Thursday, February 18, 2016

Using Novels to Teach Tolerance

February, ah the month of love. The month reserved for gushy cards, caring attitudes with increased empathy and affection. Yeah, right!! So obviously this is not a true representation of February in a middle school! By the time February rolls around, we are all suffering from cabin fever, the winter dull, and preparing, even more than usual, for state testing. Stress is high and tolerance is low. Luckily, there is a great way for us to deal with this in the ELA classroom. Some fantastic authors have written some pretty fantastic novels that will not only encourage empathy and tolerance of others, but will also leave a mark in your students’ hearts. The characters, themes, and plots of these novels will help your students grow as readers and grow as individuals. Let’s face it, we’re not just teaching academic skills. As middle school teachers it is our responsibility to teach our students skills for life.

The novels above are used in my classroom as part of an independent novel study. My students choose from 4-6 different novels and have a “homebase” group that they work with throughout the novel. Students are responsible for reading the book independently (mostly in class), but discuss certain parts with their groups. If you do not want to do an independent novel study or literature circle with the following books, I STRONGLY encourage you to choose one to use as a read aloud. You will not regret reading these books!

The four novels I always include in my tolerance novel study:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  If you want to fall in love with a character, this is the book for you! The main character, Auggie, was born with a facial deformity causing him to be homeschooled through fourth grade. In fifth grade he decides he wants to go to public school. The book continues with trials and tribulations of a student who stands out from the crowd. Each chapter of the book is from a different character’s perspective, so you really get to feel all points of view. You will feel mad, happy, sad, and fulfilled wen reading this book. (Warning: the family pet dies. I don’t deal well with animals dying in books, hence the warning!)

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper
            Ok, so if you want to fall in love with ANOTHER character, this is the book for you! In this novel, you will meet an extraordinary girl named Melody. Melody has cerebral palsy and is unable to speak. Though she is an extremely bright student, people think she’s intellectually impaired because she is unable to verbally express herself. Eventually, Melody finds a way to ‘speak’ and people get to see more of who Melody truly is. This book will send you on an emotional rollercoaster and you’ll love every second of it!

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
            Ok, so if you want to fall in love with a couple more characters, this is the book for you! (Can you tell I seriously love these books and find them of great value?! I promise, my next synopsis will not start off with the same first line!) In this novel the reader meets two boys, Max and Kevin. Max is a large kid with a learning disability and Kevin is a genius with a physical disability. Once lonely boys with no friends to be had, they both find friendship in the most unusual circumstance. They forge together to make Freak the Mighty. Freak refers to Kevin and Mighty refers to Max. Both boys come from fatherless homes and bond when Kevin is asked to tutor Max. You will enjoy reading about how these two ‘rescue’ each other, but be prepared to have some Kleenex! You can also address the CC standards requiring students to compare literature across various mediums because this novel was made into a movie. It is fun to compare and contrast the novel and the movie!

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko
            This novel is pretty cool because it takes place at Alcatraz. The main character, Moose is charged with a huge responsibility of taking care of his sister, Natalie. Natalie has autism and her family tries to get her into a special school to help her. After going to the special school, Natalie is sent home because of her inability to adjust to the school. This leaves Moose in charge. Although he knows it’s the number one rule to not speak to, or of, the prisoners, Moose turns to the one and only Al Capone to help his situation out. Can Mr. Capone help? Read to find out more! This is a great series.

More Suggestions For Tolerance Novels:

 -When Zachary Beaver Came to Town (I believe this is a movie as well.)
 -The Schwa was Here
 - Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie
 - Fault In Our Stars
 -  Peeling the Onion
 - Thirteen Reasons Why
 - Inside Out & Back Again
 - Eleanor and Park
 - The Absolute True Story of a Part-time Indian (I heard this book is controversial. I haven’t read it yet, but can’t wait!)
 - Island of Blue Dolphins
 - Counting By 7s (I actually haven’t read this yet! I can’t keep it on my shelf long enough to borrow my own book!)

Enjoy these books with your students. Prepare yourself for some amazingly deep conversations with your students. They will not even realize they are building reading skills! 

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian is one of my favorite books! It's a little mature (it's actually required read in 9th grade honors English here) but my mature 7th and 8th graders love it too, especially the boys.

  2. I really need to make time to read this!