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Pairing Novels for the Classroom

3 Easy Ways to Pair Books to Create Conversation

In the article “Selecting Novels for the Classroom: 5 More Questions…” I mentioned how novel-pairing potential should be an important factor when considering a book for your curriculum. However, classroom context matters, and book pairing may require some creativity to execute. Here, I will explain 3 ways to pair novels in the classroom. Pairing is a fantastic way to provide students critical space to make robust text-to-text connections, engage in meaningful discussion, and hone their analytic skills. It also reveals to them one of the great joys of literature: discovering and joining the conversations that exist across time and space amongst and between texts.

One In | One Out

One way to pair two novels is by teaching one in-class with students while students engage with the second independently at home. The benefits are two-fold. First, students can use the at-home novel as a way to independently practice the skills learned in class. Second, when read in tandem, the novels create avenues for connection and discussion. They can speak to each other, and you can position your students to facilitate their conversation. For instance, every class can include time dedicated to discuss the links they are making, which will help them synthesize the works and inspire new ideas.

One Guided | One Small Group or Independent Work

Similar to the structure above, use one novel to read aloud in class and the other for small group work and centers. The small groups can reflect literature circles with each group working with a different novel or each group can have the same book. Either option will create the opportunity for cross-text analysis. The difference is the level of support you are providing for students to access the second text. Rather than having them read it independently, you will be there to help them understand it. Connections and conversations will inevitably follow.

One Class | One Other Class

Teach one novel for ELA and teach another novel for History. Although this option may look different for different teachers depending on your schedule, it could work either as a collaboration with a colleague, if you teach in a self-contained room, or if you are charged to teach both ELA and History. Regardless of the set-up, take advantage of the countless connections between these two classes to build a seamless experience for students across the subjects. Think about the wealth of books with historical that influence the narrative or are set in evocative time periods. You could use using a fiction novel in ELA and a related, nonfiction book in History. Your students will not only converse about the books but also connect and discuss the linkages between subjects. They will see how the world shapes literature. They will see how it emerges from the world and the stories it tells project the voices of the people that lived it. A really compelling way to take this approach to the next level is to choose literature of marginalized voices. How does their inclusion in the conversation change the understanding of the history as it is commonly told?

Paired texts not only allow for such provocative questions but also create space for dialogue to try and answer them. Often, there are no clear answers, but this is also the point of literature and a great experience for students to have. They will have been exposed to the power of ideas and had an opportunity to debate them. Such powerful pairings can be made even if reading a second novel is impossible due to limited resources or time. In that case, you could pair books with short stories, poems, nonfiction readings, and more. Together, they will spark conversation you seek.

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