Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Navigating the Seton Book Reports: A Few Tips from Our Counselors


Academic Counselor Christina Nutt has a boatload of tips and a most handy guide to help you chart a successful course for your Seton Book Reports.

Imagine that you are reading through your student’s Lesson Plans. You notice the assignment “First Quarter Book Report.” Peeking over your shoulder, your fifth grader sees the title and makes a face. “Mom, do I really have to write that?”

It’s no secret that writing assignments can sometimes feel like sailing through uncharted waters. Perhaps your students are new to writing book reports. Or maybe they’ve written dozens of book reports but can’t seem to “get into it” this time.

The writing process can stretch on like a journey with no end. The good news is that setting goals and making a plan can help simplify this process for both you and your students. Below, we’ve gathered some tips and strategies to help your students navigate as they embark on their writing “journey.”

Your New Best Friend: The Book Report Handbook

Families sometimes worry that they will have to come up with book report topics and guidelines on their own. Thankfully, Seton has streamlined this process, providing a complete Book Report Handbook for grades 4-8. It contains an introduction to each of the First and Second Quarter novels and a pre-written opening paragraph and topic sentences.

For the Third and Fourth Quarter saint biographies, the handbook contains information on how to structure the book reports. In these quarters, students are free to write their own topic sentences. The handbook also lists virtues and character traits from which students may select their topics.

The Book Report Handbook is your go-to resource when writing book reports. If you think you may have misplaced your handbook, don’t hesitate to contact Seton’s Academic Counseling Department. We will be happy to send you a new copy if needed.

Set Reading and Writing Goals

A common problem with book reports – or any writing assignment – is procrastination. We all know how it goes. For one reason or another, the book report is put off until the last week of the Quarter, delaying grading and taking the focus away from other assignments.

By the time students sit down to write, they have completely forgotten what they read. We recommend setting reading and writing time goals to keep students on track. Some families plan to read the books and write the book reports within the first two weeks of the Quarter, saving other, less critical reading assignments for later. Setting a specific time frame and limiting students to two weeks reduces procrastination.

Another approach is to schedule daily book report “work sessions” of 20-45 minutes per day. During this time, students should be able to read one or more chapters (depending on reading level) and take notes on what they’ve read.

By the time they’ve finished the book, students will have enough information to write a book report.

Of course, life happens, and plans change. That’s okay. The beauty of homeschooling is its flexibility, and it is easy to modify writing goals. Try to set goals that are doable for your family. If needed, re-evaluate after a few weeks and make changes.

The important thing is that you are working towards your writing goal. Setting writing goals and creating a time frame can help students and parents keep track of time and stay on top of the book report assignments.

Talk It Out

Sometimes, putting words on paper can feel intimidating, and staring at a blank page doesn’t help. In cases like this, it’s often helpful for a student to “talk it out” or discuss ideas for his book report before even beginning to write. Start with an overview of the story – have the student tell you briefly about the title, setting, and main character. Read the introductory paragraph in the Book Report Handbook.

As you’ll see, there are usually three topics, one for each middle paragraph. Students are often asked to give examples of a particular virtue or character trait in the middle paragraphs. Focus on only one at a time.

When discussing virtues or character traits, first ask your student to explain the virtue in his own words. If needed, look up more ambiguous characteristics such as “reliable” or “noble” in a dictionary or online. Ask clarifying questions. “How does a reliable person act? Can you trust a reliable person?” Then, have the student describe two to three specific instances when the main character showed this virtue. Ask further questions such as “Tell me what happened.” “What did the character do?” “How did he/she react?” “How did he/she show the virtue of ___ here?” After describing each example, the student should type or write down what was said. At this point, don’t worry about writing perfect sentences – just take quick notes.

You can check for grammar and spelling later when grouping the sentences into paragraphs. Before you know it, your student will have all the examples needed to complete his book report.

Search for Clues

Although book report topics often focus on character traits and virtues, authors usually do not directly tell us about a character’s virtues or qualities. Authors rarely write, “Johnny Tremain was reliable when he…” This exercise requires students to use critical thinking skills as they read about a character’s actions and determine their defining virtues.

I often tell students that writing a book report is like a detective searching for clues. A detective must carefully examine actions, words, and other evidence to solve a mystery. Clues, once gathered, might point to a specific culprit or motive.

In writing a book report, students may not have “hard evidence,” but they need to “search for clues” by carefully evaluating a character’s actions and words. They can do this by learning to ask questions. How does this character react in difficult situations? What do his words and actions tell us about the kind of person he is? How does he treat others? Do his words and actions point toward a particular character trait or virtue?

Teaching students to approach book reports like a detective by “searching for clues” can help them write better book reports and develop their critical thinking and analytical skills.

When in Doubt, Call Seton’s Counseling Department.

Sometimes a simple phone call or email can help a student over the “writing hump” of book reports. We are always happy to help! If you or your students have any questions about the book reports, please contact us here in Seton’s Academic Counseling Department.

About Christina Nutt

Christina Nutt
Christina Nutt holds a B.A. in English Language and Literature from Christendom College. She enjoys teaching composition and writing skills, playing music with friends and family, and hiking in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.

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