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Explore Ways to Teach Literature

Teaching literature comes with its challenges, particularly in today’s fast-paced, social media-focused world. Teachers report that students are scoring lower and lower on Common Core Standards like reading comprehension, in part because of the decrease in self-selected reading for pleasure. In a 2018 survey, less than 20% of U.S. teenagers reported engaging in daily reading of books, magazines or newspapers that were not assigned or associated with academics.

This is an important statistic, given the correlation between independent reading habits and overall student performance. Students who read for pleasure tend to score higher on achievement tests in all subject areas and have greater content knowledge than their non-reading peers.

So how can the literature teacher be the front line of defense against this widespread decline? Many educators are asking this tough question. Here are some updated methods of teaching literature to engage students, equip them with useful reading strategies, and foster a love for reading.

Diversifying Classroom Texts

Changing social attitudes and population demographics have contributed to the sense that classic, traditional literary canon is outdated and unrelatable for many students. Teachers across the country are calling for more diversified texts that reflect students’ varied experiences in multiple genres and formats.

However, many others are concerned that contemporary and digital texts are not challenging enough for students. Those looking to diversify their reading lists and increase student representation and engagement, can tap resources available through organizations like We Need Diverse Books and publishing houses like Lee and Low.

Complementing Novels With Films

One of the more popular methods of teaching literature is connecting it to other media. The use of film to supplement written texts has the potential to enhance student interactions with texts, increase real-time emotional engagement with literature, and promote content retention and knowledge transference. ReadWriteThink offers a variety of lesson plans to help teachers effectively introduce film into their literature classrooms at all levels.

Scaffolding Student-Led Literary Analysis

Traditional methods of literature instruction rely on teacher-led discussions based on a set of questions often developed by textbook publishers. While this method is intended to model effective analysis for students, it encourages students to think about what others got from these works, rather than to engage in inquiry themselves.

Teachers like Marisa E. Thompson have developed student-centered approaches, like the Thoughts-Questions-Epiphanies method (TQE), which requires students to come up with questions and discussion points themselves. Thompson found that, after modeling discussion with handouts and initial guidance, her students started identifying themes and questions entirely on their own. Furthermore, students began reading the assigned texts in preparation for class discussion.

Utilizing Creative Student Reading Responses

While approaches like TQE focus primarily on class discussion, teachers can further challenge students by offering them new ways to think about a work of literature. Since some students are not comfortable speaking up in class, and others are more artistically or visually inclined, the option of using creative response techniques is available to teachers.

For example, ReadWriteThink has developed resources for alternative response options, such as comic strips and cartoon squares. Creative response techniques encourage students to think analytically about characters, events and themes, and help them hone their summary and critical analysis skills.

Learn more about Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – English online program.


American Psychological Association: Teens Today Spend More Time on Digital Media, Less Time Reading

Education Dive: 3 Benefits of Independent Reading and How to Make It Work in Your Classroom

Harvard Ed Magazine: Hooked on Classics

We Need Diverse Books

Lee & Low Books

Cisco: The Impact of Broadcast and Streaming Video in Education

ILA/NCTE: From Text to Film: Exploring Classic Literature Adaptations

Unlimited Teacher: We’re Killing the Love of Reading, But Here’s an Easy Fix

ILA/NCTE: Book Report Alternative: Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares

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