How to Read a Short Story or Novel

How to Read a Short Story or Novel


UNIT 2: How to Read a Short Story or Novel

In this Unit, the following aspects will be covered:
- Introduction
- Reading Procedures
- Other Techniques to Consider
- Conclusion

By definition, Prose is the written or spoken language that is in its ordinary form, without metrical structure. This implies that it is an ordinary language used in short stories, novels, and plays that has no poetic elements of poetic forms.
One useful way of reading any work of fiction is to pay attention to the techniques that are used to tell the particular kind of work fiction. A prose in particular is read with ease different to the way poetry is read.

Activities in this sub topic are enabled by Guided reading procedure. Guided reading procedure takes place when a teacher guides students to read a particular text.

The goal of Guided Reading for students is to become fluent readers who can solve problem strategically and read independently and silently.
Reading of a literary works involves three important stages. They are:
A. Before reading
B. During reading
C. After reading

Things to Consider Before Reading a Short Story or Novel
Before a student read a novel (as it applies to any work of art), a students need to consider and discuss the following important things:
(1) The blurb of the book. This is the back cover of the book that presents the background information about the author and the book.
(2) The title of the book. This is the phrase or statement that summarises the main ideas of the book. The title is placed at the front cover. Most titles are indirect, and they may be symbolic, ironical or metaphorical.
(3) The author. Knowing the author of the book helps to get more or to understand his/her book well. This is because most writers include their ideas, beliefs, and ideologies in their works.
Activities Before Reading a Short Story or Novel
(1) Prediction of what is the story about: Before any reading begins students are invited to predict what the story is about by doing a quick write based on the tile of the story or the pictures on the front and back covers. You can get them to write a statement in their scribbled or on a sticky note.
A teacher may guide students to predict what the story is about by choosing eight to fifteen words from the story and the students write a sentence describing what they think the story will be about.
(2) Random Passage: A teacher may choose fifteen or less words from a story that depict the setting, characters, plot and climax, conflicts, solutions, then students can write the guess statement and predict what the story will be about.

During reading, a student needs some activities that can keep him/her more involved in the process of reading. These activities help students to reflect on what they are reading rather than waiting for the reflections at the end of the book.
Here they make the questions up based on what they already know or want to know and then predict what will happen in the next chapter. Generally, during this time, students are encouraged to write or jot down all necessary notes, points and other important details about the story they are reading.
Activities to be done While Reading a Short Story or Novel
(1) Summary strategy. Students are encouraged to write the key ideas as they read. A teacher can stop the students and quickly see if the students understood what is happening in the story. Students have to really think who did what (characters), and what they wanted (plot), then examine why they weren’t able to get it (problem) and finally draw conclusions (so) about the conflict to resolve it.
(2) Prepare a radio show or talk shows in which the students become the talk show hosts. As a teacher, you pose a problem that characters had in the story or novel. Students decide who should be invited – they can be anyone in the world or anyone from the story who has an opinion about the topic or anyone from the class. This character is asked all the questions concerning the experiences of the selected character in the story.
(3) Advice from the story: Students can take roles of characters in the story and offer advice to the person having a problem in the story. They form a circle around the character and she goes from person to person to get advice. Those on the outside must decide who they will be before they begin. The roles do not necessarily have to come from the book.
(4) Cluster Word Web: Remind students of Cluster Word Web as a best note taking technique: Students should organise what they have learned about the topic from reading. They should know how to organise it into sections and then fill in the web details. This is a form of note taking.
(5) Hot Seat: Hot-seating is a way to go beyond the text and get to know the characters and what they experience, feel and think. One person sits in the seat as one of the characters. They must first write a monologue about what they think happened to them in the novel and why it happened. Then invite students to ask questions of the character. If other students in the audience who read the book have the answer and the host-seat person doesn’t they are allowed to go up and whisper the answer in their ear to help he hot-seat person out.

