Assigning High School English Projects: Tips for Teachers on Making Literature Relevant


Think of ways to make assignments creative and applicable to teenagers’ lives. Students will complete projects better, with more interest and involvement, with a personal investment. So many aspects of teenagers’ beliefs and activities can be applied to projects, so why not bottle that connection?

For instance, if an English class reads Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, ask students to look for present-day examples of oppression. Have students research and write a report on an example of government control. Students can finish with a visual aid and a presentation to the class. Students can do this individually, or alone.

Creative projects also allow high school students to use technology. Instead of assigning a collage or poster when reading To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee), assign a power-point presentation concerning racial strife and laws. Ask students to incorporate their technological interests into projects.

Finally, make sure students are challenged. High school students are headed toward college and the work force. Students benefit from projects that require them to research their futures. This can be a stand-alone project, or integrated into literature, such as The Jungle which covers workplace situations.


When working on projects, high school students often struggle with project completion. To avert a problem, take several steps.

1. Give students a time-line. Teachers can adjust a time-line later, but provide students with an overall idea of how to proceed. (How many days for reading? for research? When is the assignment due?)

2. Involve parents. Projects are normally worth larger grades than small homework assignments. Send out a letter at the start of the project so parents are aware of the large grade. Later, if a student lags behind with the project’s work, contact parents to work out a plan together.

3. Check on students’ progress. Some students may be ashamed to admit they need help and others may look busy when they are not.

4. Again, get creative with monitoring student completion. Draw up a working contract for students, or ask them to design a time-line you both agree with.


Creative projects call for creative assessment. Ask students to take part in forming the rubric. Where they place their emphasis shows what they learned and value from the project.

Students often learn from the assessment process if they take a role in it. Grade projects with students, one at a time while their classmates begin the next assignment. Ask them what they learned and why they made certain decisions. Take a nonstandard approach to grading so students understand your thinking process and you understand theirs.

Incorporate the novel into the rubric. Assign students to include quotes or details from the novel in a presentation. In John Knowles’ A Separate Peace, students could use themes or quotes to meet this grading criteria.

Overall Closure

Provide closure for your students by reviewing their projects. Display their projects in your room or in halls. Take pictures for your classroom webpage. Finally, students can also present their information. Other students can learn a great deal from their peers.