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The Good Old Book Report

DSC01391 Book reports seem part of the realm of middle school and elementary school. You don't often hear of students doing book reports in high school, but I feel much can be learned by doing such an assignment in the higher grades. A book report can challenge the student to use higher order thinking skills in order to understand and interpret literature.


To start, I recommend that students choose the book for their report themselves, and I stipulate that the book must not be one for which there are SparkNotes or CliffsNotes. This helps eliminate issues of plagiarism. All books should be approved by the teacher. The books must be fiction. Books That Don't Bore 'Em: Young Adult Books That Speak to This Generation is a wonderful resource to help students find appropriate books for this type of assignment. The book report requires students to provide evidence of their choices and reasoning, which helps them think more deeply about what they have read. The book report is broken down into eight sections, and each section should be labeled:

1. Identify the SETTING of your novel, then explain why the setting is important. For example, if the story is set in 1977 in Afghanistan, why is this significant? If the book is set in contemporary times in the United States, what does that contribute to the overall meaning of the novel? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

2. Discuss the CHARACTERIZATION in your novel. Begin with the protagonist. Is the character well-developed, or is s/he a stock or stereotypical character? Is the character static (unchanging throughout the story) or dynamic (changes by the the end of the novel)? What personality traits does the character possess, and how does this affect the outcome of the novel? Then move on to the minor characters in the novel. Do the character's inner thoughts and feelings reflect his/her outward actions? Explain. Give examples from the book to back up your point of view.


3. What is the POINT OF VIEW of the novel? First person, second person, third person? Why is this significant? For example, if the novel is told in first person, what advantages does this have? Why? Why do you think the author chose this point of view? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

4. What is the CONFLICT in the novel? Is it human vs. human, human vs. nature, human vs. society, or human vs. him/herself? For this one, you will have to delve into conflict much more deeply than you have in the past. Explain the conflict and how the protagonist deals with it. Does the protagonist overcome the conflict? Succumb to it? Give evidence from the novel to support your view. There may be more than one conflict in the novel.

5. What is the THEME of the novel? Explore this deeply by asking yourself the question: What was the author's purpose in writing the book? Do NOT use stock themes such as "Don't judge a book by its cover." Make sure the themes reflect the specific meaning of THIS book.

6. What are the SYMBOLS in the novel? Why are they significant? How do they help develop the story and contribute to the overall meaning of the book? Give examples from the book to back up what you say.

7. Is there FORESHADOWING in your novel? Did you know what was going to come? Why? Were there any hints as to what might occur? Why do you think the author chose to use or not use foreshadowing? Give evidence to support your answer.

8. Evaluate the ENDING of your novel. Was the ending justified? Was it viable and believable? Was it a satisfactory ending? Did it fit the rest of the novel? Was there a catharsis?

A simple book report like this helps students explore each of the elements of fiction in a very specific way. Students who explain, interpret, and synthesize what they have read gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of literature.

Teaching Powerful Writing: 25 Short Read-Aloud Stories and Lessons That Motivate Students to Use Literary Elements in Their Writing can help students review the elements of fiction before beginning this type of assignment. 40 Reproducible Forms for the Writing Traits Classroom: Checklists, Graphic Organizers, Rubrics and Scoring Sheets, and More to Boost Students' Writing Skills in All Seven Traits by Ruth Culham and Amanda Wheeler provides rubrics, grading tips, and writing instruction that can facilitate this lesson. Scholastic's Book Wizard can help students find books that they will enjoy for the assignment.

~ Nancy


  • #1 Nancy Barile

    Friday, May 27, 2011 at 04:16 AM

    Thank you, Jamie - you certainly made my day. Writing this blog has been a wonderful experience. Definitely check out High School Uncut - the SAT vocab lesson. This has been one of the most valuable lessons ever. My kids have truly learned vocabulary, and they use the words in their every day conversations, which just warms my heart! Have a great summer, and let me know if I can be of assistance in any way. ~ Nancy

  • #2 Jamie Dunlap

    Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 08:03 PM

    Today I stumbled across your space on the web. You are absolutely fabulous! I cannot stop reading and clicking add to my favorites. I have found a plethora of information that I can use next school year. Thanks for providing valuable information. I teach 9th grade English in an urban area.

    The information in this article is a great way to get students to apply what they understand about the different parts of a story and literary terms. This will help them in testing, in thinking critically, and in molding their own creative masterpieces. Thank you!

  • #3 Nancy Barile

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 08:09 AM

    Thanks, Jocelyn - students get to know a book really well with this assignment, and it helps them so much when they do their long composition portion of the state test!

  • #4 Jocelyn

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 01:57 AM

    Wow~~Wonderful outline~
    These sections are really helpful for students to give a book report.Thank you Nancy for sharing. These questions can help stimulate students to come up with more points of views.

  • #5 Kathy Walsh

    Monday, March 14, 2011 at 02:18 AM

    very nice outline of how to respond to books in an easy manner. Nice job!

  • #6 Nancy Barile

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 04:11 PM

    Absolutely! Dennis is my husband's cousin - Uncle Frank's boy! Small world. Please give him our love!

  • #7 Allen "Pete" Baldwin

    Tuesday, March 08, 2011 at 03:52 PM

    Any relation to Dennis from Oak Park, Illinois?

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Nancy Barile
Nancy Barile
Revere, MA
Grades 9-12
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