Natalie Maddern says:
I agree that choosing a class novel can be very difficult. If you have built a four or six week unit around a novel, then you want to be relatively sure that the novel will be of an appropriate complexity for the class to be interested over the sustained period, but equally that the novel you have selected is not too difficult. Another challenge may be the diversity of the class – if you have a range of learning abilities, how do you ensure that all students’ needs are met?

One strategy that I have used in my unit plan (and chatting with some experienced teachers, they have thought it could be an interesting way around these challenges), is to use a range of novels. I have drafted my plan so that in one lesson students will be introduced to a range of books of various complexities (reading ability, themes and so on) and genres, classics, contemporary novels… This gives students the opportunity to select a novel which they would most prefer to read from a limited pool, which also allows you as the teacher to ensure a particular quality of novel is being read, and that the novel is appropriate for studying that key idea (theme, feature).

I have looked through the Premier’s Reading Challenge lists to find books (here is the link for the SA site but I think there are actually lists for each State and Territory). However, I have also found that talking to librarians has been a really good way to find current and appropriate texts, and the librarians know which books are getting students ‘hooked’ at that time.

That said, one of the most difficult situations I can think of is using a class novel and realising a week or two into the unit that students aren’t reading the novel or that the unit concept is not working. Has anyone had any advice from mentor teachers about what to do if this occurs? What is the best way to overcome this situation? Stop reading the book and focus on excerpts? Use short stories instead? Or select a new novel and start from scratch?

Renee Penney says:

I wanted to do a search on what texts could be used in an English class in the middle years. Unless a text has been recommended, or you have read the text yourself, it can be daunting to try and find a text that is suitable for the classroom. I found a paper that provides a list of reading and writing material that is suitable for students in the years 7-10.

The list combines classic, successful, and innovative teaching texts that reflect a diverse range of themes and cultural orientations. It includes fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama, film and multimedia text examples that are listed for stages 4 and 5. Examples of suitable texts are also given for students that are in years 7-10 but who have not yet reached the stage 3 outcomes. The texts that have been selected have been chosen based on ‘their ability to challenge the reader’. They are ‘texts that have layered and multiple meanings, and that provoke thought’.

I think it is definitely handy to have a list of texts to start with, and hopefully this source provides some of you with a bit of relief when it comes to choosing a text to work with!

Board of Studies NSW. (2003). Fiction, Film and other Texts: A support document for the English Years 7-10 Syllabus. Sydney NSW.

Renee Moon says:

Like Renee Penney , I also thought it would be very handy to have a list of texts that could be used in an English class in the middle years. From my research I have put together five texts which have been recommended by the following sources to use in an English class. I choose five books that I was not familiar with as we have already highlighted some popular books in class for example, Anne Frank’s diary, Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.
Middle School Books
teaching notes
  1. Wonder by R.J Palacio
“ I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse”
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

2. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Tally Youngblood is about to turn sixteen, and she can't wait for the operation that turns everyone from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty and catapults you into a high-tech paradise where your only job is to party. But new friend Shay would rather hoverboard to "the Smoke" and be free. Tally learns about a whole new side of the pretty world and it isn't very pretty. The "Special Circumstances" authority Dr Cable offers Tally the worst choice she can imagine: find her friend and turn her in, or never turn pretty at all. The choice Tally makes changes her world forever

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Jonas's world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back

4. Diary of a Wimply Kid by Jeff Kinney
Author/illustrator Jeff Kinney recalls the growing pains of school life and introduces a new kind of hero who epitomizes the challenges of being a kid. As Greg says in his diary, Just don’t expect me to be all. Dear Diary’ this and , Dear Diary’ that.” Luckily for us, what Greg Heffley says he won’t do and what he actually does are two very different things.

5. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory. Her head is like a video camera that is always recording. Always. And there's no delete button. She's the smartest kid in her whole school—but no one knows it. Most people—her teachers and doctors included—don't think she's capable of learning, and up until recently her school days consisted of listening to the same preschool-level alphabet lessons again and again and again. If only she could speak up, if only she could tell people what she thinks and knows . . . but she can't, because Melody can't talk. She can't walk. She can't write. Being stuck inside her head is making Melody go out of her mind—that is, until she discovers something that will allow her to speak for the first time ever. At last Melody has a voice . . . but not everyone around her is ready to hear it.The book Out of mind by Sharon Draper I found very interesting. This story follows Melody Brooks, a fifth grader who suffers from cerebral palsy. Due to her condition we see her struggle throughout her middle school years and learn to deal with the circumstances that this disability has left her with.
Teaching points that can be helpful with this book include
  • Links to education about cerebral palsy
  • Diversity in students
  • Reflection of how life would be in her shoes.

Eilis Toth says:

Finding the right text to use in a middle school classroom can often be difficult. While on placement last year I witnessed various texts in use within English classrooms. The one that I found managed to engage the majority of students was Finding Grace by Alyssa Brugman. Finding Grace is a story about a young girl, Rachel, who obtains a job living with an elderly lady named Grace. This novel is all about how Rachel helps Grace fight the demons in her past, and visa versa. It contains numerous themes very relevant to middle school students. Finding Grace was taught in a year 8 class, but I believe it could be taught all the way up to year 12.

While the students were reading the book, in class and home, they were asked to complete a series of questions for homework. Usually I don’t like this sort of thing myself. We do it a lot at university, seminar papers etc. Tutors use it as a way of ensuring that we keep up with our reading, and for the most part we all come to resent it, but the year 8 class I observed really responded to having to answer the questions. Perhaps it is because they were all deeply engaged in the text. They all enjoyed coming to class and discussing what they got for their answers and discovering how they each interpreted the novel.

As an assessment task the year 8s had to develop their own story that reflected the same narrative conventions as Finding Grace. Many of them chose to write a sort of sequel to the book, while many wrote about the events in the story from a different character’s perspective. There were many creative responses to the text. I found that this kind of assessment was a much more effective and engaging way of assessing the students’ understanding of the text without asking them to write an essay. During placement I learnt that there is nothing English students hate more than writing an essay. However, this seems to be our go-to form of assessment. The Finding Grace unit taught me how to assess students in a more imaginative way.

Finding Grace is definitely worth a look when you’re setting text studies for your students. It grapples with many themes and social conventions that your students will also deal with in their lives. Check out the review on to gauge a better understanding of the text:
I have attached one page from the question booklet that the students had to use and the assessment sheet for your benefit.

finding grace.jpgfindging grace qs.jpg
Renee Penney says:

I enjoyed reading the text To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in high school. Although I’m sure this novel is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, I think it is a wonderful piece of literature that explores issues that are still relevant today. When I encountered this novel in high school, the assessment task was a comparative essay between the novel and the film A Time to Kill. I believe that it is incredibly important for students to learn how to write essays successfully, however, I do not believe that they should make up the majority of assessment tasks that teachers set. As this novel is fairly long and is quite deep, it may be a good idea to choose activities that steer away from just writing an answer to a question. Here are some examples that I think may be interesting to consider:

  • Create a game board tracing Scout and Jem’s journey through To Kill a Mockingbird. At the various spaces players land on which are pivotal to events in the text, such as Mrs. Dubose’s house, write a card in which you question the player about what Scout and Jem learned at that place on the board. Accompany your game board with an explanation of how your game reflects the plot, setting, characters, and themes in the novel.

  • Become Scout and create an annotated scrapbook of at least 10 pages. On each page, paste in something that reflects some aspect of Scout’s experience growing up. Make sure that at least two items are written--for example a letter from Dill, a newspaper article, or a diary entry. Annotate each entry as Scout, explaining why she is saving this item.

  • In small groups, write two front pages of The Maycomb Gazette--one just after the trial of Tom Robinson and another after the death of Bob Ewell. Include a news article, feature, editorial, advice column, and illustrations with captions.

These activities were taken from

If studying the text To Kill a Mockingbird it may be useful to have a look at as there are lists of activities that can be done pre-reading, during reading, and at the conclusion of the text.