Methods & Techniques of Teaching a Novel or Short Story


As students become adept at reading they turn their attention away from the basic task of reading simple words to the study of literary meaning in novels and short stories. As with many lessons, there is more than one way to teach these topics to learners. Combining several methods could prove an effective means of encouraging your learners to become engaged in literary study.

Literary Circles

  • Many teachers have traded the standard full-class novel exploration for the practice of creating literary circles. In literary circles, or lit circles as they are commonly called, students work in groups to study books. To set up lit circles, teachers select several different books to offer to students. Students select the books that most interest them. Once paired with other students reading the same text, students set up reading schedules and take on different tasks. One member may act as the passage picker, for example, selecting different passages to look at as a group, while another may be the vocabulary selector, choosing different vocabulary words upon which to focus. Because students have some autonomy in their reading choice, many find this form of study preferable to prescriptive whole-class study.

Independent Study

  • In independent study, students read novels or short stories in isolation. Often this form of study is used when teachers want to present students with a large list of books from which to select. If a teacher wanted students to select books to read from the Top 100 Books for College Bound Students, for example, he may arrange an independent study, asking students to acquire and read these books independently, journaling to reflect upon their reading or composing an essay at book's end to express their thoughts about the text.

Group Discussion

  • Group discussion is a common way to studying novels and short stories that is akin to the traditional book club. In this form of study, students read a novel or short story as a whole class, either reading aloud together or silently alone, then discuss the work by responding to discussion questions or exploring different themes present in the text. This form of study is useful as it allows readers to see how their peers are experiencing the text and helps them develop their understanding as they hear the responses from others in the discussion group.

Literary Elements Study

  • Instead of discussing the book or short story as a whole, teachers can break it up into components by completing a literary elements study with their students. In this type of study, teachers discuss one literary element at a time with their pupils, asking them to reflect upon the impact of that element within the novel or short story. For example, one day a teacher may discuss setting and ask students to reflect in writing or orally upon how the story would be different were this element changed or how this element impacts the direction of the plot.

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