Teaching Literature

american literature

british literature

multicultural/women's/world literature

lesson plans/course syllabi



young adult literature

literary genres/mythology



critical lenses

story response/writing



professional development


chapter activities    further reading    web links    home

How to use this site



Goals for teaching literature: What does it mean to teach literature?


Understanding students’ individual differences: Who are our kids?


Planning and Organizing Literature Instruction: How Do I Decide What to Teach?


Using Drama to Foster Interpretation: How Can I Help Students Read Better?


Leading Classroom Discussions of Literature: How Do I Get Them to Talk about Literature?


Writing about literature: How do I get them to write about literature?


Using narratives in the classroom: What’s the use of story?


Teaching text and task-specific strategies: How does the shape of a text change the shape of my teaching?


Teaching the Classics: Do I Have To Teach the Canon, And If So, How Do I Do It?


Multiple Perspectives to Engage Students with Literature: What are Different Ways of Seeing?


Teaching Media Literacy: What else is a text and how do I teach it?


Assessing and Evaluating Students’ Learning: How do I know what they’ve learned?


Text Selection, Censorship, Creating an Ethical Classroom Environment. and Teacher Professionalism: How do I Stay in Control, Out of Trouble, and Continue to Develop as A Teacher?



1.  Identify reasons for censorship.  Review lists of books that have been censored.

Banned Books Online

American Library Association: Banned Book Week

Most Frequently Banned Books in the 1990s

Wikipedia: List of Banned Books

Banned Books: A Pathfinder

Speculate on the possible reasons for why these particular books and not others have been censored—what is it about their subject matter that leads these books to be perceived as inappropriate for children or adolescents to read.   What specific topics or themes in these books do you believe led them to be censored.  What may have been some prevailing cultural attitudes or political forces influencing the drive to censor these books? 

2. Formulate arguments for and against censorship.  Based on your research for #1, and analysis of websites such as Parents Against Bad Books in Schools, http://pabbis.com/upfront.html note some possible reasons, rationales, or arguments for the need to censor books.  Then, examine the underlying assumptions behind these reasons in terms of beliefs about the relationships between reading and changes in behavior or attitudes.  Note also some of the emotional aspects of reasons, rationales, or arguments for the need to censor books related to concerns about children or adolescents.

Then, develop some reasons or arguments for not censoring books to counter these arguments.  Base some of your reasons on your own experiences in reading books, as well as some research on readers’ responses to literature. 

3.  Formulate rationales for teaching books.   Select some of the books or films that you will be using in your student teaching that some parents may find controversial or objectionable and write a rationale for use of each of these books or films that will be sent home to the parents.  Review some examples of rationales from NCTE: Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books
http://www.ncte.org/about/issues/censorship/five/108603.htm and from NCTE: How to Write a Rationale http://www.ncte.org/about/issues/censorship/resources/115785.htm or Defining and Defending Instructional Methods

In your rationale, summarize the book’s or film’s content and how you will be using the book or film in your teaching.  Then, formulate a defense of the literary or aesthetic quality of the book based on its literary or cinematic merit. 

4.  Explore your district’s censorship complaint policies.  You should know that most all school district have developed censorship complaint policies and procedures for parents’ to voice complaints about specific books or films using a written complaint form that goes to a school administrator so that you do not yourself need to personally interact with parents wishing to voice complaints to you.  This also means that if parents do contact you, you can then refer them to the administrator responsible for addressing parental complaints.

Investigate the procedures currently in place in your district.   These procedures may be on the district’s website or available from your cooperating/supervising teacher or school administrator. 

5.  Apply fair use guidelines for copying literary texts.  In using copies of literary texts to teach literature, you will continually be faced with issues of making multiple copies of texts published more recently than 100 years ago for your classes and following the “fair use” copyright guidelines that allow you to make copies of copyrighted texts for use in the classroom, which are listed below: 

(i) Poetry: (a) A complete poem if less than 250 words and if printed on not more than two pages or, (b) from a longer poem, an excerpt of not more than 250 words.
(ii) Prose: (a) Either a complete article, story or essay of less than 2,500 words, or (b) an excerpt from any prose work of not more than 1000 words or 10% of the work, whichever is less, but in any event a minimum of 500 words.
(iii) Illustration: One chart, graph, diagram, drawing, cartoon or picture per book or per periodical issue.
(iv) "Special" works: Certain works in poetry, prose or in "poetic prose" which often combine language with illustrations and which are intended sometimes for children and at other times for a more general audience fall short of 2,500 works in their entirety. Paragraph "ii" above notwithstanding such "special works" may not be reproduced in their entirety; however, an excerpt comprising not more than two of the published pages of such special work and containing not more than 10% of the works found in the text thereof, may be reproduced.

