Teaching novels online

Teaching online has been more difficult for me than I thought. I had done this before, and I knew what I wanted to do- but then I started questioning everything. I saw what others were doing, and I started doubting what I was doing. I typically know that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, people highlight what the best is on their social media- which can be very different from reality. I KNOW this, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t hit me hard recently. Plus, online teaching can seem relentless, and it is! I have taken more time putting together a video for my early childhood classes than I typically do planning and teaching them!

While I am feeling better- mostly- there are some days that are still difficult. I set aside some time in the morning to work and then I get more work done in the afternoon when my husband can be with our son more. I am not an afternoon work person! I am normally exhausted by then and not as productive. Plus, it can seem like my to do list just hangs there- not getting done. This week, I am going to try to set an alarm more (although it wasn’t too necessary before because I naturally get up by 7 at the latest.) I am hoping a little extra time in the morning and a shower will get me going.

I have reached out to others online- and I know that I am not the only one. But I put this out there in hopes to be honest about how I am feeling. If you feel this way, you are not alone. This is hard. I put together what I am doing to hopefully help you- but don’t feel like you need to compare yourself to me. Whatever you are doing is GREAT WORK!

I am lucky that we were able to go back and put together bags for students to pick up. I was able to pass out our novels to my students. My sixth graders are reading Felipe Alou and my eighth graders are reading Bianca Nieves both from Fluency Matters. I have transferred some of my activities that I typically use face to face online. My classes meet 4 times a week. My plan is to have students complete 3 chapters per week then have either a cultural activity or a synthesizing activity. However, I also have been sprinkling shorter cultural activities in throughout the week.

Pear Deck is still my go to for reading guides. I ask a variety of questions including:

  • a review of previous chapters (ie: list three important events from the last chapter)
  • fact based questions where students can find the information right in the book
  • opinion based questions
  • translation questions to make sure students are focusing on those main ideas
  • drawing activities to check for understanding
  • analysis questions especially from Pear Deck’s critical thinking library

I really like having students manipulate templates that are on Google Slides. I have figured out Smashdoodles this year- and Scott Benedict has created an amazing template online. This is an easy assignment with little prep on your end. Plus, I love how it is open-ended for students.

Speaking of templates, I have been using Matt Miller’s Google Slides and Drawings templates. I have used the timeline option and character map. I also found this fun Instagram template to have students create with one chapter. This week, I asked my 8th grade students what they liked, and they said they liked when they had choices of what to do. For example, one day, I said they could:

  • make a comic strip of the chapter. (I said ten panels, but one student told me that was too many! I will limit it to 8 next time.)
  • create the character map.
  • recreate a video with it.

My go to quiz game has been Quizizz. I like this because it gives instant feedback. Students can also retake it. I set Quizizz up to show the correct option and then allow students to retake it until they earn 70%. Also, I wanted to give more listening activities for my fifth graders, and I used the new recording feature! It seemed to work well for my students. I also like this to provide more listening comprehension for my students when they are doing more reading.

This week, for my face to face class with my 8th graders, we played the Games of Quotes– which was a lot of fun. I gave them five lines from the game, and then split them up into breakout rooms. They found their quotes (took about 18ish minutes), then we all voted back together. Our favorite (boldest?) quote was when I asked for something that I do after school and one team put she used to flirt with my father. That got a lot of laughs.

I am transferring some of the traditional “puedo” speaking activities to Flipgrid as well. I try really hard to have my sixth graders say mostly things they can find in the book instead of application. My eighth graders can create more with the language.

For culture, I used an article about the Mirabal sisters from El Mundo en Tus Manos while teaching about Felipe Alou. Dreaming Spanish YouTube has some great videos that I could use for Spain and Bianca Nieves. This week, I was hemming and hawing for what to plan for my eighth graders when I realized that I haven’t used a song in awhile! Kara Jacobs has some great songs about Alvaro Soler. I also put in some links for them to see what he is doing as he is staying at home. Finally, the novel Felipe Alou discusses the Panamerican Games. I know that my students don’t know that this exists still, so I wanted to pull in the website and some other authentic resources from last year’s games into a Pear Deck. (Note: I used a presentation from Slides Mania because I am not that skilled!)

I hope that this has given you some ideas! I would love to hear what you have done online while teaching novels.


5 thoughts on “Teaching novels online

  1. Hi Maris, thank you for all of your brilliant ideas! When the school closure began on March 13 in Illinois, fortunately I was already into a novel (La Maldición de La Cabeza Reducda) and my Spanish 3-4 students (mainly 10th graders) had some established routines and procedures. They were able to carry out tasks independently throughout the rest of the novel. I am a firm believer of procedures and routines when it comes to novels because I think if we throw in too many side activities or require them to create too much, they get a little uneasy about “what the teacher is looking for” – and high school kids are very grade-driven. So, for the novels, I post audio files of myself reading the chapters and the students follow along in their books. They were able to complete one chapter per day and complete 3 required activities in their notebook and submit them via email, Snapchat, or Google Hangouts through a photo of the page. Some students chose to type the information into Google Docs and submit them through Google Classroom (which has been our lifesaver for a platform to post assignments and such). For the three activities I always would pull out 5-7 key words that I wanted them to learn, and those words always helped them in their retells of the chapter – so the words dealt with major events. They copied the words on their notebook page and defined them. Then I created open ended 5 comprehension based questions in English so I could get a formative assessment of their understanding. They wrote just the responses under their vocabulary words. And then when we were in the classroom, students always did a Write and Discuss (a la Mike Peto) where we did a retell of the chapter through QA, focusing on the use of the 5-7 vocabulary words. I always included a picture of the main events in the chapter that I threw together with clip art to help them retell the chapter. Since students were doing this on their own, I did not have an opportunity to really do the QA live with them, so I provided a “between the lines” activity for them where I would first write out a 5-8 summary of the chapter in Spanish using the new words, and then I would delete areas of the summary were students would have to fill in the events – usually focusing on the sentences that required them to use the words. So basically a daily lesson Google Slideshow would have a Vocabulary slide, Comprehension Questions Slide, Picture Retell slide, and a Writing Between the Lines slide. A quick photograph of their notebook page allowed me to view their progress and document completion of work. It seemed to work really well. If anyone is interested in an example or template, I would be happy to share.

    1. Thanks for all of your ideas- they are great! If you want to share a template, I will add it to my post with your name if you don’t mind. I am curious as to how you are doing write and discuss. I really want to do that this week and was reading how some people are doing this in their synchronous classes.

      1. Would be happy to share a template. How do I do this on a blog (embarrassed to have to ask)? It is a Google Slideshow…just share it with you?

        With regard to the Write and Discuss (again…a la Mike Peto): Normally in a face to face class, the Write and Discuss is a retell of the chapter with personal questions embedded using the 5-7 vocabulary words that are the focus of the chapter. So, I start out with a statement to trigger the retell and ask the story to the students. I stand at the board, students have their notebooks and pencils in hand, and we write about a 5 sentence paragraph together based on the main events of the chapter and making sure to include the 5-7 focus vocabulary words. Sometimes our conversations stray a bit because I throw in PQAs, but we always end up back to the retell and I lead them towards events that circle around those words. The students copy the paragraph in their notebooks, and we utilize that information over the next couple days in partner work where they read and translate their writing to review the novel, or I might do a quick exit quiz where they get to use the Write and Discuss paragraphs to answer some questions, etc. (this holds them accountable for doing the work because they get to use their notes).

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