it supplants their interest. And yes, kids still always say, “The book was so much better than the movie.” Bottom line? They enjoy reading, say The Outsiders,more and appreciate those literacy components we ELA teachers love, when we show the movie first. As an aside, that’s one movie that is better than the book!
  3. Improved literary discussions. Starting at a higher level of comprehension enriches class discussions. Students are able to draw from the movie experience to compare and contrast the characters, plot, setting, style, etc. Students are able to analyze the decisions both filmmakers and authors make and evaluate their choices. Because the movie is able to show things that a book can’t and because the book is able to tell things that a movie can’t, students are able to synthesize these relative strengths and gain more insight. That is higher order critical thinking! 


  1. Watching the movie prior to reading the novel ruins the joy of reader discovery. University professors always assign articles prior to lectures to improve the level of class discourse. (Although I would argue that the reverse procedure might spark more reader independence and out-of-the-box thinking.) A history professor does not cringe at the thought that assigning an article in which you the reader find out that the North won the Civil War will ruin the story for you. Some of you are thinking, ah but that’s non-fiction. I say the same is true for fiction. When the last Harry Potter novel came out (and JK Rowling had announced it was the last), everyone wanted to know whether Harry and Voldemort would die. I won’t speak for adults, but every one of my middle school readers knew the answer within the first day of the book’s release. That knowledge did not spoil the ending. It enhanced the ending. If you’ve ever watched the magicians Penn and Teller explain in advance how one of their tricks is done, and subsequently performs the illusion, you know how much more enriching and enjoyable it is to watch with a bit of inside knowledge. Watching the movie first does just that.
  2. Watching the movie after reading the book is a reward. I would argue that it’s more of a gap-filler for those who did not or could not read. Teachers who lead discussions on comparing book to movie will spend far less time doing so when the movie is an end-of-the-unit activity. Showing the movie up front provides that comparison throughout the novel.
  3. I don’t show the movie at all because it confuses students when they read the book. There is some truth to this point with some movies and their books. Elia Kazan’s movie, East of Eden,uses only about half of the plot of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and there are some discrepancies and inconsistencies. However, rather than ending in confusion, a student with the guidance of a good ELA teacher gains far more from the differences than with a novel that has a verbatim screenplay. If given a choice, most ELA teachers would much rather explain and ask students about the differences rather than solely filling in the understanding blanks when reading a novel by itself.

Want five FREE lessons to teach the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies plus a FREE set of SCRIP Posters and Bookmarks sent to your email? 

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Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is designed for non-readers or below grade level readers ages eight–adult. This full-year, 55 minutes per day program provides both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). Affordable, easy-to- teach, and science of reading-based, featuring the Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables designed for older students. The word recognition activities and decodables are also available as a half-year option in The Science of Reading Intervention Program.


Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

Get the Diagnostic ELA and Reading Assessments FREE Resource:

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Don’t Read Class Novels

Don't Read Class Novels Out Loud

Class Novels

In terms of teaching literature, I live in two worlds. I am an English-language arts teacher and a reading specialist. Although the two worlds would seem to be quite complementary, this is not always the case.

As an English-language arts teacher, I love teaching the nuances of the author’s craft. I live to point out allusions, symbolism, and an occasional foreshadowing. I am ecstatic when I am able to lead my students into the “ah ha” experience of how a passage reinforces the theme of a novel. I believe that we English-language arts teachers do have “content” to share with students. Go ahead… try to convince me that being able to identify the omniscient point of view is not a critical life skill. Make my day… My students need me; they are dependent upon me to teach them this content.

However, as a reading specialist, I also believe in the skills/process side of reading. In this world, my aim is to work my way out of a job. I have to change dependence into independence. The more students can do on their own to understand and retain the meaning of text, the better I have accomplished my mission. I need to train students to become successful independent readers in college, in the workplace, and at home.

Which leads us to our dilemma. When we teach a novel or short story, how much of our instruction should be teacher-dependent and how much should be teacher-independent? My thought is that we English-language arts teachers tend to err too frequently on the side of teacher-dependence and we need to move more to the side of teacher-independence.

As a reading specialist/staff developer at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels, I have had to opportunity to see hundreds of teachers “in action,” teaching a novel or short story to students. From my experience, the predominant way that English-language arts teachers work through a text is by reading and dissecting the entire text out loud (an in class).

The reasons that we hang on to the teacher-dependent mode of reading out loud (or via student popcorn reading/CDs]podcasts) and dissecting the text are varied:

1. We want to earn our pay-checks by being the ones responsible for student learning.

2. The text is too hard for students to understand it on their own.

3. We like being the “sage on the stage.”

4. Students lack sufficient prior knowledge.

5. Reading out loud is a behavior management tool.

In sum, we distrust the readiness of students to handle the challenging tasks of reading and thinking on their own. We know that we do a better job of understanding the text than our students.

