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Teaching Contemporary Fiction Series: Shaping Your Unit

written by: Lenzi Hart • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

Contemporary and current fiction is a component of the literary world that is often overlooked in public schools. Teaching the classics is important, but opening the students' eyes to the world of contemporary fiction can be exciting, as well as educational.

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    The Importance of Current Fiction

    Unless you've been living under a rock, you might have noticed that teen fiction is hot right now, and a little book series called The Twilight Saga is all over place. Much like Harry Potter, Edward Cullen has teens reading again, and I commend any fad that puts a book in students hands! I wanted to keep the fire burning for reading, and decided to revamp my lesson plans to incorporate contemporary fiction. Contemporary fiction is basically defined is current fiction that has been published within the last five to ten years. Oftentimes, our education system merely focuses on teaching the literary classics and other genres of literature in our English and Reading classrooms. However, I think we are missing an excellent opportunity to instill a love of life-long reading in our students if we never explore the benefits that contemporary fiction can have in their lives.

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    What Can I Teach?

    This school year, I saved this unit for my last six weeks of study. All of my state standardized tests were over, and it was time to have a little bit of fun with reading! The goals for this unit were simple: teach the students how our current system of contemporary literature works and give them the resources to select contemporary fiction in a book store setting. Students who are not avid readers are only exposed to books in the classroom, and as those of us who haunt our local bookstores know, much joy can be found in books that are not gathering dust in our local libraries. Current fiction is hot, and especially teen genre literature, it is flying off the shelves. Students need to to know how impactful contemporary fiction is in today's world, and how knowing more about best seller's lists and book reviews, students can use both as tools for finding books they will enjoy.

    There are several topics you can cover in a contemporary fiction unit, and the other articles in this series will explain each subject in greater detail and give you strategies for implementing them in your classroom. Here are the subjects this series will cover in the contemporary fiction unit:

    1. Best Seller's Lists: From notable lists like The New York Times to USA Today, there are MANY lists out there that gage the sales of books. However, each list is different, and students should know what standards a book must meet in order to be considered a "best seller". To explain this concept, I put together a power point using The New York Times Best Seller's List, Indie Bound Best Seller's List, and Amazon.com's Best Seller's list as my examples. My article "What is a Best Seller's List" will further explain how each list is different and why it is important to know the distinguishing characteristics of each list. This is also a great moment to teach denotation and connotation to students, because many authors find the term "best seller" as having a negative connotation. I go on to explain that for a book to sell a lot of copies, it has to appeal to a large number of people. We discuss how some authors who are "true to their craft" might find that having a "best selling book" can devalue their novel in the eyes of "true" writers.
    2. Book Reviews: There are mainstream book reviews, such as People Magazine book reviews, The New York Times reviews, and Publisher's Weekly write-ups on contemporary fiction. Using recent reviews from each publication, you can show how the structure of book review is different from a summary, discuss how reviews can be helpful in finding books to read and enjoy, and break down the format of a book review for students to mimic in their own writing. Book reviews are also not limited to professional writers on major publications. Tons of blogs dedicated to reviewing books dot the landscape of the Internet. Heck, even little ole' me has a blog in which I review the books I read! Search the Internet blogs that are dedicated to Young Adult Literature, and discuss how blogs can also help in the selection of books.
    3. Books Stores and Book Store Websites: Book stores are a vital part of the publishing industry. Take a moment to differentiate between independently owned book stores and chain book stores, and why the "Mom & Pop" book stores might begrudge the chain stores. (I even played the clip of Meg Ryan's character explaining the difference between the two types of book stores, from the movie You've Got Mail to my class.) Before the end of this unit, I encourage you to explore the option of taking your students on a field trip to a local book store. I am lucky in the fact that I have an amazing principal who believes in what I do, and granted me permission to take my classes to Barnes & Noble Bookstore. This article will explain how I worked with the manager of the store to organize a field trip that my students loved and learned a lot!

Contemporary Fiction Series

New fiction is often overlooked in public schools, and at a time when new teen fiction is flying off of the shelves and shaping mainstream media! Capitalize on this resurgence of interest in teen reading and integrate it into your classroom lesson plans with the help of this article series.
  1. Teaching Contemporary Fiction Series: Shaping Your Unit
  2. Contemporary and New Fiction: What is a Best Seller's List?
  3. Planning a Bookstore Field Trip
  4. Teaching 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins