Engaging Activities for Teaching Any Novel in Verse

Novels in verse are perfect for the ELA classroom, whether you’re studying one as a whole class novel or facilitating book clubs or literature circles where students are reading different verse novels in small groups. These books are ideal because they are usually high-interest, accessible, and adaptable. Novels in verse truly hit the sweet spot of what English teachers look for in a “teachable” text: They are accessible enough to help struggling readers feel confident, but complex enough to add depth and challenge readers ready for more. The icing on the cake is that these books can be read quickly, so they can easily fit into your curriculum and work well when you’re short on time. (BTW: If you missed my first post about how “teachable” novels in verse are, I highly recommend heading back HERE before you continue reading this post.)

These books deserve a spot in your middle or high school English curriculum, and I’m here to help you make it happen. Whether you’re still brainstorming for your future novel in verse unit or preparing to teach one soon, here are 10 engaging, effective lessons that work for ANY verse novel.

Activities for teaching any novel in verse
Get ready to plan out an engaging novel in verse unit!

NOVELS IN VERSE: “WHAT DO YOU NOTICE?” ACTIVITY

Hook your students on novels in verse and introduce them to the format, structure, and style with an inquiry-based “What Do You Notice?” lesson or book tasting! This activity is low-prep, but high-impact! Simply grab a big stack of different novels in verse (or use a digital menu with links to samples of books like this one). Then, pose the following question: “What do you notice about the structure and the way these books are written?” Give students time to peruse the book stacks, explore different books, take note of everything they notice and wonder, and share their observations with peers. Then, bring the whole class together, ask students to share what they found, and discuss what is important to know when reading a novel in verse. This lesson will help students know what to expect and what to look for when they start reading. It will also spark conversations about WHY authors make certain choices, such as writing in verse, and HOW these choices impact the story.

You can check out this specific activity HERE or find it in the novel in verse bundle HERE.

introduce novels in verse

VISUAL NOTES

Whether you’re reading the novel in verse aloud, pressing play on an audio version, assigning reading for homework, asking students to read in small groups, or doing all of the above, you’ll want to encourage active reading. One way to do just that–while adding in a dash of creativity–is through “visual notes” that keep students focused on important parts of the novel. The best visual notes encourage coloring and doodling while giving students the choice to respond in a way that works for them. I created three sets of visual notes for any novel in verse: one for the beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end. It’s just the right balance of creativity and “work” to keep students focused without the task feeling like another chore.

If you are facilitating book clubs or literature circles with different novels in verse, these visual notes are especially helpful for some extra accountability. You can assign these before small group discussions to give students more to discuss and analyze! These visual notes are editable (like everything else in my novel in verse unit) so you can tailor the questions to specific texts–or leave them as is so they apply to anything! You can find them in my unit HERE.

try visual notes for novels in verse

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE QUESTION TRAIL

Want to trick your students into learning figurative language once and for all? Make it fun with a question trail, a kinesthetic activity that gets students up and moving around the room on a “trail” of multiple-choice questions. If you’ve never tried this strategy, it’s perfect for preventing the monotony that can sneak up during a novel unit. Here’s how it works: There are different multiple-choice questions posted around the room, and the answers (A, B, C, D) to each question direct students to another question “on the trail.” If students answer all questions correctly, they will complete a full circuit with a specific answer sequence. However, if they answer a question incorrectly, they will find themselves at a spot they’ve already been to and will have to backtrack to correct their mistake. This makes it easy to tell who understands figurative language, who needs more help, and which examples are tripping students up. 

To create a question trail that would complement any novel in verse, I pulled examples of figurative language from various middle grade and young adult verse novels like House Arrest, Brown Girl Dreaming, Long Way Down, and Clap When You Land. This way, students can identify different examples in context AND check out new titles to read in the future. After the question trail, students will be more prepared to identify and analyze figurative language in the whole class novel or their lit circle book. You can find two different question trails (one with middle grade books and one with young adult titles) in my novel in verse bundle. For separate resources, more information on question trails, and templates to create your own trails, check out the following:

novel in verse question trail

MENTOR TEXTS + WRITING WORKSHOP STATIONS

Novels in verse make great mentor texts because they are creative and uniquely written. These books are brimming with rich figurative language, interesting stylistic choices, vividly described emotions, and examples of authors “breaking the rules” on purpose. Novels in verse are literary goldmines! Take advantage of that by helping students study novels in verse as “mentor texts,” or texts that students can learn from. The difference between reading a book and studying it as a “mentor text” is approaching the text as a reader vs. analyzing it as a writer. Encourage your students to “read” mentor texts “like a writer,” searching for inspiration and harvesting techniques from the text to apply to their own writing.

