Teaching a Novel 101 in Spanish class – including distance learning

October 12, 2020 Mis Clases Locas by Allison Wienhold
Inside: Everything you need to know about Teaching a Novel in Spanish Class. Using comprehensible input readers in Spanish class both in person and with distance learning!
Teaching a Novel 101 in Spanish class - shared by Mis Clases Locas on Secondary Spanish Space

Teaching a Novel 101

The idea of teaching your first novel in Spanish class can be pretty scary. It was a big change of mentality from the textbook and thematic units I used my first two years teaching. During the 2013-2014 school year, I wrote and was awarded three separate grants to buy books in Spanish for my Classroom Library and multiple full class sets of novels. (If you want to know more about writing grants see here).  

In the fall of 2014, I started using novels as the center of my comprehensible input classroom curriculum, and have done so ever since. I do not claim to be an expert, but since the majority of what I do revolves around novels I have a ton of posts labeled novels on Mis Clases Locas if you have some time to dig. Since you are busy people, I will try to put everything together here for how to teach a novel in Spanish class 101. 

To see many of my classroom library recommendations all in one place, you can visit My Amazon Store book list! (aff link)

Teaching a Novel 101 in Spanish class

Step 1 – Research Teaching a Novel

If you are interested in teaching with novels, the first thing to do is read as many as you can get your hands on to see what would interest your students. Check out Fluency MattersSpanish CuentosOne Good Story, and other independent publishers of novels for language learners. Many of these publishers have sample packs of books that can be purchased, or sample chapters to read before you buy. Bryce Hedstrom’s ranking of the novels, while a few years old, gives an idea of difficulty for some popular novels. This spreadsheet has information for many novels all in one place. Finally check out Mike Peto’s CIreading site, which puts together hard-to-find independently published novels for language learners. 

**UPDATE – resources for Digital Novels

Step 2 – Decide HOW you want to teach a novel in Spanish class

Once you have read a few novels, you need to decide how you want to teach them. Here are a few popular options.

Free Reading
  •  If you have a variety of single copies of readers, free reading is a low-risk way to start with novels. Starting the second semester of Spanish 1 my students start class on Tuesday and Thursday with five minutes of free reading in Spanish. This time gradually increases until they are reading for 10-15 minutes in upper levels. In my classes, there is minimal accountability with the expectation that students spend the whole time reading in Spanish.
  • **2020 Free Reading Update – See picture below for a reference of in-person reading. Each student has a sheet protector with their name & their book goes in it & then by class on my old movie store display shelf. Kids can sanitize these by just wiping them off. If they chose to return a book it will go in a bin to wait to go back in the rotation. Each day students go right to get their books, staggered as they entered class, and we read right away.
    **Distance Learning Free Reading – For my fully virtual, quarantined students I put together a Google folder of digital, PDF readings I have purchased over the years that I hold the copyright for my students to read. They start class reading with us & then share in the chat what they read and how they feel about it. Or you could purchase the digital novels listed above. 

Mis Clases Locas Free Reading with social distancing

  • Individual Novel Study – To expand free reading even deeper in upper levels when I only had one copy of each book, I implemented an individual novel study. This would also work well for upper-level independent study or expansion for high flyers. This would work great for upper-level distance learning!
  • Literature Circles – Generally literature circles involve groups of 3-5 students each reading the same book. I have done literature circles in Spanish III and IV. Many upper-level students really enjoy the freedom and choice that lit circles provide. This would work well for upper-level distance learning, with students discussing their books in breakout rooms.


Whole-Class Novel Study

If you are able to get funding for a class set of novels (see the next step on how to do so), it is a great option for lower-level classes. Most of the posts and resources I have for teaching with novels involve teaching as a whole class novel study. This includes how to teach a novel – a typical day.

Also, one novel in one week is another way to do it. Most of the rest of this post will focus on teaching a class novel. Here are resources for full class novels I have personally taught (from easiest to most difficult)

Step 3 – Find Funding for novels in Spanish class

One of the biggest roadblocks to transitioning to teaching with novels is money. At the same time it is so important to value the authors who write these books and the copyright and to make sure to buy physical copies for each student. Most publishers offer discounts for class sets of 25. I would make sure to have at least one copy for each student in your largest class. Even when I read to the students, I want them to be able to follow along with their own copy. 

Here are sources of funding that have worked for myself or other teachers I know. 
  • Ask your school. Instead of buying textbooks, I used my curriculum money last year to buy many novel sets and the accompanying teacher’s guides. 
  • Write a grant. There is money out there, Just APPLY!
  • Ask for donations. Check out Donors Choose or Go Fund Me to work to get your novel dreams funded. 
  • Have students purchase the books. Instead of a workbook fee, charge $15 to be able to get three novels for the year. If students choose to donate these books to your class, you will work towards getting your own class set.  
Teaching a Novel 101 in Spanish class


Step 4 – Organize your novels

For paper novels, I mark all books with my stamp to make sure I get them all back. For free reading books in my class library are sorted into bins and each has a matching sticker to identify where they belong. Class sets of novels are numbered on the spine, to be able to easily see if one is missing.

