Teaching Strategies Not Texts – The Outsiders

To try to bring back a regular blogging habit in 2020, I’m going to be sharing some of my favorite lessons/units/ideas/learnings from 2019.

I’m starting with the one that has the biggest impact on my teaching – Teaching Strategies, Not Texts.

This is not a new concept, by any stretch of the imagination. I knew that it was what I should be doing, but I didn’t have a good idea of what that should look like until I read A Novel Approach by Kate Roberts. If you are an ELA teacher in the upper grades (probably 5th and up), I cannot recommend this book enough.

I used this text as I taught the novel The Outsiders for the first time. This is the selected whole class text for our unit that explores Overcoming Challenges. We also have several short stories and a set of novels for book clubs that explore this topic.

I followed the approach she outlines in the book. I went through the book using her guidelines to select which chapters would be read aloud by me, which would be read by the students in partners and small groups, and which would be assigned for the students to read independently as homework.

Pacing Guide

Each number on this list is one instructional day.

  1. Read Aloud – Chapter 1
  2. Mini Lesson & partner read – Chapter 2 (homework assigned – Chapter 3)
  3. Activity
  4. Read Aloud – Chapter 4
  5. Mini Lesson & partner read – Chapter 5 (homework assigned – Chapter 6)
  6. Activity
  7. Mini lesson & partner read – Chapter 7
  8. Mini lesson & partner read – Chapter 8
  9. Activity
  10. Read Aloud Chapter 9
  11. Read Aloud Chapter 10 (homework assigned – chapter 11)
  12. Activity
  13. Read Aloud Chapter 12
  14. Culminating Activities (2 days)

Following this outline, the goal was to wrap up the novel in 15 instructional days.

Mini Lessons

This was where the real change in my instruction happened. For this novel, I decided to focus on the skill of character analysis. I spent time going through the lessons in The Reading Strategies Book by Jennifer Serravallo.

I selected the following six strategies for character analysis.

  • Consider Their Identity
  • STEAL – Indirect Characterization
  • Notice & Note Signposts
  • Influences on a Character
  • Character’s Motives
  • More Than One Side

Again, using the methods she describes in the book. Students made “thought logs” while reading using those strategies to analyze the various characters. I would introduce them during mini lessons, and we would apply it to portions of the book we’d already read. Students would practice with a partner and then again during independent reading. We talked about what would be a good number of “logs”. We decided about every 5-10 minutes of reading.

I also used the assessment method she describes in the book. I every 3-4 chapters, I asked students to select the 5 logs that showed their best thinking to turn in. This meant that I wasn’t grading all of their logs, but I was seeing enough of them to know if they were getting a handle on it.


In the book, she recommends keeping in a few of your favorite activities. Since I had never taught this book before, I didn’t have any to pull from. Instead, I used some of the non-fiction paired texts available on the websites Common Lit and Actively Learn.

I also did a deep dive into the poem “Nothing Gold Cay Stay” for the Activity on Day 6.

In the future, I will also probably use the activity day on Day 9 to do a focus on the figurative language in the novel.

I also ended up using the activity days to give students time to finish their assigned reading from the partner day and/or homework. I don’t like to assign homework, so I wanted to give time to read in class if possible.


During reading, I used the thought logs and listening to student conversations as a the primary methods of assessment.

Since I was teaching the strategies, not the text, I was more concerned with if students were able to apply the strategy successfully rather than if they were getting every last detail out of the novel.

This was a new way of reading a novel for students (and me), so it did take a while to get things figured out. A number of them just wanted comprehension questions to answer, and I had to spend some time talking about why we were doing it this way.

After we finished the novel, we did two days of culminating activities to review. On the first day, we did a silent dialog walk. I had about 10 discussion questions, each written on a piece of chart paper. Students walked around, answered the questions, and responded to their classmates – all without talking. On the second day, they worked in small groups to answer different discussion questions. They created posters to share their responses with the class. The groups then rotated around the room to read the others responses. This year, I had one of the group members stay at the poster – but that didn’t work all that well. I think in the future, I’ll have the whole group rotate, and other groups can leave feedback on sticky notes for the original creators of the posters.

For the first assessment of the strategies, students turned their thought logs into an analysis essay – looking at character traits of two of of the characters in the novel.

For the final assessment, I gave students an entirely new and unrelated text to read independently. They had to apply three of the six strategies to this new text. I was able to find leveled texts of about one page each so that students had texts that were appropriate for their reading level.

My Final Thoughts

I will never go back to the “old” way of teaching a novel. I loved this strategy based approach, and I think that it really helped the students develop their character analysis skills. I also loved wrapping the whole thing up in under a month. (The essay did stretch it out into a fourth week.)

Next year, my goal will be to be strategy focused as we read short stories leading up to the novel. I think if the students have more practice with this way of reading before we start the novel, it won’t be as much of a shock to them.

One of my goals for the rest of this school year is to have students practice applying these skills to their independent reading books. We can review their thought logs during our reading conferences.

I also am looking forward to having students apply these strategies (plus the theme ones we’ve added on since then) to our first round of book clubs. For next year, I hope to have the book clubs follow directly after reading the whole class novel.

Have you read A Novel Approach? or tried strategy based instruction in middle or high school? I’d love to hear what’s worked in your classroom!

2 thoughts on “Teaching Strategies Not Texts – The Outsiders

  1. Thanks for this post! 😊 I’m just about half-way through A Novel Approach and am planning to rework my teaching unit for The Outsiders. Can you share more about the thought logs and what they look like? I’ve done some reading/thinking logs in the past and am curious as to your approach. Also, are all of the bulleted strategies above in the Serravallo book?


    1. Hi Terri! This is may or may not be not relevant for you anymore, but maybe someone else can find it useful!

      For the thought logs, they were essentially mini-graphic organizers that the students created as they read. They would “stop and jot” every 5-10 minutes using one of the strategies. We would practice each one for a day or two, and then we would add it to our anchor chart of options. I don’t think I made an electronic version for this unit, but here’s the Theme options I used with the next unit.


      Also, in the bulleted list, some of the Notice and Note strategies are in the Serravallo book, but not all of them. That is a separate book by Beers and Probst. Also, STEAL – indirect characterization is a strategy that is used by other teachers at my school. I wanted my students to have exposure to it.


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