(i) The copying is at the instance and inspiration of the individual teacher.
(ii) The inspiration and decision to use the work and the moment of its use for maximum teaching effectiveness are so close in time that it would be unreasonable to expect a timely reply to a request for permission.

Cumulative Effect:
(i) The copying of the material is for only one course in the school in which the copies are made.
(ii) Not more than one short poem, article, story, essay or two excerpts may be copies from the same author, nor more than three from the sane collective work or periodical volume during one class term.
(iii) There shall not be more than nine instances of such multiple copying for one course during one class term.

[The limitations stated in "ii" and "iii" above shall not apply to current news periodicals and newspapers and current news sections of other periodicals. Each copy includes a notice of copyright.}

These provisions also need to consider the following:
A. Copying shall not be used to create or to replace or substitute for anthologies, compilations or collective works. Such replacement or substitution may occur whether copies of various works or excerpts are accumulated or reproduced and used separately.
B. There shall be no copying of or from works intended to be "consumable" in the course of study or of teaching. These include workbooks, exercises, standardized tests and test booklets and answer sheets and like consumable material.
C. Copying shall not:

(a) substitute for the purchase of books, publishers' reprints or periodicals;
(b) be directed by higher authority;
(c) be repeated with respect to the same item by the same teacher from term to term.

For your literature units, develop a specific plan for how you will be providing literary texts to your students based on analysis of the texts available to the students in the school’s book room and/or funds for purchasing books prior to your student teaching, something you need to work out in advanced with your cooperating teacher or department chair.   If you do need to make copies, formulate a plan for how you will make copies in ways that follow the copyright guidelines.  For example, if you are teaching two sections of the same course, how you might need to use different poems to address the “one-class” guideline.

You also need to address issues of your copy budget—how many copies you can make given any restrictions on your copy budget.  Given copying limitations, you could consider the use of on-line texts.  While on-line texts are still subject to copyright laws and the 100 year limit in terms of being in the public domain, there may be some more recent texts available online (see the links for online texts in Chapter 3 links and in the generic categories).

You can also have students discuss issues related to copyright of video and music in a digital age in which material is readily available online but which is still copyrighted material.  For this, you could use Suzanne Taylor’s ReadWriteThink lesson, Copyright Infringement or Not? The Debate Over Downloading Music

6. Apply fair use guidelines to multimedia, non-print material.  In showing videos in your class, making your own multimedia presentations or website, or working with students on their multimedia presentations or websites, you need to recognize that fair use policies also apply to using images, texts, music, music lyrics, video clips, or Websites in multimedia presentations.  Copyrighted material can be used only if credit is given; if material is in the public domain, it can be used without giving credit, but caution should be exercised in that some material itself on the Web may have been used without obtaining permission and/or giving credit.  Some images in image databases such as Google or Yahoo are in the public domain.  Permission needs to be obtained for using copyrighted images on a website.

There are also limits on the amount of material that can be used in multimedia presentations: with video, up to 10% or 3 minutes, whichever is less; with text, up to 10% or 1000 words, whichever is less; with music, up to 10% but not more than 30 seconds, with illustrations or photographs, no more than five images by an artist, or 10% or 15 images from a published collected work.  Initial slides or shots need to note that the project contains copyrighted materials used under the fair use exemption.  At the end, sources of material used must be given credit through use of bibliographic information.  (For more specific guidelines, see the links related to fair use/copyright of nonprint material in this chapter’s links.)

7.  Formulate a plagiarism statement.  In a copy-paste digital world, it can be tempting for students to simply copy material without giving permission or rely on online essay services to obtain essays.  You can employ commercial software such as McDropBoxTM or TurnitinTM to check on whether they have plagiarized.  A more proactive approach is to provide students with a clear formulation of the importance of citing others’ work given the need to recognize the originality of that work as protected by copyright law.  (You can also avoid plagiarism by creating assignments that require that students generate their own original work.)           

Based on reviewing links related to plagiarism under links, formulate a specific statement for inclusion in your syllabus or assignments.  Define the principles associated with problems of simply copying material without acknowledging the fact that others created this material. Provide students with specific directions for citing material using MLA or APA reference styles.
8.  Conduct a teacher-research project.  Based on the methods described in the chapter, conduct a teacher-research project based on your observations in a school in which you are completing your practicum or your student teaching.   Formulate some specific research questions related to your work or future student teaching in the school.  Define some methods for addressing these questions based on some observations or interviewing techniques.  For example, given your concern about the extent to which students in your student teaching will be prepared to discuss literature, you could study classroom small- or large-group literature discussions in which you record your cooperating teachers’ questions or prompts and students responses (see Chapter 5 activities for other aspects of discussions to analyze).  You could then interview a few students in the class about their perceptions of classroom discussions, the degree to which they are involved in or participate in the discussions, and ways in which you as their teacher could improve discussions.  Or, if you are concerned about the influence of your feedback on students’ revisions, you could select a few students with whom you may be working during your practicum, provide them with some conference feedback, and then study the kinds and degree of revision they make due to your feedback.  Or, if you are curious about how individual students’ reading and writing abilities influence their performance in different subjects, you can select one or two students and follow them around during their school day to observe the uses of reading and writing in different subjects.  You can also have them complete an inventory of their preferences and amount of reading and writing.  You can then interview them about their perceptions of their reading and writing abilities and practices in different subjects, focusing on issues such as how their prior knowledge of these subjects influences their reading and writing. 

