Sunday, September 25, 2016

CommonLit-Free Informational And Literary Texts For Any Classroom

Recently, I was talking with my friend and literacy expert Shaelynn Farnsworth about the shifting definition of literacy and how we are all teachers of literacy. We had a great discussion on how today literacy is more than just reading, that it’s this complex set of skills that all of us need to find the best information, decode it, determine its validity and usefulness along with understanding where that information comes from and how to apply that information to a new task or skill.

When I was teaching middle school science one of the most challenging tasks I faced was finding grade-appropriate texts for students to see how the concepts we were discussing in class worked in the real world. In talking with other educators this seems to be a challenge as well. Often, these passages available online or in reproducible products, however these are generally expensive and don’t offer the support or data I need to ensure I am giving students something that they will understand but also challenge them.

I learned about CommonLit and after a few days of looking around and trying it out I am excited for the possibilities this could bring to any classroom.

Best part? It’s free!

CommonLit is a growing library of over 500 literary and informational texts for students in grades 5-12. The site also includes lesson plans for the texts and some brand new features like the ability to create classes, data dashboards to track students progress, and more!

To get started sign up for a free account and create a class. Once you have your class created, students can use your unique code to join that class. Or even better, they can just click the unique sign up link! No email addresses required which is a huge bonus.

Then you can start browsing the library. Search by key terms or use any of the filters like theme or genre, even literary device (juxtaposition, tempo, meter, ethos, etc) or Common Core Literacy Standard. You can also search by lexile range it you have that information for your students as well. And remember students have accounts too so they can use the same filters to find pieces of interest to them.

The pieces they have are diverse and cover a wide range of topics. From speeches like the Gettysburg Address or Conservation as a National Duty from Theodore Roosevelt to interviews, and other informational texts there is something of interest here to every student.

The texts themselves contain just more than the actual text. Take Malala Yousafzai's NPR interview. The text introduces the context of the interview and provides footnotes, definitions and all throughout, discussion points to get students thinking about the impact certain statements have had on history or to put themselves there to think about the implications of what Malala wants for girls everywhere. Each text in the library has these discussion questions which go beyond basic recall and get kids to think about the greater context of what they read.

Teachers have the ability to search for texts and assign them to students. Assignments go to all the students in the class (although I wish I could hand select individual students) and you can track their progress on the assessment on your dashboard. Assessments are 5 questions and including a writing prompt to get kids thinking about what they read and use the text as a source for their answer. Teachers can grade using a rubric and submit feedback to students. Students can then track their progress on their own dashboard in their account.

CommonLit can be a great edition to any classroom to provide supplemental texts that are both informational and fun to read. Even it you don’t use the assignment features you can still find value in the hundreds of texts that are there. Head over and check it out!

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