Planning a Novel Study to Teach Social Studies

By Kirsten Hammond

Have you ever tried a novel study? They are so beneficial for reading and writing, critical thinking, and boosting comprehension skills.

If you teach ELA and social studies, incorporating a novel study at least twice a year is a great way to integrate social studies in little time!

This blog post will share with you how you can plan a novel study to teach social studies!

What is a novel study?

A novel study is an interactive experience. Students learn to engage with the novel through guided prompts and teacher and student led discussions. Students learn comprehension and critical thinking skills throughout the process.

There’s so many different avenues of how you can go about a novel study. There’s not a set way to conduct one. You can pretty much make it your own and tailor it to fit the needs of your classroom and your students!

It’s an experience that would not be the same as a student reading a book of their choice by themselves.

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What are the elements of a novel study?

There are 4 key elements of a novel study for elementary students that I’ve used for my classroom – key vocabulary, guided questions from each chapter, comprehension quizzes, and culminating projects. Let’s dive into each one!

Key Vocabulary

One important element is key vocabulary. When reading a text, there might be words that students may not know the definition of.

Having key vocabulary already prepped ahead of time (or as you come to it) can help provide clarity and understanding for those unknown words.

You can always create a list of words that appear multiple times throughout the novel, and you can review that with your classes or have students define it using the dictionary or as they come across it.

Guided Questions from Each Chapter

Guided questions from each chapter is another important element. It can range from multiple choice comprehension questions to open-ended questions that encourage higher level thinking, such as evaluation or analysis.

Providing these guided questions, especially at the upper elementary level, can help students think deeply about what they’ve read, and it’ll help them understand the text a little bit better.

Guiding questions can also help teachers formally assess student learning without needing any additional resources or materials.

The only requirement is that you would read the text in advance so you know which questions to ask.

Comprehension Quizzes

Another element of a novel study is a comprehension quiz. This is great for engaging students! You can quiz them on key points after each chapter to check if you understood what they’ve read, can reinforce any important details within the text that you want them to remember.

And of course, quizzes can be formatted in different ways. It could be multiple choice, true, false, open-ended, essay questions, or just giving them some room to express their thoughts on a variety of levels.

Culminating Projects

Culminating projects are a great way for students to demonstrate their understanding and apply their creativity in presenting it.

There are a ton of ways students can create these products. It could be a standard essay book report. It could be a podcast, it could where it be where students are acting. Skits from the book, or scenes from the book. So it really depends on the needs of your students and what they like and what they don’t like. You can check out my blog post on book projects or choice boards for more ideas!

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How can I plan a novel study to teach social studies?

Here are some important steps to planning out a novel study.

Consider goals and standards

First, you want to think about the overall goals and think about any important questions that you want your students to answer by the end of the novel study.

This could be something connected to a big unit that you’re teaching in social studies. It could also be something that is literature based like expository text or poetry.

You can always take a look at important social studies standards to teach and see which books align with those standards. If you’re a Texas teacher, you can check out a breakdown on what to teach for social studies for grades 3-5 right here

Decide on a whole group, small group, or individual novel study.

Another thing to consider is deciding on if you wanna do a whole group novel study, small group or individual novel study. I recommend whole group in 3rd or 4th grade, or if most of your students have never done a novel study before at all.

The best way to go about it is just to do a whole group novel study where everybody has the same book. They are expected to read the chapters on their own, the teacher reads it out loud, or an audiobook version is played. Then, students can meet back together as you discuss as a whole group.

Another thing that could be good is with small group, also known as literature circles. Students might either have self-selected books that they decide as a group, or it might be that you select it the novels. You can alternatively pair them up based on interest

The individual novel study is where students pick a book of their own. It would probably be helpful if students have had experience with novel studies if they do an individual novel study, and it would help to have similar types of books.

Create vocabulary and comprehension discussion questions

The next thing is to create discussion questions designed to promote critical thinking.

Think about important vocabulary words that they may or may not know or that are important to the actual context of the story and understanding the novel. Think about certain comprehension skills, students are required to learn such as plot, setting, or interactions of the characters.

Consider how students will showcase their learning

The last thing is to consider how students will showcase their learning, and how often.

Here are some ideas of how to do that:

  • exit ticket after every chapter
  • writing responses
  • culminating test at the end of the book
  • guided discussion questions every couple of chapters
  • project of choice at the end


There’s no right or wrong way to create how you want to plan it. It’s just really based on the needs of your students and your learning goals and what your students to get out of the novel study.

Planning a novel study is easy and valuable for everyone involved. It’s also a great way to combine literature and ELA with your social studies content!

If you want to learn more about using novel studies to teach social studies, you can watch a special training in my membership with more information on how to choose a novel study, recommendations on great social studies books that would make good novel studies, and even a bonus planning template and project board!

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kirsten hammond

Kirsten is a former 3rd and 5th grade teacher who loves helping upper elementary teachers by creating resources and sharing ideas that are engaging, research-based, and TEKS-aligned. She is a work-from-home mama of 3 rambunctious little ones and loves running, true crime, and lots of coffee.

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