Differentiating the Whole Class Novel for ELLs and Struggling Readers: Suggestions from a Reading Specialist

differentiating the whole class novel blog post title

Here are some tried and true suggestions for how to facilitate reading with a common text like a whole class novel. I’m both a reading specialist and an ESL teacher, but these particular suggestions come from a good friend who worked as a reading teacher for more than 20 years in both middle and high schools. In honor finally finishing, and posting my new unit for the book, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley on Tpt I’m posting these suggestions.  Enjoy!

Differentiating a Whole Class Novel for ELLs and Struggling Readers:

These suggestions can be used to differentiate the time when students are reading. They can also be used to allow students variety with regard to their reading. You may allow students to choose how they will complete their reading or assign a strategy for them, based on student needs and/or goals.

  • Round robin reading or popcorn reading = avoid having one student read aloud while the rest of the class follows along. Research shows that this is not effective and it can cause some students to become anxious and dislike reading. This can also end up modeling reading that is not fluent for other students which is the opposite of what you want.differentiating the whole class novel pinterest graphic

Before beginning the book:

  • A class discussion about what being on task during silent reading may be helpful. Create an anchor chart of expectations with student input. Hang in the classroom. Refer back to this anchor chart when/if students are having trouble staying on task and following expectations.
  • Have students set individual goals as to when each section will be completed.

Methods for during reading:

  • Partner oral reading. The partners should determine how much each reads before they switch off. This can be especially effective when there is a two-person conversation in the book. The partners each read one character.
  • Partner reading with retelling. One person reads a section, and then the partner summarizes the section. A modification of this is to have the listener describe what they pictured while the partner was reading.
  • Teacher reads aloud. This can be an effective way to start off in-class reading. Read a section to get the class started then let them continue. This models fluent reading.
  • Student reads aloud to self. Read to Self Phones facilitate this. (Oriental Trading link)
  • Have students work in groups where they each have an established role. The roles can be varied based on the level of the students and the number of students in the group.
  • Teacher reading one-on-one or with small groups, modeling reading with think-alouds and showing how to respond to the during-reading activities.
  • Students read in small groups with an adult other than the teacher (support person, special educator, volunteer). This can entail having the group silently read and then discuss a specific number of pages and/or having the adult read aloud at times.

Reading individualization strategies:

  • Provide quiet, distraction-free zones for students who need them. Within the classroom, some students may find noise-canceling headphones beneficial.
  • For students who have a difficult time keeping up with the reading, providing a study guide that includes chapter summaries may be helpful.
  • Digital text. Many books, including The War that Saved My Life are available on Overdrive.
  • Allow extra time for completing reading.
  • Use of a large print format may help some students. In addition to people with vision problems, individuals with dyslexia, ESL students, and reluctant readers sometimes benefit from large print.
  • Students with organizational struggles will benefit from having a copy of the book to keep at home in addition to having a copy in school.
  • Students who read faster can be allowed to read ahead with the understanding that there cannot be any spoilers!
  • Flexible seating during reading time. Allow students to find a comfortable spot that may not be at their desks. Provide cushions, blankets, beanbags. There are lots of things like this for sale at Goodwill and sometimes you can get good finds on Facebook marketplace in your area.
  • Audio or text-to-speech version of the book. For ESL students, listening to audiobooks while following along with a physical copy of the book can be very beneficial. This can provide access for students reading below grade level to grade level texts.
  • Students who have difficulty sustaining attention when reading may benefit from setting specific goals and then taking short breaks. Acceptable options during the breaks should be explicitly established beforehand.

You can use these strategies with the novel The War that Saved My Life using my unit for the book:

The war that saved my life full novel unit

or just the Interactive Reader’s Notebook that has before, during and after reading activities for the whole book and is designed specifically for ELLS and struggling readers:

The war that saved my life interactive reader's notebook cover

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