After Reading involves the full reflection of what been read throughout. At this part, students are guided to reflect and discuss the issues of the whole work of art. This reflection is wide and covers a lot of sections of analysing a book. Here a teacher needs to plan well and guide students to the complete analysis.
Remember some of the aspects have been covered before and during reading the book. Thus at the stage like this, a teacher needs to touch all elements of form and content found in the book and discuss them with the students. For example, students may have come across various literary techniques and issues/themes, but through discussion, a teacher may guide them to discuss and remind themselves of what they read. The following are the activities involved in this final stage:
Activities to be done After Reading a Short Story or Novel
(1) Reflection: Here students make connections to what they are reading and their lives through discussions.
(2) Asking an Expert: Students take on roles that address issues that have been raised, and propose what to do or how to deepen understanding of the issue. For example: Torture: Students can interview someone who lived through the period of colonial torture or someone who have read extensively about the issue. The key is they plan out each section and make suggestions as to what to do.
(3) Story Map. This map is used to show the rising and falling action in a story. Students are guided to fill in the chart based on the story or chapter they are reading. First draw and then describe the action.
(4) Character Quotations: The teacher previews the text and pulls out important quotations about the main issues of the story at hand. Students are given different quotations and work together as detectives to figure out who the person is and what is the problem.
(5) Retelling: Have students retell parts of the story regarding setting, plot sequence, character motivations, conflicts and resolutions. Summarizing key points is an important skill.

Here are some techniques to consider when reading a novel, and of course when reading most of the works of fiction and nonfiction as well:
Point of view
Ask yourself ‘who is telling the story’? From this you will identify the person or voice from which you get the story’s events. This will help to reader to understand whether the author has used first-person, third-person, third-person limited, or third-person omniscient point of view. Knowing which point of view is applied in the novel/story helps the reader to understand the text to the fullest way.
Narrative technique
This lets the reader of the story identify the narrative techniques like straight forward narrative technique, flashback, and foreshadowing. Knowing these techniques help the reader to connect the story’s events easily and clearly while reading.
Plot and narrative structure
Plot is what happens in the novel and structure is the order in which the novel presents the plot. Knowing the plot of the novel whether it is chronological arrangement of events, help the reader to connect the events of the story well.
It is important for a reader to identify the place and time in which the novel is set. The setting helps the reader to visualize the atmosphere, values, customs, and life of the particular place and time.
Characters are the ones who make the story moves on. They are the ones who make actions and move the plot of the story. Thus, identifying the types of the characters of the novel you are reading is a great step to the understanding of the story you are reading. Pay attention to the stereotyped characters or stock characters because they are easily identified. These characters will help you determine the rest of the characters while reading the story. Also try to identify the characters by the following techniques:
- Physical descriptions. How the characters look like.
- Dialogue. What the characters say.
- Physical actions. What the characters do in relation to what they say or think.
- Thoughts or mental actions. What the characters think and their inner life in general.
- Judgment by others. What other characters say or think about other characters.
- The narrator’s judgment. What the narrator tells us about the particular character.
- The author’s judgment. What the author thinks or say about the characters. Sometimes this is seen late in the story.
Image, symbol, and motif
These implies the language, that is, figures of speech (imagery), symbols and the mostly occurring concepts, ideas, or themes in the story. By definition, motif, for example, is the most recurring theme or idea in the work of literature.
Theme and subject
Subject is the general topic or topics the book is discussing while theme is what the novel implies and we should think about. For example, the book may be written to address the subject of Colonialism, but the various themes or ideas like torture, forced labor, low wages, and land alienation are only implied by the author and it is up to the reader to identify them.

Reading novel might be a challenging experience for students, but with availability of enough texts, students can be guided to love reading books regularly, remember the previous topics that talk about reading and remind students of the task of reading they be reading.
These Reading Skills Will Make Your Students Good Readers and Critics of Short Stories and Novels.
As Literature teacher, collaborate with students to create posters on this topic and sick them on the Walls of the Classroom, on Classroom noticeboard, or in the school library for students to check as reminders and for more understanding!

- Abrahams, M.H (1971) A Glossary of Literary Terms, Holt, Rinehart and Winston Inc. New York.

- Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Fourth Course with Readings in World Literature; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

- Daniel, K et al (ed.) (2003) Elements of Literature: Sixth Course; Literature of Britain with World Classics; Florida Edition, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Austin.

- Kinsella, K et al (2003) Prentice Hall Literature: Timeless Voices, Timeless Themes; Copper Level, Pearson, Upper Saddle River.

- TIE (2016) English For Secondary Schools Form Three, TIE, Dar Es Salaam.

Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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