How to Select Novels for a College Literature Course

Selecting the novels students will cover in a particular college literature course can be a daunting task – in addition to sorting through the excess of choice you are bound to have, you will also be faced with the responsibility of ensuring that students cover all the major works they are required to study. However, instead of simply browsing through a list of popular works, and selecting a few, it is important to take a couple of factors into account when choosing the works students will be studying during a particular course.


  • 1

    Start by getting a good idea about what the literature course title is. College courses last a short while, and generally focus on a particular genre, era, or theme, so get a good idea about what the title of the course means. Make sure that the course is focused enough – you don’t want a loose, ambiguous subject. For example, instead of a course titled “Fiction”, it would be advisable to narrow it down to the various types of fiction, such as “Classical”, “Victorian”, “Romantic”, “Modern”, and so on.

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  • 2

    Next, research the particular era or genre that the course revolves around. This will enable you to familiarise yourself with the trends and highlights of that period, and you can start drawing up a list of potential authors and literary works that need to be covered. For example, for a course titled “Modern Fiction” will need you to focus on writers like Virginia Woolf. However, do your research thoroughly – it will not do to simply select the most well-known works and authors. Instead, make sure you also look for lesser known authors who are equally representative of that particular era or genre. Ideally, a college literature course should contain a 70/30 mix – 70% well-known authors, and 30% lesser known authors. In addition to the novels, you will also need to select supplementary works, like critical material.

  • 3

    While selecting the novels, it is essential to ensure that you keep the syllabus reasonable. While it would be great to get your students to read every novel belonging to a particular era, remember that the course needs to be taught in a limited amount of time (roughly 4-5 months), and students have other commitments alongside your course. So keep the syllabus brief and relevant.

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  • 4

    Finally, read all the novels and material you have selected before you teach the course, in order to familiarise yourself with the new, and refresh your memory of the old – this way, there will be no surprises in it for you when you teach it in class. Make notes, anticipate questions, and make sure you are authoritative and knowledgeable enough on the novels to be capable of teaching them to a college class.

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