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


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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.  Identifying reading strategies in think-aloud response to a text.  Select a short text—a poem or a section of a story or novel—and do a think-aloud activity with a partner, sharing your thoughts with the partner, who simply provides encouraging prompts.  Then, reflect with your partner on the kinds of reading strategies that you employed in doing the think aloud, as well as the prior knowledge or schema you drew on in reading the text.  Then, reverse roles and have your partner do a think-aloud and reflection on the strategies employed.  Then, based on the strategies you and your partner employed, devise some activities for fostering students’ use of these strategies. 

2.  Identifying cues signaling the use of strategies.  Read a poem, short essay, short story, and a one-act play.  Then, identify the strategies you are employing in reading these different texts and how these strategies differ according to each of these different genres.  Then, for these different strategies, identify those cues in a text specific to a certain genre that invite you to employ certain strategies, for example, the use of titles in a poem that invite you to infer the theme of a poem.  Describe how these cues are designed to achieve audience identification with the position, cause, or idea being proposed.   To what degree does the writer succeed in gaining audience identification?

3.  Developing frontloading activities for teaching strategies.  Select a text that you might teach in student teaching.  As you are reading the text, identify the strategies you are employing in comprehending the text unique to the genre of that text.  .  Then, develop some frontloading activities for modeling or scaffolding the use of these strategies consistent with your students’ ZPD.  Describe how you will model or scaffold the use of strategies, how you will then have students practice the use of these strategies, and how you will know that they have successfully learned to employ these strategies.

4.  Selecting tools for teaching strategies.  Select a poem that you would teach in your student teaching.  Re-read the poem several times and reflect on those strategies you’re using in responding to the poem.   Focus particularly on parts of the poem that may be particularly difficult for students.  Then, for each strategy, identify some specific write, talk, art-work, or drama tools that you could use to help students employ these different strategies.
For example, you could have students free write responses to specific parts of the poem to help them develop the meaning of figurative language.  Or, to have them define intertextual connections, you could have them free write about another text the poem reminds them of and then create spider maps with key concepts from the poem and the other text as central circles and lines out from the circles representing specific meanings for these concepts.  Then can then draw lines between the poem map and the other text map for use in determine similarities between the poem and the other text.  They could then formulate their interpretation of the poem based on these connections.
Once you’ve selected some tasks based on different tools, determine an appropriate order for the tasks, “first-things-first,” so that each task serves to prepare students for the next task.  For example, the freewriting served to prepare students for the mapping.  Consider also whether you’ll need to provide students with modeling for different tasks.  Then, create an assignment based on your sequence of tasks. 

5.  Selecting and performing favorite poems or song/rap lyrics.  Bring in a favorite poem or song/rap lyrics to share with the class.  Discuss reasons why you like this poem or song/rap in terms of specific aspects of the poem and the genre features unique to each text. 
Then, perform this poem or song/rap lyric using techniques of oral interpretation: determine the meanings you want to convey, practice performing the text by emphasizing certain words or using pauses, and then share your performance with the class.  (For examples of adolescents performing poem in poetry slam contests, see the video, Poetic License).

6.  Create poetry anthologies or Web sites.  Create poetry anthologies or Web sites based on similar topics, themes, issues, or genre features (image poems, etc.).  You can find poems on various online poetry sites (see links) or published anthologies.  You could also illustrate their anthologies with visual images or drawings associated with the topics, themes, issues, or genre features.

7.  Analyzing the culture functions of myths or legends.  Find some myths or legends specific to a certain culture or nationality, for example, Native American, Norse, African, Roman, Greek, Chinese, Eskimo, Inca’s, Mayan, etc.  Describe how these myths or legends shared certain similar storylines, for example, creation myths explaining the creation of the world.  Then, describe how these same myths or legends differ according to the how they functioned in these different cultures to explain certain phenomena unique to these cultures, for example, how Native American creation myths focused on ecological aspects of man/nature/animal relationships while Greek myths focus on male power relationships.

