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Developing Curriculum with Various Written Texts

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

English class doesn't have to be about fiction only. There are multiple writing forms that can be incorporated into all English lessons and units. In this lesson, we will examine the uses of a variety of written forms to help students make connections across the curriculum.

Variations in English Classes

When you hear English class, what do you think of? Reading books and writing papers? Most people immediately think of fiction texts and poetry, and while those text types are highly utilized in English classes around the world, there are more writing forms that a teacher can use to reinforce content and skill sets.

In this lesson, we will review the different writing forms that can be used and practiced in the classroom.

It's All about Theme

Before we can begin to discuss connections between written forms, we have to figure out our objective as teachers. Yes, there will be skills taught and learned in the classroom, but what is the foundation of your units? Are they novels? And if so, how are the novels connected?

In a unit, especially when bringing in outside sources, it's important to establish thematic connections that will be carried throughout the unit and the year. A theme is a universal message or lesson embedded in a work of literature. A thematic connection is when you have one theme that connects to multiple texts through various characters' experiences, plot, and historical context.

Take the play Romeo and Juliet and the novel Speak. The works were written hundreds of years apart and have little in common; yet there are thematic connections regarding teenage years, family conflicts, and the difficulties tied to romantic relationships. The literary forms are different, and the stories don't necessarily connect, but the works are connected by their similar themes. It's not about the works you select; it's about how you connect them. Ask yourself which texts work together and how.

Reading a Variety of Formats

Now that we have our thematic objectives set, we can begin to incorporate other resources to reinforce content, skills, and historical context. As teachers, we want to expose our students to as many writing forms as possible to ensure mastery of skill sets, but also to connect content between mediums and curriculum. For example, take a look at the list below.

  • Diaries
  • Letters
  • Journals
  • Newspaper Articles

We are all familiar with the listed writing forms, but how often are they utilized in an English classroom? More importantly, how can we utilize these forms to help our students learn and grow?

Using the formats listed above that connect to the time period of a fictional text is a great way to connect the historical context to your anchor text and theme. For example, if you're teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, providing diaries, newspaper articles, and letters from the 1930s will reinforce the real life struggles that Tom Robinson, Atticus, and their families experienced. The same can be done for Fahrenheit 451. Adding in historical context about world conflict during the 1940s and 50s, which is when Ray Bradbury wrote the novel, can help students learn the author's purpose, but also help understand the context of the story with jet planes flying overhead and the destruction at the end.

We teach our students that fiction is not real, and while that may be true, the author behind the words is. That author lives in a time period where the social, emotional, and political information affects the stories that are produced. Connecting the Harlem Renaissance to Toni Morrison's works, the Great Depression/American Dream to The Great Gatsby, and Salem Witch Trials and McCarthyism to The Crucible are crucial steps in understanding the depth of these stories.

There are countless journal entries, news articles, and letters from real people that experienced what these characters went through, and bringing those to light for our students is a reminder that these characters are important and stand for something greater than a moment in a story.

Writing a Variety of Formats

While reading nonfiction pieces in different formats can help students across the curriculum, writing in different formats can engage students and help them connect as well. Below are some examples that can be used in the classroom.

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