Last school year, my middle school students and I read the novel, A Long Walk to Water and some of our pre-reading activities included making predictions on what the text would be about based on the drawings on the book cover and keywords from the text. Students defined these words, and judging by their meaning, guessed what the text would be about. It’s a fun activity to launch into a novel unit. You can use the gallery walk method or simply write the words on the boards or fold them into dice. This can last a whole lesson.

After we had studied the novel, I asked the kids to write a letter to the author, Linda Sue Park, telling her how they felt reading her book and asking her any questions they might have about the book and writing in general. Some of my students were reluctant about this exercise, but when I explained that their letters will actually be read by the author, they became engrossed.

Fast forward to few months after. I posted the letters (through the help of another teacher) to the author’s address in New York after I’d found her on Twitter and had series of exchange.

It was a new semester and my students had all forgotten about the letters, but few months into that semester, our package from New York arrived! Linda Sue Park had read and responded to all our letters. Every student had a letter and a signed bookplate from the author! The students couldn’t contain their excitement. They jumped around saying, ‘We got a letter from a famous author!’ Some said they’d sell the signed bookplates to make money. 😂  A girl ran to me and said, ‘Ms Jennifer, can we please read JK Rowling next school year so that we can write to her?’ I told her I’ll add that to my plans and see how it works out. She ran to her friends to share the news and I heard a girl sigh, saying, ‘I wish my favourite writer was still alive. I’d have loved to write to Enid Blyton.’ Before you know it, I was getting lots of suggestions about the authors we should read and write to.

Do you include pre-reading and post reading activities in your lessons for teaching novels? I’ve learnt that you can use these techniques to get students excited about reading!

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