ATH 2: CommonLit Craze

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We’re not starting it. CommonLit’s already done that part.

We’re just giving it a name: CommonLit Craze.

CommonLit has emerged over the last year as a great resource for all teachers, but especially ELA teachers. In this episode, Cade and Michelle provide an overview of CommonLit and give ways they recommend using the site in the ELA classroom.

Check out the highlights and notes from this episode!

What is CommonLit? offers hundreds of free, high-quality instructional materials for grades 5-12. At the time of recording this podcast, here are some of what we think are its best features.

  • 909 total texts (14 more from the last time we checked!)
  • Texts searchable by grade level (as correlated by lexiles of texts), theme, genre, devices, text sets, and standards
  • 34 genres represented (Go here and click “Genres” to search texts by genre)
  • 32 literary devices represented and searchable (Go here and click “Devices” to search texts by devices)
  • Includes both classic and contemporary texts
  • Text Sets and Related Books menus allow users to select groups of texts related by thematic topic or time period
  • Guided Reading setting allows the teacher to ensure students carefully read the entire text (especially useful for corner-cutters and students who need scaffolded support for understanding texts above their zone of proximal development)
  • Embedded videos as additional resources with most texts (click “Related Media” at top of screen; see this example for “Thumbelina”)

How can we use CommonLit in the ELA classroom?

  • Introducing Other Learning Objects: Use it to introduce a larger text. For example, you could use ABC News’ “Why Do People Follow the Crowd?” or Kurt Vonnegut’s “I Am Very Real” to help introduce 1984. This is great for introducing theme, historical background, style, and genre.
  • Mentor Text: Use as a mentor text for desired outcomes. For example:
  • Differentiation: Use it to differentiate reading texts and/or tasks for students.
    • If simply using a CommonLit text to introduce a larger text, consider assigning similar texts to students, based on their respective reading levels. For example, if preparing students to read The Crucible, you may assign two texts on the Salem Witch Trials, one for lower-level readers (7th/8th) and one for higher-level readers (11th/12th). Of course, this can be done discreetly, and the teacher can lead a whole-class discussion afterward, ensuring that all students’ knowledge and voices are given equal recognition.
    • If using a single text within CommonLit, the teacher could set Guided Reading as a requirement for students who could most benefit.
    • If the teacher’s goal is not content-based at all, he or she may select texts by standard only. Although a low-level-reading 10th grade student  will eventually be assessed at grade level, the student’s growth will only happen if he or she reads texts within his or her zone of proximal development. That means if a teacher wanted to assess student’s analysis of point of view, lower-level readers could be assigned “America and I,” whereas others could read “Two Ways of Looking at a River.”
  • Enrichment: Use CommonLit for enrichment or Genius Hour activities. When students want to dig deeper into a topic or practice their skills with more challenging texts, encourage them to voluntarily peruse the site to find something that satisfies their pallet. They can then follow it up by writing a blog post, imitating a poetic style, illustrating a text’s message, or doing something else fun.
  • Explicitly Teaching Close Reading: Teach students how to close read using CommonLit. For this, you might want to print the selected text(s). You can easily do this by clicking the “Download PDF” button at the top of any text’s page. A printed text encourages students to annotate the text as they read and reread the text through the steps of the close reading process.
  • Reteaching/Remediation: Use CommonLit in small groups or one-on-one instruction to reteach students unmastered skills. With CommonLit’s standards-based text-selection tool, the teacher can easily search for relevant mid-to-high-interest texts to use to help students overcome skill deficits such as identifying main ideas, defining words by context clues, analyzing structure, analyzing theme, and identifying author’s purpose.

  • Socratic Seminars: Plan class discussions and Socratic seminars around themes, genres, styles, topics, or authors represented by CommonLit texts. For example, in the above picture are three book pairings related to To Kill a Mockingbird. Notice the boxed section in the third text, “Herd Behavior.” Once students have read this text, the class could have a Socratic Seminar based on Atticus’s explanation of mobs in the context of the article and synthesizing the two texts to explain mob behavior. Of course, the purpose the Socratic Seminar is to encourage dialogue through which students enhance their understanding based on the inferences, insight, experiences, and analyses mutually provided among all participants in the learning activity.
  • Writing: Much like the Socratic Seminar, writing falls within a variety of progressive steps. Students can write preliminary responsive pieces through which they “talk to the text” in writing. These can be in the form of personal narrative or reflection — journalistic type write. In Pre-AP and AP classes, this is typically the type of writing seen in dialectical journals. Over time, however, teachers can use CommonLit regularly to nurture students’ ability to create a written argument, making application of the text to observations, experiences, or other reading, and providing quality evidence and clear reasoning to substantiate the claim.
  • Test prep: build reading stamina, prepare for types of reading questions, timed, ACT writing/AP Writing –>Argumentation
  • Cold reads/standards-based assessment: There are times when a teacher might want to select a unfamiliar text for standards-based assessment of students’ level of mastery. In some places, this is especially useful for common formative assessments and semester tests; however, a cold read could be used as a quick formative assessment before continuing to the next targeted skill. All CommonLit texts are printable (click on “Download PDF”).
  • Test Prep: We don’t like teaching to the test, but there are times life necessitates it. To the extent that the ACT Aspire, Discovery Ed, ACT, SAT, ASVAB, WorkKeys, and other tests have diction, phrasing, and types of questions, teachers should prepare students for types of questions, approaches to selecting or writing quality responses, time-management during tests, and best tactics.
  • At-home Support: Recommend CommonLit to parents of students who need further support. With every text are suggested discussion topics for parents to have with their children, as well as video clips to watch together (see picture below; linked here). Parents will thank you as they see their children grow, and some will be grateful for the additional time with their children such regular activities provide them.

More Resources

Pinterest Teaching with CommonLit Board

Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy Episode on CommonLit (with guest, Michelle Brown, CommonLit founder)


Listen to “ATH E2 – CommonLit Craze” on Spreaker.

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