To help students look at their novels in verse through this lens, I created sets of mentor text stations that feature juicy excerpts from various verse novels. At each station, students record what they notice about a text and how it is written. Afterward, students can write from mentor-text-inspired prompts and “try out” the techniques and craft moves they noticed in each text. This kind of mentor text study works especially well if you are teaching narrative writing or poetry, because students can immediately apply what they learn to a current piece of writing. Even if you’re not, this approach is great practice for closely reading a text!

You can check out my novel in verse mentor text/writing workshop stations HERE. This set of stations includes 5 middle-grade excerpts and 5 young adult excerpts, so it works for grades 6-12.

novel in verse mentor text stations

SYMBOLISM CHALLENGE

If your students struggle with symbolism, you will LOVE how this activity makes the abstract concrete, visual, and relevant! The Symbolism Challenge gamifies symbolism by showing students different examples of symbols from life (and a few common ones from literature). Each round, students have a set time to guess the meaning of as many symbols as possible and win a point for each correctly identified symbol. The symbols become increasingly complex and difficult to pinpoint as the rounds progress, so this activity is a great way to spark conversations about multiple interpretations, context, and more. The challenge is a great way to scaffold symbolism and segway into an analysis of symbols in the novel in verse you’re teaching. You can check out this activity HERE or find it in the novel in verse bundle HERE.

symbolism challenge activity

NOVEL IN VERSE BINGO

Need a unique activity to mix things up in the middle of your novel in verse unit? BINGO is a fun way to help students notice and analyze literary techniques, figurative language, and craft moves in novels in verse. Here’s how it works: Students get a BINGO board full of different elements, types of figurative language, and other common techniques found in novels in verse. Once they identify a BINGO of the elements present in their book, they explain each with textual evidence. Whether students are reading the same novel as a whole class or different ones in small groups, this activity lends itself to lots of discussion. Students can partner up to find examples, compare elements in small groups, share their BINGOs with the whole class, and discuss the how and the why behind the author’s choices. You can find this novel in verse BINGO activity–and over a dozen other lessons for any verse novel–in my bundle HERE.

novel in verse BINGO

DESIGN A LITERARY OUTFIT ACTIVITY

Looking for a creative activity that will get students thinking outside the box AND help them analyze the writing style of a text? Try a “Design a Literary Outfit” activity! Understanding style, voice, structure, and word choice can be challenging, so this lesson is designed to scaffold literary analysis. During this activity, students design an outfit that represents the writing style of a text. For example, students might include flip flops in an outfit to represent the author “flipping” between two or more points of view. Your students will love this chance to be creative, and you’ll love listening to them explain their literary fashion choices after the activity! This is one of those lessons that makes the abstract more concrete and visual for your learners. It works well for any whole-class novel, but it’s especially fun for book clubs/lit circles, because students can work in groups and share their creative “outfits” with other groups to better understand the different moves authors make as they write!

literary outfit activity

MEMORY NONFICTION PAIRING

Searching for some nonfiction to tie into your novel in verse? Get creative by pairing an article about the psychology of memory and what makes things more memorable. Students can learn about “flashbulb memories,” or experiences made more vivid and memorable by surprise. They can read about how researchers have linked elements like emotion and smell to memories too.

Wondering where I’m going with this? Stay with me. Depending on what novel in verse you’re reading, there’s probably a fair amount of figurative language, sensory details, intense emotions, and meaningful moments. You probably want to have students analyze all of that, too. You might want to analyze why an author uses imagery, how an author uses figurative language to capture complex emotions, or what powerful moments propel the plot.

By reading an article that explores what makes things more memorable, you can spark these conversations and discuss what makes writing more memorable. You can ask students to pinpoint the “flashbulb” moments in the text and analyze their purpose. You can debate if verse makes these scenes more memorable or emotional. You can let students play with language and experiment with techniques that make their writing more vivid and descriptive. In short, you can explore both life AND language with this kind of creative connection! What’s not to love?

