One of the required novels for my 8th grade students is The Secret Life of Bees. I thought it would be good to look at this novel through a social (in)justice lens, specifically focusing on race, gender, and social class. But I didn’t want to stop at just the novel.
Students dissected poems, read picture books, and annotated newspaper articles all focusing on injustice. While solving or complaining of these problems wasn’t the focus with this unit, I did want students to develop a larger context of what social justice is. The main goal of reading the core text was to develop empathy and understanding of those who feel marginalized. It’s difficult to walk alongside someone when you don’t get where he or she is coming from. Students are now finishing up this unit with book club books. A few weeks ago, they speed dated 10 books that dealt with at least one of the three injustices.
There were numerous factors that went into deciding which novels would work well for book clubs. They are as follows:
-a variety of reading levels, as I have a variety of readers
-narrators representing diverse backgrounds
-authors representing diverse backgrounds and time periods
-appropriate for middle school, specifically 8th grade
-address at least one of the three social injustice issues
-money constraints, as there are 300 students in the 8th grade class and some books had to be ones already in our library circulation
Once students read a few minutes of all 10 books, they ranked them, from 1 being they really wanted to read the book, on down to 10 being a book they would most likely not read. The hardest part for me was putting them in groups based on their top preference. Knowing I only had so many copies of each book, not every student got their first choice.
Students began reading their books this week, and the excitement in the air was infectious. When students have choice over what they read, discussions are richer, engagement is fuller, and conversations are deeper. Why? Because they care about what they read and understand it matters.
If you’re looking for ways to use YA lit in your curriculum, book clubs are a great way to start. Two teaching books that were particularly useful were Teaching Reading with YA Literature and Whole Novels for the Whole Class. If you want a different approach to teaching required novels, try Workshopping the Canon.
If you’d like to use the template I created, click here–Speed Date with Injustice Novels. Happy teaching!