The book we are currently reading in Spanish, I only have enough books for my largest class. The procedure is at the start of class the first student takes the top book from the stack of books and passes it on. At the end of class, the books are passed back around my semi-circle in my deskless classroom in order. They stay on the front table in my room. We do all reading in class and I rarely assign homework with the novels. If a student needs to, they can check a book out for the night.

If I have enough books for all sections of the class, I check out a book number for each student for the duration of the unit. Just like a textbook, they can be fined if one is not returned. I have found they do stay in better condition when the books stay in the classroom, especially with lower-level students. Lockers and bags are rough on the paperback books.


Step 5 – Plan to Teach your novel in Spanish class

The first step in planning is to make sure to buy any official teacher guide from the author or publisher. These guides are pricey, but worth their weight in gold if you would like to turn reading a novel into a full cultural unit. Next do a Pinterest, Google, and TPT search for teachers who have taught the novel and already have ready-to-use resources. Teaching your first novel will go much smoother with ready-to-use, teacher-tested resources. Here are a couple of blog posts to check while planning: 5 Tips for Teaching with Novels. + 20 activities for teaching with novels.

Distance Learning Tip! – My biggest planning tip, is to create a large Google slide show for the whole novel. This is where I put EVERYTHING for the novel. This includes a chapter by chapter pre-reading questions, during the reading discussion, and all activities from the guide I might do. It is a lot of work to create the first time teaching the novel but is a lifesaver once teaching the next time around. I post these slide shows on our password-protected Schoology or Google classroom site, so when students are absent, they know to read the next chapter and do activities posted for that chapter. Since most of the slide show is made up of purchased teacher’s guide materials, unfortunately, I can not share them.

These novel slide shows really help my planning and organization from year to year, as well as from class to class. As a department of one, I teach all levels, so having everything for one class ready to go, helps me easily transition from one prep to another. When posted during class, they also help to guide personalized questions while reading and remind me to pause and discuss as we go.

Step 6 – Teach the novel 

While teaching a novel, I like to front-load. This means we focus on the necessary high-frequency vocabulary and specific cultural knowledge. I usually spend a week or two prior to actually starting a full-class novel doing this. It includes learning about geography, historical context, and theme through authentic songs, movies, and other resources. Check out how to teach a novel for more ideas. 

Some teachers spread out a book over a quarter reading one day per week, but I have not found this successful in my classes. To keep students interested we usually spend two (50 minutes) classes on the first couple of chapters, and then about one day on each of the rest. This means depending on other factors and book length, the actual reading of the novel in class takes about three weeks. 

Step 6b- Mix up Up!

While teaching the most important thing I have found is to make sure to mix up how each day is structured. Check out the posts no prep post-reading ideasMix it Up! Reading TPRS novels as a class or Spice up your novel for ideas. We typically read the whole book in class, but change how we read it each day and even each class. I always read the first chapter to the class to try and really hook them in. After that, I like to give options, and even if most want to read alone, I give the chance of reading with the teacher. Giving options on any given day such as read alone, with a partner, or with the teacher is a great way to differentiate and try to reach every kid.

On a typical day, we start by reviewing what happened in the chapter before. We might then introduce a couple of new key vocabulary words to the next chapter. We do this by using PQA, charades, or just using them with actions or TPR. As a class, I usually project a couple of personalized questions to get students engaged in the topic.

While reading, I project comprehension, discussion, or personalized questions and then stop to talk about them as we go. If students read on their own we will gather back to discuss as a class. If needed we will do extension or complementary cultural activities from the teacher’s guide to expand on the chapter. It is all about checking for comprehension often and knowing when students are ready to move on. There is no need to beat a dead horse. So, if students are over a book, you can speed through, even letting students finish on their own. I want to make sure to keep student’s passion for Spanish alive in a positive way.


Step 7 – Assess the novel

There are many performance-based ways to assess a novel. I typically have a couple of smaller reading and listening assessments during the book. We have summative interpersonal and writing at the end. Check out How to Assess a Novel for a variety of ideas beyond the multiple-choice test.

**Distance Learning Assessments – More than ever provide opportunities to show what students know & break away from a traditional test.

