Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Using Common Core to Motivate ELA Students Beyond the Classroom

The Common Core standards we use in our English classes definitely give some freedom when it comes to the books we choose to teach and the creative approaches teachers can take when trying to motivate students inside and outside the classroom. 

This past year, I was moved to 11th grade English (which gave me the same students for a third year in a row). One of the positives to that is I knew the students' strengths and weaknesses and was able to create meaningful lessons that gave them the skills they need to succeed now and in the future. This post is dedicated to one of the units I tried. 

When most people think about English classes, they immediately think about the "classics". But, that doesn't always hold everyone's attention and the common core doesn't require teachers to just teach the same books that have been taught for years. There is a lot of flexibility. So, I asked myself, what types of books do adults read in their careers and how can I prepare these students for life outside of high school? 

I didn't have to look very far past the nightstands in my house to find some ideas. I created a list of potential books I would have students choose for their leadership/personal growth literature circle. I bought most of these books used online. 
The initial list: 
The Energy Bus by Jon Gordon
Start with Why by Simon Sinek
Drive by Daniel Pink
Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Mindset by Carol Dweck, Ph.D.
Make Your Bed by Admiral William H. McRaven
The End of Average by Todd Rose


Students created reading calendars at the beginning of the unit. They all had 12 days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) in which they had to have a chunk of reading complete when they entered the room. For about 30 minutes of each Tuesday and Thursday, literature discussions took place. Each student in each group had a different role for the reading assignment that was due that day. They all also filled out a response log for each reading assignment. Students took turns discussing the important points/quotes/stories they found in each reading selection. At the end of each literature circle discussion day, they were encouraged to highlight some of the features of the book they would like to include in their final project. Two weeks (two days per week) at the end of the unit were dedicated to working on final projects. 

I gave the students a lot of flexibility when it came to the final project. The only thing they couldn't do was Google Slides or PowerPoint. 

I had students creating audio and video podcasts, writing blogs, creating children's stories related to the content of their book, doing live Twitter feed presentations, creating board games, crossword puzzles, etc. 

I can't even explain the impact this unit had on these students. The ownership these groups took with their books and the content was amazing. Students saw the purpose in their reading and made more connections with the readings than I could have ever imagined. 

Purpose statement for the whole unit along with common core standards: 


Addition (July 2018) 
This unit was successful for the 2nd year. I added some new books and changed some things for this group of students. The biggest change I had was trying a literature circle group where all of the students in that particular group were reading different personal growth books. (I tried this because I had a lot of great books that I only had one copy of.)  This worked very well for certain students. If the students in the group are already intrinsically motivated, the discussions are very powerful. This particular opportunity gave these students a chance to describe something to their group members while making sure they added enough details because the other students had read that concept.

Here is my new list of book choices. (The groups that picked Make Your Bed also had to read Who Moved My Cheese. These are very short, quick reads, and they work well together.)  The students ranked their top three choices before I placed them in their groups: 

The success of this unit, led me to one of the most powerful lessons I have experienced in my classroom throughout the past 12 years. 

See the next post discussing the impact of Strengths Finder 2.0 in a classroom of juniors.