Getting started with novels- AP/IB/ACTFL Can-Do’s… You can do it all!

As you end the year and begin to requisition materials for the new year, I encourage you to consider reading novels in class. Whether a part of your silent reading library or as a full class novel study, having kids read a WHOLE NOVEL gives them a huge confidence boost as they prepare to move to the next level and tackle authentic literature.

How do I choose the novel that’s right for me? Start with a cultural topic you already know a lot about! You will be more confident teaching and supplementing the novel if you already have a passion for the topic! Some great novel themes (that tie in well to AP and IB themes) include
Environmental Issues and Ethical Questions- Robo en la Noche/Noche de Oro,
Family Structures, Alienation and Assimilation- Vida y Muerte en la Mara Salvatrucha,
Human Rights, Language and Identity, Leisure and Sports Felipe Alou,
Nationalism and Patriotism, Leisure and Sports (bullfighting), Family Structures Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos,
Human Rights, Peace and War, Alienation and Assimilation Esperanza

Once you have a novel in mind, consider adding the Teacher’s Resource Guide. These guides are full of cultural information, performance based assessments, supplemental readings and slide shows… everything you need to feel successful teaching the novel in class!

Check out the ACTFL/NCSSFL Can-Do statements:

Which do you want to target and how can you use the novel to draw out those can-dos? In Robo in la noche, Mackenna travels to Costa Rica to work with her father in a bird sanctuary. It is the perfect setting for some travel can-dos! In Bianca Nieves y los 7 toritos, Bianca’s father is a bullfighter. It is the perfect novel to work on can-dos that deal with asking for and depending opinions! What do your students think of the art/torture of the corrida? In Esperanza, the family is torn apart by the violence in Guatemala in the 80s. The focus on family makes it a great novel for tackling the family relationship can-dos!

No matter the curriculum you’re bound to, a novel is a great way to increase literacy, build confidence reading, and develop that important cultural foundation!

Visit , , and to find the right novel for your class!


  1. I am just finishing my fifth year teaching (I am 50, and a late bloomer 🙂 ) I went straight from college to the classroom (no student teaching) and I am the only foreign language teacher on my campus. I found out quickly that learning grammar, culture, and literature as a Spanish major, does not actually prepare you for teaching the language. Sigh…
    I heard you in San Antonio this fall, and was inspired. The result? We are just finishing up Felipe Alou in my Spanish 2 class. It is the first time I have used a novel, and I love it! Ended up rushing it a bit, but it was still a great experience. I think most of the kids enjoyed it too, in spite of their beginning panic. (We are reading a whole book!? In SPANISH!?) One of my less stellar students commented; “This book isn’t half bad when you pay attention!” (High praise, indeed, from him. lol)
    Can’t wait to explore this further, and I am also trying to learn as much about TPRS as possible. Struggling with keeping in the target language…..and not boring everyone, including myself, with the textbooks and grammar lessons…
    Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge. It is a great help to this old, new teacher.

  2. What novels would you recommend for Spanish 1? I read Felipe Alou with my level 1 and while my students thought the first four chapters were easy to comprehend they found the rest of the novel difficult and challenging. Is Felipe Alou appropriate for level 1 or should I use it with a higher level instead? Your advice is greatly appreciated. I am new to novels.

    • Felipe is written as a novice reader but at our school we do it in level 2 because we have more language at that time and can discuss the heavy cultural topics better! In level 1 we read Brandon Brown wants a dog and The New Houdini, Piratas, and Esperanza! Bianca Nieves is another level 1 reader with good culture but again we teach it in level 2 so we can have deeper discussions!

  3. I like reading novels in my class. This is the first year I tried them. My Spanish 1 students enjoyed Piratas. I also read Felipe Alou with them. They found the first four chapters easy to comprehend but had difficulty with the rest of the novel. Is Felipe Alou best for higher levels due to the topics? Also what other novels do you recommend for level 1? Your help is greatly appreciated.

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