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Great literature teachers stand out in memory because they teach us how to explore new worlds, invite us into new realms of imagination, and show us how to think critically and imaginatively at the same time.

An excellent literature instructor is memorable because they ignite our natural curiosity and teach us how to continually stoke the fire (with books);).

What do they know that we don’t? 

Here are 3 ways that you can add in some meaningful connection to your existing literature or literacy lessons at any level:

3. Nail Your Lectures:

Even in Kindergarten, there are times where you will be directly, orally addressing your students. Smart teachers know how to keep this short and engaging. How does this connect to literature? Prepping students for the fiction or non-fiction piece that they are reading is a critical step to success. Also, leading discussions or facilitating conversations is the lifeblood of literature learning. 

What are some ways to make sure that these lecture-like talks are potent and engaging? 

  • Ask lots of leading questions, and check for answers (“show of hands?”, “Give me a thumbs-up if you know what I mean”, “Write your questions on your whiteboards and show me as we go”)
  • Small, informal peer connections (“Share with a partner what you remember most about this chapter”, “Tell the person behind you what you liked the best”, “Take 2 minutes to brainstorm symbols you recognized in this section”)
  • Keep it Short- don’t talk exclusively for more than 5-10 minutes. If your students are older, keep infusing breaks for small group conversation, natural time to move and think, and informal assessments.
  • Use Media- Create a meme, watch a video clip, etc….then ask students to do the same.

2. Provide Nonfiction Connections:

Whether or not your school adheres to Common Core, an emphasis on connection to nonfiction is a growing requirement. This is good news! When used effectively, it helps students activate multiple parts of their brain, practice critical thinking skills, and make real-world connections. 

Still, it takes practice and doesn’t come naturally all the time. How can we do this more consistently? 

  • Ask students to make the connections. In groups, and with notice and resources, students can do an excellent job of finding nonfiction sources that connect to the poetry or prose that you are reading in class.
  • Connect with your librarian. No doubt he or she can bring in some awesome nonfiction titles for your students to explore!
  • Learn about the author’s influences. He or she certainly was affected by what was going on in their world at the time. What economic, cultural, and personal situations were significant? What did location, climate, history, and resources have to do with the setting?
  • Have students practice this skill all year long. Embed it into all learning. Connect, connect, connect (to you, to others, to the world). 

1. Teach and Use Specific Praise:

This is one of my favorite tips. I’ve just been reading this summary from the North Seattle Community College of teaching best practices, and I love these specific, targeted examples of how to encourage students with the right kind of praise to help students know exactly, and without judgement, how to improve their work. 

  • Description- “Your model is just like the cover of the book!”, “Your question is one that many have.”
  • Narration- “You remembered that tricky first step!”, “I can tell you are trying to fit it all together.”
  • Self-Talk- “I have wondered that, also.”, “It took me a while to understand that passage also.”
  • Nonverbal- Smile, Give a Thumb’s Up, Show Enthusiasm or Excitement
  • Personal Feelings- “It was so enjoyable to read your work!”, “I wish I could hep everyone connect like you did!”
  • Notice their Intrinsic Motivation- “That was tricky, but you pushed through!”, “This part here is very clever and shows thought and humor.”

What is your favorite way to engage your students during literacy lessons? What makes your literature teaching practice exceptional?

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