8.  Analyzing the storylines in fantasy, science fiction, or adventure literature or films.  Examine the use of certain storylines in contemporary fantasy, science fiction, or adventure literature or films popular with adolescents: the Harry Potter series, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, etc.  Define how consistent narrative patterns in these storylines reflect certain cultural attitudes or beliefs operating in a culture or society.  For example, in fantasy novels and films, the quest pattern (Frye, 1957) in which the hero engages on a journey to destroy evil and discover some truth about the world reflects a belief in the clear distinction between good versus evil and then need for people to engaged in a search for truths about their own lives.   Or, the threats or challenges in science fiction novels or films reflect the fears or concerns facing certain generations—disease, fear of adversaries, nuclear bombs, ecological disasters, etc.

9.  Making intertextual connections.  In devising mythology, fantasy, or science-fiction units, you need to encourage students to learn to define their own connections between texts in an inductive, “bottom-up” manner. For example, in reading a series of fantasy or science-fiction stories based on the quest pattern, students could be asked to define the similarities between these stories in terms of the quest pattern. This requires that you initially work with them in a “top-down,” deductive manner, providing them with some concepts or schema about the quest pattern.  Develop a mythology, fantasy, or science fiction unit in which you include both “top-down”/deductive and “bottom-up”/inductive activities for defining relationships between texts.

10.  Helping students suspend disbelief.  Reading fantasy and science fiction requires students to suspend their disbelief so that they can accept an alternative version of reality, something that may be difficult for “reality-bound” adolescents. For use in teaching a fantasy or science-fiction novel, devise some activities that would help students suspend their disbelief.

11. Addressing issues in science fiction. Much of contemporary science fiction addresses current social, political, technological or ecological problems. To help students understand these problems, it would be useful to collaborate with a social studies or science teacher about social studies or science issues portrayed in science fiction. In preparing to teach a science fiction novel, discuss some possible instructional techniques, topics, or themes with a social studies or science teacher. For example, visual representations of the technology imagined in a science fiction novel can be compared to present day technologies. Students can discuss what ideas, beliefs, or knowledge may have inspired the differences or similarities between the technologies.

12.  Studying initiations.  Students could study of examples of initiations in contemporary society, literature, and film. They could identify the larger purpose for the initiation as well as norms constituting success in achieving the initiation. For example, leaving home to travel or to attend college represents a form of initiation into new, different world (see Emra, Coming of Age, 2001, for stories related to “leaving home.”)

13.  Studying heroes and anti-heroes.  Students could study the topic of heroes and anti-heroes, examining characteristics of what contributes to being a hero in different historical periods and cultures, as well as what prevents contemporary characters from achieving heroic stature. They could also examine why the system often works against the hero’s attempts to change the system.

14.  Issues of subjectivity and objectivity in essays.  Read some essays associated with “New Journalism” by writers such as Thomas Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, or Joan Didion.  Describe the ways in which the writers’ subjective perspectives shape their analysis of their subject or topic.  Discuss the issue of objectivity in journalism—the extent to which writers can achieve an “objective” perspective on their subject or topic. 

15.  Create essay anthologies.  Create some essay anthologies using short essays about similar topics, themes, issues, or phenomena.  Compare and contrast the authors’ perspectives and attitudes related to the same topic, theme, issue, or phenomenon.  Write a preface for the anthology defining these differences and similarities in writers’ treatment of these topics, themes, issues, or phenomena.

16.  Creating parodies of genre texts.  Collect some examples of parodies or satires of genre texts, for example, parodies of romantic poems, song lyrics, self-help essays, etc. Then, discuss how the parody or satire is used to ridicule the use of genre conventions through mimicry of language or exaggeration of genre features. For example, Mary Shelley’s (1977) novel, Frankenstein, mimics the use of “science talk” set against talk of political power, romance, and religion.

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