  • Use Google Form quizzes to easily assess reading and listening comprehension. Screenshot and insert text as an image for reading comprehension & insert YouTube audio for listening.  
  • For speaking, use break-out rooms or appointments with the teacher to assess in real-time. Or you could use posted Flipgrid questions for students to assess on their own time.
  • For writing, set the expectation that students must just use their brains to write. Make the prompt more reflective and personalized about THEM to help students connect to the content and how what they know. Then, create the assignment in Google Classroom or your LMS, so you can see them type in real-time, and see all edits they make. Finally, set a specific time that all are writing, so you can monitor progress. 

Step 8 – Reflect on teaching the novel in Spanish class

Each time I teach a novel it gets easier and better. With experience, I know what vocabulary or cultural disconnects students had the first time. So the next try, I front load that culture before we even start the novel. We usually spend a couple of weeks introducing the novel with authentic films, resources, music, geography, and culture, as well as high-frequency vocabulary that is essential to the comprehension of the novel. I have said it before, but there is no such thing as starting with a novel that is too easy. I personally like novels with simple, high-frequency text, with connections to deep culture. These especially build confidence. Finally, you do not need to finish each book you start! get students hooked and then let them finish for choice reading if they would like. 


Teaching a Novel 101 in Spanish class


If you would like to learn more, I am a presenter at the 2020 World Language Summit on the topic of teaching with novels. ===> get your ticket here! (If you do choose to upgrade, please know Allison will earn a commission on your purchase).


Have you taught novels in your Spanish class? Please add your experience, tips, and resources below!

Keep learning & growing every day.
– Allison 
Mis Clases Locas

More blog posts from Allison on Secondary Spanish Space you might be interested in

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Originally published blog post – 2.21.17 – updated 10.13.20

Mis Clases Locas by Allison Wienhold

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  • World Language Cafe February 23, 2017 at 2:42 pm

    Allison, wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your expertise. One of my favorite novels to teach is "Cuentos con sazón" by Scholastic. Reading is such a great way to engage students. Also, if anyone is looking to start a reading library in their classroom, I just wrote a blog post with lists of books to purchase. Slightly different from TPR texts, my list has children's books which my students really enjoy. Here's the link in case anyone is interested: theworldlanguagecafe.com/create-reading-library-world-language-classroom-part-2/.

  • A.C. Quintero March 15, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    Allison, great post! I'd like to add to your FVR library with a few of my own gems, which teachers and students seem to really like. For Spanish 1- La clase de confessiones- although short of a cheeky love story, it totally present tense and has tons of classroom vocabulary. The nosy teacher tries to play matchmaker, and everything goes awry (confession, I actually am trying to get to kids in my school to go to prom together, both are dateless and nice kids). In part 2, the, beset with his own issues, tries to return the favor to the teacher… it gets really interesting! I wrote earlier this year to give students more contact with classroom vocabulary and verbs. They loved it and ask me to come up with a part 2, which is La Bella Mentira.

    For my Spanish 3 class, I used La calaca alegre, which was a lot of fun. The students took turns playing the character in our in class- consulturio. At one point, we divided the class and had half the students read one chapter, and the other half read the other. Then, they interviewed each other about what happened.


    For my Spanish 4 class, I wrote "Las apariencias engañan and El muerto en el armario- major teen drama, but it focuses on the subjunctive. One of the activities I did, which I later used for El Internado, was have students review the chapter on a character's death and do a CSI activity. This helped them to review plot, vocabulary and use the grammar structure to make recommendations one how to proceed.


    I just also ordered "Todo que brilla- it looks good and I can't wait to use it! It seems really interesting. In my FVR, I have Frida, La hija de sastre and I use a ton of Maryglasgow magazines. They have very good articles and the website is replete with activities.


  • Profedenham April 10, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    How much of the two week pre-reading activities are done in the target language? Or do you set it up like any other 90%+ lesson? It may seem like a weird question, but with some of the historical context, I'm wondering if you just have them read something in English to help with knowledge base.

  • Scott August 8, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    ¡Hola, Allison! ¡Muchísimas gracias por este post! I am very interested in using novels in my Spanish classes, and your blog has been a tremendous help to know where/how to get started. I just wanted to let you know, just in case you weren’t aware, that many of the links in this post all lead to the same place. For example, the links called “How to assess a novel”, “Mix it Up! Reading TPRS novels as a class”, “How to Teach Your 1st Novel”, “5 Tips for Teaching with Novels” all lead to the same page: https://secondaryspanishspace.com/ When I search in the page, I cannot find the articles related to these links. There are also several links that are dead or lead to pages that say “Sorry. This page cannot be found”. I was wondering if you have an updated version of this post (even if it’s something I would need to pay for) because I am very interested in the content of those links that I cannot access.

    Thank you so much again for everything you are doing! It is much appreciated!

    • Mis Clases Locas by Allison Wienhold August 9, 2021 at 5:37 pm

      Thanks for letting me know scott! All of those linked posts should go to misclaeslocas.com. If you go top my site there and search novels you will find them all!

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