The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton is a favorite for many middle school students. Instead of a traditional final essay or test, why not provide your students with some free choice independent projects to showcase their understanding of the novel?
This bundle provides independent writing and art choices for your students to select from--choice really allows students to personally invest as they are given the independence to choose what they find appealing and want to pursue.
My own students were so personally invested that these projects really ran themselves. Instead of leading in front of the class, I was able to make my way around the classroom and be utilized when needed, allowing my students independence--this is my hope for all teachers who try this out!