The Ultimate Guide to a Discussion-Based Novel Study – Ft. 8 Activity Ideas!

Tackling the Novel Study.

So you’re planning to run a novel study? Well look no further, we’ve got you covered with our novel study guide!

We’ve put together our favourite novel study discussion activities and included best practices to tackle these discussions in hybrid learning environments. For each activity, we share our recommendation for doing it synchronously or asynchronously. Our suggestions are a guide to get started一but we hope you’ll take this and make it your own!

Included in this is our easy-to-use Novel Study Activity Planner, which will help you to plan out your entire novel study trajectory. Download our Novel Study Activity Planner at the end of this post and begin planning your classes’ next novel study.

Pre-reading

Kick things off with a pre-reading activity to set the stage for what your students will be reading. This activity will allow your students to explore the background of the novel and the author一helping them to think ahead, make predictions and get better at analyzing as they are read. This activity can also help spark reluctant readers interest in the novel, which will motivate them to get started.

Discussion Structure – Asynchronous:

Give students time to reflect and do some background research on their own, so that they’re fully prepared to dive into the novel. Here’s a great example of a pre-reading discussion activity available in the Parlay Universe: Othello Pre Reading: Truth and Lies created by Jennifer Crump.

Themed Discussion

Themes are often the backbone of a novel. Uncovering the themes that run throughout a book can really help students to understand the deeper context of the story and how it connects to their own lives and the lives of people around them.

Discussion Structure – Synchronous:

While this can be done either way, we think a synchronous discussion about the themes will allow students to connect smaller ideas together empowering them to see the bigger picture within the novel. Check out this example from the Parlay Universe: Things Fall Apart – Thematic Discussion created by Syeda Sakina.

Character Analysis

Diving deep by analyzing one character in a given novel can help students understand the motives of that character and relationships between other characters. This gives them additional insight into the lives of the characters, and helps students empathize with them.

Discussion Structure – Asynchronous:

After reviewing the structure or a character analysis, you can assign a discussion activity where each student chooses one character to analyze in their original submission. After submitting, they can build on each other’s ideas and give each other feedback. Here’s an example of a Character Analysis where students use the STEAL method for their analysis.

To make this discussion more interesting, have students do a creative writing activity where they write a diary entry to the character in the novel. Here is a great example of that in the Parlay Universe: Diary Writing Activity – Anne Frank created by Parlay.

Real-World Example

Connect the novel to the real world. This is a great activity whether you choose a new or old novel, but it is especially helpful if the novel was written a while ago. Having a discussion that connects the novel to a modern-day issue or topic can really help students connect more deeply with the story.

Discussion Structure – Asynchronous and then Synchronous:

Do this activity asynchronously then try transitioning to a face-to-face discussion! After connecting the novel and its ideas to something that is happening in the world around them you can try asking extension questions about those events in a verbal discussion. Here’s a discussion we highly recommend: Propaganda and Alternative Facts in Animal Farm created by Mr. Griffin. Or Bullying in Lord of the Flies created by Jocelyn Merrill.

Symbolism

Dig into the deeper meaning of a text by exploring symbolism. This activity will help students practice their close reading skills and can open their eyes to a whole new world of meaning within a novel.

Discussion Structure – Asynchronous:

This discussion will require preparation and close reading so make this one an asynchronous discussion. This discussion is a great opportunity to dive into symbolism and can be used as an outline for lots of different texts: Symbolism in To Kill a Mockingbird: The Mockingbird created by Jennifer Crump.

Historical Context

This discussion activity is especially important for books that were written before the reader’s time. Understanding the historical context can illuminate how people thought, what society was like at the time, and give students a peek into the past.

Discussion Structure – Asynchronous:

This activity would be best done asynchronously as students will need some time to do historical research in relation to the novel in order to understand the perspective the author is trying to achieve. Check out this discussion from the Universe: The Great Gatsby – Historical Context and Characterization created by Minges Klusman, Mariah.

Critical Perspectives

Analyzing a novel using critical theories can help students apply their understanding of new theories, gain new perspectives and connect different ideas together. This will be an important skill for the future and gets students using different theories to develop their ideas in relation to the novel as well as proving their points.

Discussion Structure: Asynchronous and then Synchronous:

It would be great to see the first half (the research) done asynchronously and the second half (the discussion) done synchronously一as students will definitely need time to do their research and build their argument. This Universe discussion is a great example of bringing in the critical lens to a novel study: Multiple Critical Perspectives – The Great Gatsby created by Niru Parmar.

Post-reading

And finally, we have the post-reading! It’s time for students to recall and build on all that they learned while reading the book, as well as reflect on what they experienced throughout the novel study process. These discussions can be illuminating for all, including you (the teacher)一getting helpful feedback for future novel studies.

Discussion Structure – Synchronous:

This final activity should be completed synchronously. After having read the whole book and completing various other discussion-based novel study activities, students should have a very good understanding of what happened throughout the book, how it made them feel and how they will approach reading in the future. This discussion from the Universe is a great example: Post-reading: Night created by Karri Harris.

Free Download – Novel Study Activity Planner!

Round Up

Those were our top 8 discussion-based activities that you can use when you’re planning a novel study. Each one of these discussions can be done synchronously or asynchronously and will inspire your students to do deep analysis while reading.

If you try any of these activities let us know how it goes! Make sure to reach out to us if you have any questions, just click the smiley face in the bottom right-hand corner. We look forward to hearing from you! Or find us on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for more discussion-based tips.

Resources

Help your students prepare for a face-to-face discussion by sharing with them our Student Guide to Live RoundTables.