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How to Weave CommonLit Articles into a Novel Unit
This article has been republished from www.CommonLit.org, a non-profit literacy website that has hundreds of CCSS-aligned lessons for teachers. The Common Core demands a lot of teachers and students. On the organization’s website, www.corestandards.org, their team says: “college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature.” the standards were built to ensure that “students are prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum.” teachers should focus on diverse and rigorous texts such as “classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.” Wow, this sounds hard! Teaching one text is complex enough. How can I connect all of these seemingly disparate texts and genres within the same year or even within the same unit? Our team at CommonLit has been thinking a lot about this problem and we’ve been compiling resources that meet Common Core rigor and will help to build engagement in your classes. First, we recommend starting with the anchor novel or text (a play, for example) that you have chosen to teach. Take the 2012 best-seller,Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, which is commonly taught in middle school. Wonder is the story of a ten year-old boy named Auggie, who has a profound facial deformity caused by Treacher Collins Syndrome. When he attends school for the first time as a 5th grader, he is bullied and ostracized. Now, a teacher could conceivably have students just read Wonder, and never use any supplemental texts from the CommonLit library. The book is that exciting and engaging, and I’m certain your kids would love the story. However, we’d argue that this would be a missed opportunity to make your unit more engaging, rigorous, and accessible for students through supplemental texts. Using some of CommonLit’s texts throughout the unit will ensure that students are exposed to different genres and it could even give your students the opportunity to gain practice on the type of writing prompts that they’ll see on summative assessments such as PARCC or Smarter Balanced. While this sounds great, is it doable? Will it make the unit seem disjointed? Will it make the unit way too long? The answer to these questions is a simple “no.” Below, I’ll show you some ways to seamlessly and strategically weave CommonLit texts into a unit on Wonder. Hopefully these examples will help you think of new ways to incorporate CommonLit texts in your novel units. Wonder begins with Auggie spending some time vaguely describing his condition. In the text, Auggie gives the reader many clues about his life, and he tells us that he gets “stared at,” and that kids make rude comments towards him. At the end of the first chapter he says, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” This first chapter is very engaging, but it can also be a little confusing for students that don’t make the inference that Auggie has a facial deformity. To help students make this essential connection, you can assign them the CommonLit text entitled, “About Treacher Collins Syndrome.” This text will provide students with the essential background information they need, while also giving yourself the chance to teach informational text standards. Later in the first section of the novel, Auggie begins school. Kids have purposefully avoided him in his first few classes, but now he’s forced to go to lunch. Once he gets to the cafeteria, he sees several kids talking about him and several other kids refuse to let him sit at their table. As a result, Auggie must sit by himself. This is a great place to assign the CommonLit text entitled, “Herd Behavior.” This informational text is about the eponymous psychological principle that explains how people often blindly follow the crowd even when it leads to harmful results. This text is a perfect pairing because allows students to do cross-textual analysis - asking them to use the psychological principle to explain the behavior of the students in the cafeteria. This type of cross-text analysis aligns almost perfectly to PARCC or Smarter Balanced. It’s also a great way to spark a lively classroom discussion or debate. While there are many different examples I can draw upon fromWonder, I’ll share just one more. Towards the end of the novel, Auggie’s sister Via is initially too embarrassed to have Auggie come to her school’s play. She wants to create her own identity and she doesn’t want her new classmates to think of her as the girl with the disabled brother. Teachers could choose to pair this portion of the text with Amy Tan’s short story “Fish Cheeks.” In “Fish Cheeks,” Amy experiences a lot of the same emotions as Via, but for different reasons. When students reach this part of Wonder, teachers might ask kids to compare and contrast Via’s situation with Amy’s and analyze how their motivations are both similar and different. These are some best practices for using CommonLit effectively with your students. To ensure your novel unit doesn’t take longer than 7-8 weeks, we recommend assigning roughly 7-8 CommonLit texts per novel unit. If you’re teaching Wonder sometime this year, we’d love to talk to you. We’ve created some more unit materials and recommendations for text pairings for Wonder that we’d be willing to let you test out! You can reach me at Rob@CommonLit.org