What Are Literature-Based Teaching Strategies? Get Your Students Psyched About Participating

What Are Literature-Based Teaching Strategies?  Get Your Students Psyched About Participating
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Busywork Learns from Youngandfun

Professor Busywork sat at his desk, surfing the Internet doing research as his students devoured Great Expectations. At least it looked

like they were devouring Great Expectations, since two-thirds of the class had their heads on top of the book with saliva dripping onto the pages. It was only four minutes into class, so the onslaught of copying answering questions at the end of chapter 23 had yet to commence.

After school, Professor Busywork lamented the lack of quality in his students' answers. Professor Youngandfun next door recommended his literature-based teaching strategies. Busywork concurred, and then asked, “What the heck are they?” Here, according to Houghton Mifflin Company, is the answer:

“Literature-based instruction is the type of instruction in which authors' original narrative and expository works are used as the core for experiences to support children in developing literacy. The types of activities done with the literature are the natural types of things children and adults would do when reading and responding to any good book."

General strategies include:

  • Scaffold Instruction - Give structure, lots of it at first. Take away structure little by little until students can do it by themselves.
  • Modeling - As you read or discuss a literary work, think out loud. The out-loud parts of your thoughts should be restricted to the literature and how you process what you read. (Thoughts like “I’m going to pound the snot out of that kid if he doesn’t shut up” should be kept to yourself.)
  • Cooperative Learning - Students don’t mind taking risks in small groups. Structured cooperation involving higher level thinking skills makes a great alternative to the traditional “teacher ask questions as students drool” teaching strategy.
  • Independent Reading - The whole purpose of an education is to develop independent reading, writing, and thinking skills. Independent reading allows all three.
  • Literary Response - Students should be encouraged to respond to what they read.

These general strategies are the foundation.

The Classics


These classic teaching strategies set the foundation for a literate classroom.

  • Literature Circles - The concept is simple: students gather in small groups–preferably in a circle–and discuss literature. I know what you’re thinking: you expect students to sit around and discuss books? No, not at first. The first time you do literature circles, you must provide a lot of structure. Make them write a journal entry first or complete an individual assignment that will prepare them for a discussion. These tips will help provide maximum learning:

    • Arrange groups by book, not by ability.
    • Give each individual a specific role–researcher, data finder, character assassin, plot specialist, for example.
    • Literature circles help students apply thinking skills and prepare them for higher level essay writing and exams.
  • Jigsaws - Jigsaws are a great opportunity to review specific aspects of literature. Assign students into groups of 3-5 and have them become experts on a topic: theme, symbolism, figurative language, characterization, plot, setting, mood, or any other elements of literature.

    • Once each student becomes an expert, assign them to different groups.
    • Each group should have one expert on each of the topics being covered.
    • Each expert will give a short presentation to his or her group.
  • Visualization - Read a passage. Instruct students to create a drawing that depicts what is being read. Visualization can be done as an art gallery, a temporary white board drawing, or a fully drawn poster.

These make up the basic strategies to use.

Busywork is Transformed

Here are specific activities Mr. Youngandfun (who learned them from Mr. Oldandgood) shared with Professor Busywork.

  • Group Discussion - Instead of assigning questions 1-10 to be answered in complete sentences, assign questions 1-10 to be answered thoroughly in a group. Be specific on the requirements. For example, require each question to be answered with 1 fact and 2 commentaries/analysis/insights/opinions (fans of Jane Schaeffer call these cms or commentaries). Then go to a class discussion. Hold contests for the best answer and other motivational tricks.

  • Group Discussion, Part 2 - Have small groups come to a consensus on a value judgment. Examples include ranking the adventures of Odysseus in the Odyssey based on danger or assigning blame for Romeo and Juliet’s death. The best group discussion of all time is the world-famous context clues challenge, which helps students develop vocabulary skills before they engage in literature.

  • Debates - Warning: some students aren’t mature enough to debate properly. Most, however, will do so if given specific boundaries and rules. Choose an issue from any fiction or non-fiction work and hold a debate. Make students sit on a specific side of the room depending on which side of the issue they are on. Those who are undecided stay in the middle, but must eventually make a choice. Students may switch sides at any time. At first, you will need to generate discussion and ask questions to specific students. Never let a student switch sides without asking him or her for the reason.

  • Literary Response - A response to literature can take the form of one of the above, a traditional essay, or something creative–a movie poster, CD cover, poem, Facebook profile, baseball card, or anything else you can think of.

  • Class Discussion with Trashcan - Modeling learning is a good strategy. So is modeling teaching. Grading papers aloud or asking the class what grade a specific assignment should get–and why–is instructive. Reading answers to study questions or paragraphs and throwing bad ones in the trashcan is memorable. If you feel your students aren’t putting enough effort into their literary responses, do the following: (1) give a small assignment to the class; (2) collect it; (3) read each answer anonymously to the class; (4) those that follow the assignment requirements will get an A; those that don’t will have their paper thrown in the trashcan; (5) give the trash canned paper owners an opportunity to redo the assignment (otherwise, you’ll have a mess on your hands).

What are teaching strategies you’ve had success with? Please share them in the comments section.


This post is part of the series: Cooperative Learning Lesson Plans

Use these cooperative learning lesson plans that help students work together to practice skills and work individually to show mastery.

  1. Cooperative Learning Lesson Plan: School Survey
  2. Discuss the Issues & Engage Students in Cooperative Learning
  3. Using Reciprocal Teaching to Engage Students
  4. Inspire Students With Literature-Based Teaching Strategies
  5. How to Make Collaborative Learning Work in Your Classroom