16 March 2016

Get Your Students Excited about Reading Novels!

Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, is my absolute FAVORITE novel to read with my 8th graders!  Even though our district uses an anthology-based curriculum, I plan my year to allow for 3-4 weeks to spend on this novel!

Tangerine is about a boy named Paul Fisher, who moves with his family from Texas to Tangerine, Florida.  Paul is legally blind due to some mysterious accident when he was younger...this mystery is a big part of the plot!  Paul also happens to be a great soccer player, but he can't play on his school soccer team because he has an IEP.  Paul's biggest problem, though, is his terrible - some might even say evil - older brother, Erik.  Erik is a bully, a criminal, but also a star football player.  Paul is rightfully afraid of Erik and has suspicions about him that no one else seems to see. Paul and Erik's parents are pretty clueless about their kids' problems, which makes this book really interesting for middle school students!

This novel teaches irony in a masterful way...Paul, who is legally blind, is the only person who sees the truth clearly!  The themes of "good vs. evil", "seeing isn't always believing", and the "truth shall set you free" play out in suburban and rural areas. Special needs and IEPs are given the spotlight in a positive "you can overcome this" way.  Socio-economic differences and racial tensions are highlighted in a way that helps kids understand and be sympathetic to the characters.  The author even manages to toss in a science lesson along the way!

Even my reluctant readers end up LOVING this book.  It is fast-paced, and the mystery of how Paul lost his eyesight keep the kids enthralled.  They also get personally invested in the unfairness of how Paul is treated, and they get angry about how rotten Erik is.  This book sparks amazing discussions between students and really makes them think about social topics.

One of my most reluctant readers and writers, who told me, "I hate books", when I assigned this novel, ended up getting so involved with the story that he wrote me this -wait for it!- without being asked!  He did this writing, on his own!  When I shared that with his mom, she was shocked and thrilled to find out he wrote willingly! (Keep in mind, this is from one of my most struggling, least-interested-in-school students ;)
Another student's final response: "I would read the book again, it was that good.  It was also that good that it was the best book I've read for school, maybe even ever!"

Because I knew how much my students would love this book, I didn't want to drag them down with a bunch of questions to answer after every few pages.  So I created a Novel Study Guide that would help them process the book, without nit-picking it apart.  After doing a few pre-reading activities together in class, I gave my students a week to read each of the three parts of the novel.  (Each part is about 90 pages.)  Then, once a week, I gave them time to talk about the book in small groups and to complete a few activities and answer a few questions about the part they read together.  

Kids LOVE being given time to talk...and this book gave them lots to talk about!  Doing the response to reading activities in small groups also helped my struggling students feel successful and helped them understand the plot better through discussion with others.

After finishing the book, there were a few after reading discussion questions and a plot diagram to complete, which could be done whole-group or independently.  Finally, as an assessment, I gave the students a choice of two writing prompts to complete.

If you've got reluctant novel readers (especially in grades 6-9), you have to introduce them to Tangerine!  It would make a great read-aloud, too!  Click the picture below to get your own Novel Study Guide for Tangerine.  I promise you and your students will LOVE this book!

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