Tips And Tools For Teaching A Whole Class Novel Online

With the right tools, it’s possible!

A little girl read a book at a wooden working desk at home.
A little girl read a book at a wooden working desk. Studying at home concept.

Picture this. It’s every English teacher’s dream: students hold copies of a novel covered in dog eared pages and sticky notes. Hands fly into the air. A student discusses how the author uses foreshadowing to build suspense. Heads nod. More hands fly up. One of the ways that we make this dream a reality is teaching a whole class novel. If you are wondering if the same engagement is possible online, don’t worry: it’s possible. Here are the tools that will make your dream an online reality. 


Build Anticipation and Activate Prior Knowledge

Before we start the first chapter, we build excitement and activate our students’ prior knowledge with anticipation guides. First, students read or listen to a series of statements that relate to themes in the novel. Then, they agree or disagree. (Pro tip: I always remind my students that there are no right or wrong answers!). 

Your tool for building anticipation online is a Google or Microsoft Form. First, list each statement and include an option to agree or disagree. Next, send the form to students to complete. Then, invite students to a virtual class. During the class, read each statement. Then, use the breakout room feature so students can discuss their stance. Finally, bring everyone back and ask each side to share their arguments.

To build anticipation asynchronously, your tool is Padlet, a digital bulletin board. Pro tip: shelf mode is the ideal design for an anticipation guide. First, post each statement. Then, share the Padlet with your students. Finally, ask students to post whether they agree or disagree and why under each statement. As you read the novel, invite students to revisit their Google Form or Padlet, and see if their perspectives have changed. 


Provide context and background knowledge

Your tool for building background knowledge is Sutori. This is where you can organize videos, articles, images, and checks for understanding for your students to explore asynchronously. You can create a KWL chart in a Google document and link it in Sutori. If you are looking for supplemental resources, we love CommonLit, which has fiction and non-fiction texts you can sort by theme, grade, Lexile level, and literary device. Another favorite resource is Listenwise, which has podcasts on historical and current events with checks for understanding throughout. 

During Reading

Facilitate synchronous and asynchronous discussions

For a whole class virtual discussion use a virtual meeting tool and its features like chat, breakout rooms, annotate, and polls to engage all students. Set norms for how students will participate. 

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will students use the raise hand feature? 
  • Will students unmute themselves to talk and also use the chat feature? 
  • Who is monitoring the chat? 
  • Will you break students into smaller groups?

Your tool for asynchronous discussions is Flipgrid. Create a grid with a discussion prompt. Students create their own videos. Then, they can watch each other, comment, and give feedback. Another tool we love for discussion is Kidblog. Pro tip: Give clear expectations and model what giving constructive feedback looks like. Consider using a framework like glows and grows. 

Flip your mini-lessons for teaching author’s craft, literary elements, and analysis

One of the benefits of teaching a whole class novel online is that the tools we implement allow us to capture our teaching and our students’ learning. In your classroom, you teach a mini-lesson, and then it’s over. Students rely on their notes and their memory to recall what they learned. When you flip your teaching and create a video, students can stop, pause, and rewatch the video many times. 

Your tool for flipped mini-lessons is Screencastify, which allows you to film your screen and record your voice. Use a digital whiteboard tool like Jamboard to show students steps in a process, like how to stop, notice, and take note as they read to deepen comprehension. 

After Reading

Host an online Socratic Seminar 

Celebrate completing your whole class novel with an online Socratic Seminar. Your tool is Parlay. First, create the discussion questions. Next, students review the materials and submit their responses. Finally, students join the discussion, provide constructive feedback, and build on each others’ ideas. Students can “nudge’ each other to encourage participation, and you can create polls to increase engagement. Use the data to assess students’ comprehension and participation. 

How are you teaching a whole class novel online? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, 8 Questions To Consider When Choosing A Class Novel

Tips And Tools For Teaching A Whole Class Novel Online