For example, when we read Before the Ever After in 7th grade, we discuss how Jacqueline Woodson uses imagery and structures the book in a series of fragmented memories. These techniques are central to the plot and her purpose in writing, because the story is about the effects of a degenerative brain disease caused by football (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). As a class, we explore how Woodson’s verse makes the story more raw, emotional, and authentic. Students debate if verse is the best choice for the story, and we consider how it might differ if written in prose. This psychology of memory nonfiction pairing is fabulous because it helps us hit literature, nonfiction, and even writing standards in the same lesson!

You can find the nonfiction article and accompanying lesson in my novel in verse bundle HERE or my Before the Ever After resource HERE.

nonfiction pairing

POST-READING LEARNING STATIONS

Your students finished reading the novel in verse. Now what? Make it meaningful and wrap up your unit with post-reading learning stations that engage students in thoughtful literary analysis. Stations are the perfect way to tackle important essential questions and help students think about the novel as a whole. They also work well as review before an essay, test, or project. Here’s how I structure my post-reading learning station for novels in verse:

  • Station 1: Verse Summary
  • Station 2: Examine the Ending
  • Station 3: Structure & Style
  • Station 4: Why Verse?
  • Station 5: Motifs & Symbols

This set of editable learning stations is available separately HERE and in my novel in verse bundle HERE.

wrap it up with learning stations

SPEED DISCUSSION

If you’re tired of whole-class discussions flopping because the same three students answer, try doing “speed discussion” first. This student-centered discussion strategy is great because it gives students time to process, reflect, and practice their thinking in a low-risk, engaging way. If you’ve never heard of the speed discussion strategy, it’s simple: you pair students up for quick rounds (think 60-90 seconds) of discussion. Each round, students are paired with a new peer and a new topic. By the end of class, students will have talked to multiple peers about multiple prompts.

Here are a few examples of prompts from my novel in verse speed discussion activity, just to give you an idea of what this looks like:

  • Turn to a random page in the book. How does this poem connect or contribute to the story as a whole? Explain.
  • How does the verse format impact the story and the reader’s experience? Explain.
  • What scenes or moments were the most powerful? Why? How did the author create these memorable scenes?

You can find my novel in verse speed discussion HERE or included in the mega bundle HERE.

speed discussion

BONUS: NOVEL IN VERSE BOOK REC BROCHURES & POSTERS

After you hook your students on novels in verse, you’ll want to keep up their reading momentum! Give them tailored novel in verse book recommendations with personality test book brochures or quick visual recs with book stack posters.

The book brochure is a super cool tool that automates the book recommendation process. Here’s how it works: Students take a quick “reader personality quiz” that assesses their interests and preferences. Then, based on their answers to the quiz, the brochure recommends the book that is the best fit for them. Students can open the brochure to find a no-spoilers summary of their book match, as well as 5 other texts to consider. On the back, students can peruse 25+ recommendations for other high-interest verse novels. These nifty brochures are great for students who don’t know what to read next. They also work well if you’re launching literature circles! Since the brochures are editable, you can add your lit circle titles and use the brochures to help students select books. You can check out the novel in verse brochure for middle school HERE and the high school version HERE. You can read more about the book brochures and how to use them HERE.

Book recommendation posters are another way to help students select books they’ll enjoy. I created sets of these posters for different genres, formats, and topics to give students quick, visual recommendations. When I’m teaching a novel in verse unit, I feature that book rec poster and use it to pull books for displays. You can find my novel in verse posters in my genre poster pack (click HERE for the middle school version and HERE for the high school collection).


I hope these activities help you plan an incredible novel in verse unit for your middle or high school ELA class! Whether you’re teaching a whole class novel, running book clubs or lit circles, or facilitating an independent reading unit, check out my full bundle of lessons that work for ANY novel in verse. These resources are editable and adaptable to any text. You can leave them as-is or tailor them to a specific novel.  Here are a few other fun, creative activities in that bundle.

  • Notice & Wonder Chart
  • Playing with Prose: Scene Rewrite
  • Illustrating Imagery Activity
  • Figurative Language Flipbook
  • Conflict Pie Charts
  • And more!

To check everything out, click HERE or on the image below. This collection of resources will save you hours of prep time, give you confidence to teach ANY novel in verse, and keep your students enjoyed so you can actually enjoy teaching!

For more ideas and information on teaching novels in verse, check out the following:

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