9.  Investigate professional development membership and opportunities.  In becoming a teacher, you need to realize that you are becoming a member of a profession.  As a member of a profession, you can benefit from the many professioal development opportunities provided to you by national, state, and local organizations.  This includes journals, newsletters, and websites, as well as conferences and workshops.  At the same time, these organizations need your support through your becoming a member and your participation through attending conferrences and workshops.  Investigate the professional development organizations available to you, for example, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) as well as local NCTE state affliate organizations, the International Reading Association (IRA) and its local state affliates, the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), as well as other organizations.  Also investigate the professional development workshops provided by the district in which you are completing your student teaching or your teacher education program (see lists of organization under this chapter’s links).

10.  Share your practicum or student teaching experiences with peers or mentors.  During your teacher education program and your student teaching, it is important that you learn to share your reflections on the many challenges you face in becoming a teacher.  It is often useful to be able to share your reflections with some supportive peers or a mentor who can provide you with some feedback and support, as well as share their own experiences.  In sharing these concerns, it is important to avoid making judgmental statements related to what peers should or should not do to address problems, as opposed to providing them with descriptive feedback to encourage them to reflect on reasons for their problems leading to formulation of solutions to address problems.  It is important important that you seek out and provide affective support through praising instances of success or empathizing with instances of difficulty or stress.

It is useful to meet on a regular basis with peers to share concerns.   One option to physical meetings is to meet online through creating a group listserv or blog.  You and your group of peers can create a blog using the free software, Blogger (www.blogger.com).  You can also link your blog to other teacher blogs (see the chapter links) to access veteran teachers’ perspectives. 

11.  Create an e-portfolio of your work during your teacher education program.  E-portfolios serve to not only to foster your own reflection of your work in a program, but they also provide information about you to potential employers, who can simply go to your site listed on your resume or letter of introduction.  Since you may be using your e-portfolio as part of your job search, it is important that it be easy to access and navigate.  It should also provide relevant information related to your credentials, work experience, and beliefs about teaching English/language arts.
Review the suggestions for creating an e-portfolio in the chapter and chapter links.  Study some sample e-portfolios in the links or the following:

Aram Kabodian: eighth-grade language arts teacher at a suburban middle school
Becky Left: English teacher at a suburban high school
Nicole Lerg: sixth- and seventh-grade language arts teacher at a suburban middle school

Find some documents to include that reflect different aspects of your work: course papers, units, lessons, philosophy statements, resume, student work, evaluation of your work, etc.  Then, organize your documents into categories that will serve as a basis for your website layout and links between documents.  Then, create a website (some states provide free e-portfolio templates for use in seeking employment).  Provides links to different documents on your site.  Share your site with some peers to obtain feedback and make any necessary further revisions.

12.  Reflect on your strengths and areas to work on.  As part of developing your portfolio, reflect on your strengths and areas to work on based on the following criteria derived from the NCATE standards used to evaluate teacher education programs:

Standard 1. Subject Matter

Your knowledge and understanding of:

- different authors, literary periods, genres, and characteristics of American, British, and World literature.
-  the concepts of transactional theory of reader-response, different critical lenses (Marxist, feminist, deconstruction, poststructuralist), inquiry-based instruction, critical discourse analysis, positioning, dialogic interaction, genre analysis, persona, point of view, intertextuality, and hypertextuality, as well as ways to develop instructional activities based on these concepts.
- applications of different reader-response and critical lenses to analysis of texts, and ways to devise activities to foster student response and application of critical lenses. 
- inquiry-based approaches to helping students address issues and questions portrayed in literature based on their experiences of these issues and questions in lived-world experiences.
- ways of combining social-studies/ethnographic analysis of social worlds in lived-world contexts to analysis of social worlds portrayed in literature.

Standard 2.  Student Learning

Your ability to:

- devise response and critical analysis activities based on your understanding of:
- students’ ways of responding to literature and application of their experiences to understanding literature.
- students ability to use certain interpretive strategies and genre knowledge for understanding literary texts.
- students’ acquisition of “point-driven” stances involved in inferring symbolic meanings of texts.
- scaffold students learning by modeling uses of interpretive strategies and critical lenses
- foster transfer of  students’ knowledge and experience from lived-world contexts to their interpretations of literature.

