Must-Read Novels and Engaging Reading Response Activities for Any Book

I am a big believer in having kids respond to reading with thoughtful, defensible, evidence-based responses. Finding high-interest novels that my students will enjoy for independent reading, small groups, and read alouds is an important piece of that puzzle. Here's a roundup of my favorite must-read novels and reading response activities for any novel, as well as anchor charts and task cards too. You can view any of them in my Amazon storefront HERE.

must read novels and reading response activities

Favorite Must-Read Novels for Upper Elementary

These are all novels that I have read in my classroom and 100% recommend. Most have been used with 4th and 5th graders at varying levels, sometimes as read alouds and sometimes as small group novel study books.

The Lemonade War is great for third graders. It's told from the point of view of two sibling rivals, Evan and Jessie. Evan finds out his little sister is skipping third grade and joining his fourth grade class. They must create lemonade stands as part of school project, and then the competition begins. The Lemonade War integrates economics and math concepts and also earns bonus points for being part of a series. Once students get hooked on a set of characters, I love having followup options to offer. 

Home of the Brave is perfect for fourth grade. Students follow along with Kek, who immigrates from Africa to America with his mother. While he waits for news on his missing mother, he makes a diverse group of friends and experiences many firsts in America. The pages are short, the writing is impeccable, and we always used this novel as part of our immigration unit. 

An “underdog” book I always like to mention for older kids (5th grade+) is Shooting Kabul. It's about a family who flees Afghanistan to move to the US just before the events of 9/11. It can be pretty intense, but I've read it with multiple small groups, and it is immensely eye-opening for students who can handle it.

Other Upper Elementary Novels I Love

  • The Red Pencil (This one is a great companion to Home of the Brave)
  • Inside Out and Back Again (This novel is written in prose, which so many children gravitate toward. It's another great immigration novel.)
  • Esperanza Rising
  • Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (This one, Out of my Mind, and Rules all have main characters with disabilities and address how our differences make us stronger.)
  • Out of my Mind
  • Rules
  • Wild Robot (This one is a favorite every single year. You can definitely incorporate it into STEM studies.)
  • The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler
  • Phantom Tollbooth
  • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
  • Operation Frog Effect (I love this book as a read loud because it really addresses how our actions impact others.)
  • Breaking Stalin's Nose (This one focuses on a child's perspective of some of the events of the Cold War. It's fantastic if you are learning about that part of history, or if you just need a great historical fiction novel.)

Ten Popular Upper Elementary Authors

Looking for more novel suggestions? These favorite authors were suggested in our free Facebook community! We love to collaborate and are always sharing our favorite classroom ideas. 

  • Kwame Alexander
  • Andrew Clements
  • Sharon Draper
  • Alan Gratz
  • Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • Lynda Mullaly Hunt
  • Hena Khan
  • Gordon Korman
  • Jake Maddox (Sports stories for reluctant readers)
  • Gary Paulsen
  • Raina Telgemeier

Most Recommended Upper Elementary Novels

These were the must-read novels that came highly recommended from other teachers in my group! I’d love to hear which titles you might add to the list. 

  • Among the Hidden (this may have been the number one recommended book series!)
  • The War that Saved my Life
  • I Survived Series
  • By the Great Horn Spoon
  • Al Capone Does my Shirts
  • How to Steal a Dog (I also love Barbara O’Connor’s book Wish)
  • Refugee
  • Holes
  • A Long Walk to Water
  • Because of Mr. Terupt
  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • Shadow Children Series (Among the Hidden is the first!)
  • Front Desk
  • Save Me a Seat
  • The Dreamer

Want to easily browse these titles? Visit my Amazon storefront HERE.

Reading Response Activities

Having a variety of ways for students to meaningfully respond to texts throughout the year is important for differentiation and engagement. Here are lots of ideas you can before, during, and after reading that are perfect for whole class lessons, small groups, and independent work too.

FREE Independent Reading Response Anchor Charts and Comprehension Question Tips: As a class, we create anchor charts to use for the entire year. I guided students so the prompts would hit a lot of the common core standards and tried to make them all encompassing so they can be used for any book, and any chapter within the book.

FREE Setting the Stage for Novels: Some kids are so worried about cruising through assigned reading that they don’t take the time to really think about what they are reading. This pre-reading activity and anchor chart helps students get ready to read.

FREE Open-Ended Comprehension Cards: I always keep these cards handy in my guided reading basket, and I pull them out often.  The great thing about them is that you can use them for 3rd graders who have a basic understanding of the story and are working on basic levels of reading comprehension, and you can also use them with middle school students who are ready to take their thinking up a notch.

FREE Differentiated Novel Choice Boards: The boards include dozens of prompts for responding to text and can be used for independent responses or literature circles. They meet many different learning styles and cover Bloom's Taxonomy too.

Task Cards for Any Novel

Task Cards are an ideal tool to use in your whole group lessons, small groups, intervention groups, and centers. Students love task cards as an alternative to sitting in one place doing worksheets. There are hundreds of ways task cards can be used. Play Scoot, go on a scavenger hunt, add them to topple blocks… the possibilities are limited only to your imagination! These cards require students to think critically about specific story elements in their texts.

FREE Pre-Reading Task Cards: I use these cards to introduce new novels.  If I am using a novel for the whole class, I pair students up and give each pairing a card to complete, then we share out our responses.  If they are working in novel groups or literature circles, each student gets one or two cards to complete (or I just choose my favorite cards that will give them the most information about that particular book). The whole thing usually takes less than thirty minutes, and it is great for activating schema and getting students ready to read.

Story Elements Task Cards: These cards will challenge your students to read the question, sit back and think about it, and then read it again before forming their answers. They're perfect for small groups, guided instruction, or independent work AFTER the story element or skill has been taught.

Reading Skills Response Task Cards: These task cards have different prompts for skills like inferring, cause/effect, sequencing, etc. They'll challenge students to extend their thinking and really integrate key reading skills

Informational Reading Response Task Cards: students to think critically and incorporate Common Core Expectations when answering questions about informational texts

Engaging Book Projects for Assessment

I love using book projects for assessment instead of traditional tests or essays because novel projects encourage students to think deeper and combine important reading skills. These are some of my favorite reading response activities!

FREE Amazon Listing Project: After completing a novel, students make a book cover, write a summary, select quotes, write a review, etc. Some of my students even posted their reviews on the real Amazon site when we were finished.

FREE Foldable Reading Skill Review: Students will complete a flap project to show their understanding of the intricacies of the book, as well as review key reading skills like cause/effect, character development, etc.

FREE Character Project: Assess understanding of character traits, character conflict, and character change with this flap project.

FREE Timeline Project: Students will choose eight events, explain their significance, and put them in sequential order.  

I hope these must-read novels and reading response activities help you provide both rigorous and engaging actives for your upper elementary students.

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