Core Book Units in Literature Studies

Jill Kerper Mora San Diego State University

A Core Book Unit (Grant Hennings, 2000) is a means of organizing reading and writing activities to study a piece of children's literature in depth. The unit includes structured and student-generated forms of Reader Response to a novel as well. The unit has a focal dimension centered around actual study of the chapter book and an integrative dimension that expands on students' learning of topics and genres around the theme of the chapter book. The objectives of the unit are as follow:

Predict (who, when, where and what will happen) based on analysis of the title and cover of a novel and continuously predict while reading

  • Visualize story scenes
  • Infer character's traits from their actions
  • Compare events, characters, and places found in a novel
  • Infer time and place
  • Hypothesize reasons and relationships
  • Relate reader's own feelings to those of a story character
  • Use context to figure out the meanings of unfamiliar story words
  • Figure out how certain words and phrases function in a sentence
  • Use story words new to readers to talking and writing about the story
  • Create writing topics based on the reading of a book
  • Rehearse and draft in response to reading
  • Edit and revise what they have written in preparation for sharing
  • Keep a literature response journal and highlight their writing in a portfolio
  • Write a friendly letter in standard form
  • Work in collaborative groups and contribute to a whole-class discussion
  • Orally read favorite lines from a story, using the voice to heighten meaning
  • Find pleasure in reading a chapter book and responding to it by talking and writing

Core Book Activities

Focal Dimension

Integrative Dimension

Opening Celebration: Tap prior knowledge and ideas using key words to predict characters, time, place, and plot based on cover clues.

Select and listen to a related piece of music or poem. Sing or recite along or compose an original chorus. Respond in journals.

Chapter 1 (aloud-class): Listen to infer character traits from what people say and do and to hypothesize time and place; make character webs; chart unfamiliar and interesting words; write to a main character from the point of view of characters met in the first chapter about an aspect of the conflict or plot.

Reflect on symbolism of title, names of characters, names of places, etc. as related to the selected piece of music or poem. Participate in a mini-lesson on format of a friendly letter.

Chapter 2 (alone): Share letters to main character before reading; read to check predictions in letter; expand ideas about character and setting; add to character webs, formulate ideas for main character's possible responses to letters or write to express feelings.

In collaborative teams, read about the time and setting of the book in a social studies textbook or reference volume. Compile a lifestyle map featuring characteristics of life in that time and location (general living conditions, hardships, social conditions, culture and traditions, etc.)

Chapter 3 (pair-share): Retell events from Chapter 2 before reading and tell how the characters felt during the events; read to make an events/feelings chart; after reading, list all descriptive words that signal mood or tone (color words, scary words, etc.) in Chapters 1 and 3 and compare the difference; chart unfamiliar words based on context clues; write a response to main character or to the events of the story.

Select another related song or poem with symbolism related to the story. Reflect on how this song or poem reflects mounting conflicts and/or aspirations and concerns of the characters in the story. Relate events in this chapter to lifestyle map to elaborate on how these conditions affect characters' actions and decisions

Chapter 4 (aloud-class): Review the kind of character portrayed for a main character and expand on his/her character web; extract evidence from the story to support alternative outcomes of the conflict (Ex. Will character stay or go? Will he/she reveal a secret?) Write what you think will happen next or a feeling response to the chapter.

In collaborative groups, students share orally based on activities or research surrounding previous chapters (Ex: Share a new chorus to a song, an original poem using the format of a poem selected for a previous chapter).

Chapter 5 (alone): Review the character and add to character web of a second character; read to propose a title for the chapter; locate descriptive phrases or words in story that indicate that character's changing attitudes or mood based on evolution of the plot.

Use maps, exhibits, dioramas or other artifacts to display and discuss geographical context and cultural features from the setting and plot of the story

Chapter 6 (pair-share): Review another character or chart the relationship between characters; read to compare to chapter one or to their first encounter with each other; add to character charts; discuss possible causes of the changes in characters and their relationships; identify similes or metaphors used as clues to changes in the characters.

Bring in a biography of a famous person from that time and setting. Look for parallels with the characters in their lifestyles, moral character, conflicts faced and overcome or in their personal success and achievements.

Chapter 7 (alone or pair-share): Review the story by suggesting tittles for prior chapters; read to tell what the author is trying to tell the reader about life and what is important to happiness, survival, and/or personal fulfillment. Based on these ideas, predict possible outcomes for the story. Discuss how characters might act in response to events of the plot that force a decision or pose a dilemma and the possible consequences of alternative choices.

Find a piece of artwork or a photograph. Create artifacts and symbols to represent events in the story related to social studies or science. Read content-area text related to these artifacts or symbols.

Chapter 8 (alone or collaborative groups): Pick a high point of the chapter and defend why the reader selected this point. Trace and plot the high points of each previous chapter that built up to this point. Conduct Reader's Theatre to dramatize this high point or climax based on dialogue in the text. Write a response to the events of the chapter.

Bring in other pieces of children's literature about the time and setting or the major theme and moral issue portrayed in the book. Compare and contrast these stories with the chapter book.

Concluding chapter (aloud-class): Review the story by role-playing or acting out the story. Discuss main idea of the story and how characters were changed by their experiences. Reflect verisimilitude and authenticity of the characters, plot and ending. Predict and outline what a sequel might be like or write chapter one of a sequel. Write and share aesthetic responses to the book.

Produce a class product to reflect responses to the book such as a mural, an art show, a poetry reading, a class newspaper, a play based on the book, and so forth.

Ongoing Assessment Activities

Students will keep a literature response journal in which they record their ongoing responses to what they are reading. They will compile a portfolio of writings and drawings to showcase their response to the novel. While students are reading alone or with a buddy, the teacher conducts individual conferences in which each student talks about personal responses to the novel and his or her independent reading and literature journal entries. Teacher conducts ongoing assessment and analysis of students' literature logs that they have revised, edited, published and showcased in their portfolios. Assessment is based on checklists of stated objectives or rubrics with descriptors and criteria to demonstrate mastery of certain features of writing and content.

Adapted from Grant Hennings, D. (2000). Communication in Action: Teaching Literature-Based Language Arts. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.