The way we casually describe what we are teaching is informative: In the staff room, a science teacher asks what we are teaching. We respond, “I’m half-way through teaching Julius Caesar,” not “I’m teaching my students such and such a Standard…”,” nor “I’m teaching Roman history through…”, nor “I’m teaching these reading and literary skills through…”, nor “My students are learning…” We tend to view the literature as our curriculum and not as an instructional vehicle. When the literature is treated as an end–in-itself, we are ensuring that our instruction remains teacher-dependent. After all, we are the keeper of the keys. We know “Julius Caesar” better than the students (and probably Will himself). A high school colleague of mine literally had memorized every word of the play and worked her students through the play from memory. That’s teacher-dependence.

How to Move toward Teacher-Independence

Create Independent Readers

Create Text-Dependent Readers

1. Lose the Guilt

We really need to relieve ourselves of the self-imposed or colleague-imposed guilt that we are not really teaching a short story, poem, or novel unless we read and dissect every word out loud.

2. Become a Coach

We need to become coaches, not spoon-feeders. Let’s coach students to become effective independent readers by giving them the skills to understand the text on their own. Here are some effective reading comprehension strategies that will move students toward that independence:…

3. Get strategic

Some reading out loud and dissecting text is essential. But when to do so and when not to do so?

A good guideline to help us decide how much to read out loud, with explanation and gap-filling, is word recognition. Simply put, if the novel, story, etc. is at 95% word recognition for the vast majority of students, then there should be less reading out loud, i.e., the reading is at the independent reading level of students. If there is lower word recognition, then more reading out loud/working through the text will be necessary (or the book selection is inappropriate for the students) for this instructional reading level. For more on how to use word recognition to inform instructional decisions, see my blog at… As a relevant aside, I feel that word recognition is a much better indicator of an appropriate student to text match than a lexile number.

4. Trust Your Judgment-Not Just Data

Of course, using this rather clinical criterion of word recognition has its limitations: maturity of theme, unfamiliar historical context, amount of allusions or figures of speech etc. After all, we all know students who “read” the last Harry Potter book and Twilight with enjoyment, albeit limited comprehension, when their word recognition rate was at the instructional end of the spectrum, so motivation is an important factor in determining what can be left to independent reading.

5. Focus on the Pay-offs

Independent reading of text has significant pay-offs. Reading independently at the 95% word recognition level of text will expose most readers to about 300 unknown words in 30 minutes of reading. Learning 5% of these words from the surrounding context clues of the text is realistic. This means that students will learn about 15 new words during a typical reading session.

6. Experiment with Alternative Instructional Approaches, But…

Reciprocal teaching, literature circles, GIST strategies, partner reading, jigsaw. Yes. But don’t leave out what should be the primary instructional approach: independent reading with teacher and peer support. My FREE download below will be a helpful start toward this goal.

If our goals are to foster the abilities to read independently with good comprehension/retention and to inspire young adults to read for purpose and pleasure as lifelong readers, then we’ve got to cut the cords and become more teacher-independent and less teacher-dependent.


Intervention Program Science of Reading

The Science of Reading Intervention Program

Pennington Publishing provides two reading intervention program options for ages eight–adult. The Teaching Reading Strategies (Intervention Program) is a full-year, 55 minutes per day program which includes both word recognition and language comprehension instructional resources (Google slides and print). The word recognition components feature the easy-to-teach, interactive 5 Daily Google Slide Activities: 1. Phonemic Awareness and Morphology 2. Blending, Segmenting, and Spelling 3. Sounds and Spelling Independent Practice 4. Heart Words Independent Practice 5. The Sam and Friends Phonics Books–decodables 1ith comprehension and word fluency practice for older readers. The program also includes sound boxes and personal sound walls for weekly review.  The language comprehension components feature comprehensive vocabulary, reading fluency, reading comprehension, spelling, writing and syntax, syllabication, reading strategies, and game card lessons, worksheets, and activities. Word Recognition × Language Comprehension = Skillful Reading: The Simple View of Reading and the National Reading Panel Big 5.

If you only have time for a half-year (or 30 minutes per day) program, the The Science of Reading Intervention Program features the 5 Daily Google Slide Activities, plus the sound boxes and personal word walls for an effective word recognition program.


FREE DOWNLOAD TO ASSESS THE QUALITY OF PENNINGTON PUBLISHING RESOURCES: The SCRIP (Summarize, Connect, Re-think, Interpret, and Predict) Comprehension Strategies includes class posters, five lessons to introduce the strategies, and the SCRIP Comprehension Bookmarks.

Get the SCRIP Comprehension Strategies FREE Resource:

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