Standard 3.  Diverse Learners

Your ability to:

- critically examine literary portrayals of racist, sexist, and class-biased beliefs and attitudes and ways to foster critical analysis of such beliefs and attitudes.
- appreciate the value and importance of teaching multicultural literature as a means of providing students with a range of different cultural perspectives.
- identity developmental differences in students’ ability to interpret literature and devise instructional activities that accommodate for those developmental differences.
- identity variations in students’ learning styles/differences and vary assignments that accommodate for those differences.

Standard 4.  Instructional Strategies

Your ability to:

- draw on state standards in developing objectives and criteria for assessing student learning in literature units.
- devise lesson plans and units that draw on a range of different reading, writing, and drama tools designed to foster students critical thinking, self-assessing, and revision.
- select a range of different types of texts that foster intertextual connections between texts in terms of similar topics, themes, issues, and genre features.
- vary the selection of tools in terms students’ ability and developmental levels.
- include modeling and scaffolding of concepts and critical stances.

Standard 5.  Learning Environment

Your ability to:

- formulate learning objectives for use in devising relevant activities designed to achieve those objectives
- developed response activities based on students’ interest in certain literary and media texts
- create discussion groups, cooperative-learning activities, and drama activities based on knowledge of social practices operating in small-group interactions.
- use dialogue-journal, drama, and group-process activities to foster peer-learning.
- help students learn to adopt critical stances in responding to literature and the media.

Standard 6.  Communication

Your ability to:

- understand the influence of cultural knowledge and models, as well as an gender differences, on literary responses and reading interests.
- understand and foster verbal and nonverbal interactions in facilitating literature discussions.
- generate open-ended questions designed to encourage students’ use of higher-order thinking and divergent responses to literature.
- ways of developing small-group discussions of literature using “literature circles” techniques.
- use online chat sites to foster discussions of literature and related topics.
- recognize cultural differences shaping students’ nonverbal and verbal participation in discussions.
- use writing and media-texts as pre-discussion tools.
- help students learn to critically analyze language use and discourses in texts reflecting certain attitudes, perspectives, and ideological orientations.

Standard 7.  Instructional Planning

Your ability to:

- draw on theories of learning interpretive strategies and critical lenses to devise guided response activities and literature units.
- draw on notions of “first-things-first” sequencing of activities; use of writing, talk, and drama tools; instructional scaffolding and modeling; accommodations for individual differences in learning ability and disabilities to devise lesson plans and units.
- draw on knowledge of students’ grade level, prior knowledge, needs, reading ability, reading interests, and cultural attitudes to devise units that would appeal to a certain group of students.
- draw on knowledge of state standards and the school’s curriculum standards/expectations to devise literature units.
- devise guided response activities for use in micro-teaching activities.
- reflect on positive and negative aspects of your teaching in micro-teaching in order to revise your original plans to address limitations in one’s instruction.

Standard 8. Assessment

Your ability to:

- consider issues of validity and reliability in literature tests and assessments, including the limitations of multiple choice tests.
- devise criteria and rubrics consistent with the learning objectives for a particular lesson plan or unit.
- employ informal writing and talk tools to determine differences in students’ level of literary interpretation.
- incorporate self-assessment prompts and criteria in guided literature assignments.
- provide “reader-based” written and oral feedback to students in terms of their ability to employ interpretive strategies and critical lenses.
- devise reading-interests inventories to determine students’ reading preferences and interests.
- understand and use information about students’ reading tests scores on school and state standardized reading tests to make decisions about students’ ability levels.
- employ portfolios for use in fostering student collection of relevant response documents and self-reflection of growth in learning literature during a unit or course.
- provide feedback to students on their written essays and portfolios based on criteria and rubrics; communicate this feedback to parents through class letters/newsletters and/or parent conferences.

Standard 9. Reflection and Professional Development

Your ability to:

- reflect on and assess your performance in micro-teaching activities and in work with students in schools to improve your teaching.
- define practices and expectations associated with being a professional, including participation in professional development activities and reading journals from the National Council of Teachers of English and/or the International Reading Association.
- observe teachers’ classroom discussion strategies and compare those strategies with your own strategies.
- draw on resources and materials available online and in the school as well as your cooperating teacher and other teachers in your school for use in planning instruction.
- develop an e-folio for use in collecting documents designed to demonstrate your ability as a profession and to foster reflection on your professional development.

Standard 10.  Collaboration, Ethics, and Relationships

Your ability to:

- share and collaborate with peers and colleagues to reflect on your teaching, curriculum planning, and professional development.
- adopt a code of ethics related to assuming the role of a teacher
- establish positive working relationships with students, colleagues, and other professionals

chapter activities    further reading    web links    home

Click here to return to front page.