(How to) Read and Discuss a Book in an Hour
January is a tall order, but Reading and Discussing a Book in an Hour is a new and different way to present novels that’s also interesting, entertaining, and extremely effective. This technique literally allows a class to read/discuss an entire book in record time, although usually needing two 55-minute class periods, rather than one.
Students must use multiple critical thinking skills as prediction/projection, reading between the lines, questioning, making connections, applications, and summarizing. It also allows the construction of meaning and learning what students’ view as important in a novel compared to peers and educators, and how these are related, yet different.
The whole class and the educator are involved in discussion, prediction, and explanation of the title selected; even better, students will retain and understand its plot/themes/meaning and continue recognizing similar techniques in subsequent works.
The activity works best with mystery/suspense, as these provide more questions regarding the story and illustrate the importance of foreshadowing, sequencing, predicting, and close reading in understanding plot.
- Scissors or Paper Knife
- Binder Clips
- White Printer Paper
- Clear Tape/Rubber Cement/Glue Stick
- Plastic (clear) Page Holders
- Butcher Paper
- Markers (dark shades)
- Masking Tape
- Inexpensive Novel Copies (purchase two used online)
Xerox the novel’s pages; scanning means they’ll be far more difficult to read/manipulate.
- Remove the first chapter’s pages from one novel, clipping together and keeping intact. That is, if Chapter 2 begins on Chapter 1’s last page, place white paper over its beginning and remove when ready for that chapter.
- Follow this procedure for subsequent chapters, separating each and clipping. If the novel has a prologue long enough to stand on its own separate from Chapter 1; otherwise, place with it.
- Take Chapter 1’s first page and place on a sheet of white paper. It’s easiest to use two pieces of tape to secure it to the paper; yes, it will show, but perfection is overrated. A glue stick or rubber cement may be used, but before flipping the page they must be dry or removed.
- Continue until all of Chapter 1’s pages (1, 3, 5, etc.) are on white paper, aligning so they are in the same position. Page example (the backsides are blank):
- GRAPHIC ON SEPARATE PAGE
- Print one page and determine if shading or other adjustments are needed. Place additional pages in the copier’s feed, making five (or more) copies of each chapter page.
- Remove the pages from the white paper, and flip so pages 2, 4, 6 are right-side up. Place on the paper (on the unused back side). Again, make five copies of each page.
- Gather the pages, placing in numerical order, for five separate copies of Chapter 1. Clip, don’t staple, and place in one pile.
- Follow the same procedure for all subsequent chapters.
- Next, begin with Chapter 1, and place pages 1 and 2 (front to back) in a clear page holder (several boxes will be needed), continuing until the entire chapter is enclosed. When finished, there will be five separate chapter sets. Clip each set together and using a Sharpie, write “Chapter 1” on the front page of each set without obscuring the text. Seal the holder’s opening with transparent tape so pages can’t be removed.
- Again, follow the same procedure for all subsequent chapters. When completed, there will be five sets of each chapter.
- One copy is the instructor’s, with the rest for class groups. Stack all chapter copies together (i.e., one pile of Chapter 1’s, etc.).
- Before beginning, the educator has tabbed or otherwise prepared the novel (the second copy) for discussion as usual, noting foreshadowing, subplots, plot twists, mood, etc.
- During student discussion, the educator participates and takes notes (place on paper and then later on a computer document). Continually add to the notes when teaching again.
Place students into groups, with the number of groups the same as the number of chapters. If a small class, some groups will read more than one chapter; give them subsequent ones, such as Chapters 5 and 6. The educator may be also given a chapter to read, if desired. Each group member receives a separate copy of the chapter assigned.
- Provide each group with markers and several sheets of butcher paper (one to write upon, two or so to put underneath so markers won’t bleed through onto desks or floor).
- Each group begins reading their chapter (the younger the student, the longer this takes). While reading, members write questions on the butcher paper regarding what they need to know for their chapter to make sense. Examples:
- What happened to Tony?
- Why is Emma so angry at her mother?
- Why was Mark suspended from school?
- Why are Amanda and Marissa hiding by the lake?
- Why is Simon in jail?
When students have finished writing their questions, they use masking tape (have several rolls in a central classroom area) to place their papers on the classroom’s walls/board. Their group/chapter number should be on the butcher paper.
- The group creating questions for Chapter 1 stands by their paper and asks their questions aloud. Someone, and likely more than one person from reading subsequent chapters, will have the answers to the questions asked.
- When the questions for Chapter 1 have been answered, the group with Chapter 2 then asks their questions, and so on, completing each chapter in order until finished.
- As the questions are answered, the book’s storyline and components become evident. Students are solving a mystery within a mystery AND discussing the entire novel.
- The teacher serves as moderator and assists as needed, such as providing clarification, definitions, examples, and reviewing each chapter before moving to the next. Incorrect answers are rarely given and if so, usually corrected by a student. If not, and/or an important question is not asked, teachers should pose or otherwise guide students to the information needed.
- Educators may want to note literary devices in question form, such as What is being foreshadowed by the description of Lexie’s hometown? What is the mood of this chapter? When did it begin to change? when appearing in each chapter.
- As above, this usually takes longer than one class period. If the teacher has his/her own classroom, the butcher paper can remain overnight but otherwise must be moved. Regardless, allow time for clean-up.
- When students have finished with their chapters, remind them to re-clip in page number order for organization.
- Collect the chapters and store together so they won’t be lost or otherwise damaged. Any problems or other commentary (as noted above, such as Use regular markers rather than Sharpies, provide a longer introduction to the novel, emphasize the novel’s mood changes, ask students to connect/summarize chapters, give 10 minutes for clean-up instead of five, etc.) are typed on a computer document, saved, printed, and placed with the novel set.
One of Us is Lying by Kate M. McManus The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin I Killed Zoe Spanos by Kit Frick
The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson Escape Room by Maren Stoffels
The Cellar by Natasha Preston Hiding by Henry Turner
The “Janie” series by Caroline Cooney Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Doll Bones by Holly Black Tangerine by Edward Bloor
Lies Like Poison by Amanda Dolan Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
The Inheritance Games by Jennifer Barnes The Killer’s Cousin by Nancy Werlin
Invisible by Pete Hautman What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman
Lisa A. Hazlett is professor of secondary education at the University of South Dakota, where she teaches middle/secondary English language arts education courses and specializes in young adult literature regarding presentations and publications; special interests include gender issues and rural education. Her 2023 text, Teaching Diversity in Rural Schools: Attaining Understanding, Tolerance, and Respect Through Young Adult Literature, was published by Rowman & Littlefield, among numerous other publications centered on young adult literature.
She also serves and provides leadership for numerous NCTE assemblies, special interest groups, and committees, especially ELATE, and as an avid reviewer she regularly evaluates young adult literature novels and manuscripts for various journals and publishing houses.