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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Great Novels

Great Novels

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I love to see students really engaged in a great novel! Please share any novels or any other great reads(other than the classics) that you have used with your students. Include why you think the novel is great. Two factors I look for in a novel is relevancy and/or the ability to strongly connect to another content area. Below is a list of some novels that I have used with significant success. Feed by M.T. Anderson: About teenagers in the future that have internet "feeds" implanted in their head. High school level, students loved it. House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer: We used this book at the h.s. level and connected it to our science classes when they covered cloning and genetics. A few at the middle school level with great relevancy (these were used in an urban school district with great success!): The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake; Forged by Fire by Sharon Draper; and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick. Lastly, a great resource to find similar books is teenreads.com. This site has what they call the ultimate reading list that gives a brief paragraph description of tons of great novels. There is also a kidsreads.com http://teenreads.com/index.asp Thanks, Ray

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Thelma Pickett's picture

looking for books k thru 12 for my children with a good story line but also vocabulary builders.Any

Rebecca Alber's picture
Rebecca Alber
Edutopia Consulting Online Editor

So many great tween and teen titles out there! Some current favorites: Hunger Games series, Stargirl, Avi books, Artemis Fowl, Immortals series. (Kids are LOVING the various series on vampires that are springing up!)

I think letting kids self-select books is necessary if we are to grow life long readers. Sure, we can steer them to, and offer up books we think they will be interested in, but when they choose it themselves, it's a whole different experience.

Thelma: for books that are vocabulary builders, have your children do the "Five-finger rule" when self-selecting. You can read about how it works here:

Rebecca Alber

Joel Sohn's picture
Joel Sohn
English Teacher

I've discovered that by keeping a variety of books from teen/youth to adult classics on my bookshelf in the classroom, students will find something that interests them. I give them a break from the routine by allowing them a "reading" period where they can read quietly on the floor, lounge in their chairs, we dim the lights just a little, and let in the natural sunlight, and I play a little classical music. The classroom transforms instantly into a "coffee shop" where they are sitting quietly and reading. I've even allowed them to read books via iPhone or Nook if they are so inclined. As long as they read.

Of course, I also use reading prediction charts to make sure they do read. They fill those out in the final 10 minutes of class. It asks them to quickly summarize plot, predict what will happen next, to point out their favorite part, and to list any words they don't know.

I don't discourage them from reading books "below" their level because the process of reading is about practice.

Phil's picture
Teacher and Ed-Tech Blogger at BrokenAirplane.com

Students love the book and the book's message is transformative. Plus students of all ages can go to Ishmael.com and ask questions of the author. Some of my students have said this is the first book that made everything make sense to them.

Mart Grams's picture

My students love Anthem by Ayn Rand. I use it in my Civics 10th-grade classes. Another great one is Sophie's World by Josteen Gaarder; but I think it is out of print.

Linda Schnakenberg's picture

My book club is currently reading this book and so far the response has been overwhelming. We are discussing using this book for some sort of community reading project. In this age of bullying and consequences, this book is a must! All people will see how their choices impact others.

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Classmates,

We flip the calendar page and it is a new month
We begin again...at the beginning...
Always, everyday is a new beginning: a gift...
"God created time, so that everything wouldn't happen
all at once."
November is history, December has begun, is now...
We survived Thanksgiving and now we deal with
Chanukah Miracles, Christmas Miracles
B.C. A.D. by whose accounting...?
We are much older than that...
Look up at any star, it will tell you that.

Grandpa came from the Old Country
He was solid like a slow-moving rock
and quiet with his "religious"osity
His hands were powerful from toil and earth
When he washed them he whispered a prayer.
I was 10 years old in Brooklyn, we shared a bedroom...
His Religion was real...I could tell it came from long ago...

In Midwood High School, as a young teenager
I read a short story by a man with a funny name;
I was impressed before reading the story
simply by his name, "How could someone
have such a funny name?"
At 13, things like this "popped my brain"...
I had a neighborhood friend named Henry;
"How could someone be named "O Henry"?
his short story "The Gift of the Magi" made me cry;
That "popped my brain" also, I couldn't believe I was
crying in Mrs. Bernstein's English classroom
at Midwood High School in Brooklyn
because I just a read story in a book...
Something Powerful and Mysterious was going on...
it never happened before in School...
What did this mean...? I kept quiet and tried to make myself
invisible (even back then I knew I had "special powers" :-)
It worked, nobody said anything to me.
eventually the bell rang and class was over...

Whooo... the crowded teenage hallways were a welcome relief
friends and fantasies: boys and girls...

December has begun, again...
I remember O Henry and the "Gift of the Magi"



it's not about me, it's about we...



K. Dunlap's picture

Please don't forget that pleasure reading and academic reading are two different things. We have a responsibility to teach academic reading to our studets too. I enjoy YA novels, but they do not belong in the high school curriculum. Independent reading, maybe, but too many students do not know how to read books beyond middle school reading level because sometimes we focus too much on enjoyment or engagement. A great book can engage students and still challenge them intellectually.

Cate's picture
high school alternative education English teacher

Getting my ninth graders to read is always a struggle, but year after year I can always count on Bearstone by Will Hobbs to get my kids motivated to read. Bearstone tells the story of a young Native American boy who repeatedly runs away from his group home and life's challenges. He is sent to a widowed rancher's farm for the summer where he learns the power of friendship, loyalty, and trust. It's a great book to teach students numerous themes such as with the help of a good friend and solid commmunication, anything is possible.

Many of my students have spent time in group homes and are inclined to run from their problems instead of facing them head on with the help of friend(s), so they can relate to the main character, Cloyd. We have powerful discussions in class about similarities between their personal experiences and reactions and Cloyd's. This is a book I highly recommend!

Michelle B's picture
Michelle B
Former Elementary Teacher/ Current Mom, Volunteer, Community Member, Business Owner

There are so many. Red Midnight, Call it Courage, and Island of the Blue Dolphins are all survival stories and geography and culture could be tied in.
I've written a page at Squidoo where I'm trying to have people add and vote up or down books to create a page with really good books for teens.
I encourage everyone to stop by and vote up or down books and add your own suggestions.

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