Teachers are always looking for ways to enhance learning in the classroom. One of my very favorite online resources for ELA and History classrooms is CommonLit.org. They have a large variety of text with standards based questions with a written response and discussion questions for the teacher to use with partners, groups, and/or the whole class.
There are several ways to use CommonLit.
You can focus on specific texts for a unit…
CommonLit has an enormous collection to texts, both fiction and nonfiction, that can be used in almost any unit, whether your units are skill based or theme based. Here is an example of how I might choose texts for on unit on Magical Realism:
I search texts they have available based on the topic Magical Realism. They have four different texts in that genre. I would use one (“The Worst Birthday Ever” from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) as an anchor text. I would choose a lower lexile to start with, just to ease students into the skill allowing for easier discussion at the beginning of a unit. Then, I would follow up with some fun activities (like a stations game, kahoot, or artistic project). Then, based on the reading level of my students, I could either continue to have the whole class read specific selections, OR I could differentiate the texts from CommonLit among my students; allowing them to work through and complete the CommonLit activities and/or my own activities over the course of a few days. Check out ChalkItUp2’s Four Week Magical Realism Unit, to see an example of how to use CommonLit throughout your units.
You can differentiate through subject, Lexile, skill set…
What’s awesome about CommonLit is that you CAN see what the reading level and lexile is for every text they have. I love that you can choose between both fiction and nonfiction selections. This website is more strongly suited to literature, and has a LOT of classic literature.
For instance, last year my favorite 10th grade teacher Kate and I wanted to do something cool, outside the box and still prep our students for the upcoming state End of Course Exam. So, we created a fun graphic organizer and printed out every Brother’s Grimm story that CommonLit had to offer. Students were able to choose the story they liked the most. Brothers Grimm does not have the highest lexile but we were asking some pretty rigorous questions.
Our students had to complete our graphic organizer, PLUS answer the questions CommonLit had assigned to the texts as well. This way students were practicing Critical Response Questions, and Multiple Choice.
We could have assigned these text online, giving students the opportunity to practice reading online, but the day we decided to do this activity was foggy outside; which set the perfect mood to read outside of the classroom. Here’s the Brother’s Grimm Graphic Organizer we used to pair with the stories we found on CommonLit.org.
State Testing Preparation
As I briefly mentioned before, CommonLit is a fantastic way to prepare students for state testing. This is because each text is matched with common core standards based multiple choice questions and it can be assigned online- in the state of North Carolina, state testing is all online at the high school level.
So, students are practicing answering questions on the computer. PLUS, the written responses require the same level of rigor as the tenth grade End of Course Exam that North Carolina requires students to take. It isn’t ideal to have to think about state testing while planning your lessons; however, CommonLit is fun, interactive, and rigorous. It’s great whether you need to prep for testing or not.
Data, Data, Data
Better yet, teachers have instant feedback and data collected to see what standards their students are meeting, and which they need practice with. This will help you to determine what types of questions to focus on asking as you work through other texts and resources. I highly recommend that middle and high school English teachers really dive in and take a look into CommonLit. Play around on the website. Find out all of the cool features it has to offer. For instance, any text you want to assign and directly link to your Google Classroom and post immediately or at a scheduled time. You can use it for homework, or an in-class assignment. You can print it or use it digitally, this is helpful for those of you who don’t always have access to computers.