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March 7, 2011 The Good Old Book Report By Nancy Barile
Grades 6–8, 9–12

    Book reports seem part of the realm of middle school and elementary school. You don't often hear of students doing book reports in high school, but I feel much can be learned by doing such an assignment in the higher grades. A book report can challenge the student to use higher order thinking skills in order to understand and interpret literature.


    To start, I recommend that students choose the book for their report themselves, and I stipulate that the book must not be one for which there are SparkNotes or CliffsNotes. This helps eliminate issues of plagiarism. All books should be approved by the teacher. The books must be fiction. Books That Don't Bore 'Em: Young Adult Books That Speak to This Generation is a wonderful resource to help students find appropriate books for this type of assignment. The book report requires students to provide evidence of their choices and reasoning, which helps them think more deeply about what they have read. The book report is broken down into eight sections, and each section should be labeled:

    1. Identify the SETTING of your novel, then explain why the setting is important. For example, if the story is set in 1977 in Afghanistan, why is this significant? If the book is set in contemporary times in the United States, what does that contribute to the overall meaning of the novel? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

    2. Discuss the CHARACTERIZATION in your novel. Begin with the protagonist. Is the character well-developed, or is s/he a stock or stereotypical character? Is the character static (unchanging throughout the story) or dynamic (changes by the the end of the novel)? What personality traits does the character possess, and how does this affect the outcome of the novel? Then move on to the minor characters in the novel. Do the character's inner thoughts and feelings reflect his/her outward actions? Explain. Give examples from the book to back up your point of view.


    3. What is the POINT OF VIEW of the novel? First person, second person, third person? Why is this significant? For example, if the novel is told in first person, what advantages does this have? Why? Why do you think the author chose this point of view? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

    4. What is the CONFLICT in the novel? Is it human vs. human, human vs. nature, human vs. society, or human vs. him/herself? For this one, you will have to delve into conflict much more deeply than you have in the past. Explain the conflict and how the protagonist deals with it. Does the protagonist overcome the conflict? Succumb to it? Give evidence from the novel to support your view. There may be more than one conflict in the novel.

    5. What is the THEME of the novel? Explore this deeply by asking yourself the question: What was the author's purpose in writing the book? Do NOT use stock themes such as "Don't judge a book by its cover." Make sure the themes reflect the specific meaning of THIS book.

    6. What are the SYMBOLS in the novel? Why are they significant? How do they help develop the story and contribute to the overall meaning of the book? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

    7. Is there FORESHADOWING in your novel? Did you know what was going to come? Why? Were there any hints as to what might occur? Why do you think the author chose to use or not use foreshadowing? Give evidence to support your answer.

    8. Evaluate the ENDING of your novel. Was the ending justified? Was it viable and believable? Was it a satisfactory ending? Did it fit the rest of the novel? Was there a catharsis?

    A simple book report like this helps students explore each of the elements of fiction in a very specific way. Students who explain, interpret, and synthesize what they have read gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of literature.

    Teaching Powerful Writing: 25 Short Read-Aloud Stories and Lessons That Motivate Students to Use Literary Elements in Their Writing can help students review the elements of fiction before beginning this type of assignment. 40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom: Checklists, Graphic Organizers, Rubrics and Scoring Sheets, and More to Boost Students' Writing Skills in All Seven Traits by Ruth Culham and Amanda Wheeler provides rubrics, grading tips, and writing instruction that can facilitate this lesson. Scholastic's Book Wizard can help students find books that they will enjoy for the assignment.

    ~ Nancy


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