Strategies & Activities for Responding to Literature

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

A piece of literature can be a daunting task for some students. This lesson gives a few strategies for having your students respond to literature in relatable and applicable ways.

Literature in the Classroom

Our world is filled with literature. The term actually covers many types of writing, but in an English or Language Arts classroom, literature refers to written expressions that usually have universal interest or subject matter. In the conventional sense, literature consists of poetry, novels, biographies, essays, and various other types of writing.

As a teacher, there are limitless activities you can create for students to interact with literature. Some work better with certain types of reading, but overall, the more creative you are, the more your students will learn to understand and value literature.

Basic Comprehension of Literature

After your students read something, what's the first thing you want to know? You want to know if they got the basic comprehension or the overall meaning of the piece. Did each student understand what they read? There are many ways you can determine this, including using the questions that are usually at the end of a reading section or chapter. Although these comprehension questions can seem dull to students, for teachers they can be a good check to assess the reading levels of particular students. In fact, using these will help you to focus your future lessons and plan other more exciting activities.

Competitive Games

Instead of having your students do the traditional method of writing out an answer, turning it in, and receiving a grade, try to use the questions in a different way. For instance, imagine your class is reading the novel The Call of the Wild. Instead of having a pencil and paper quiz about Buck's adventures at the end of each chapter, make chapter checks into a game where your students quiz one another. Your class can be split into teams for the whole novel and teams can keep track of points. When finished reading the whole book, there can be some prize for the winning team. In addition, while you observe the game, you can use questions students struggle with to plan future activities or quizzes. These questions are often great stimulators for creative writing, journal writing, or group projects.

Turn chapter quizzes into fun games
The Call to the Wild

Writing Activities

Once you get past the basic comprehension, you want to push your students to internalize the piece of literature. A great way to do so is through creative writing activities, which are any activities that require your students to write down their responses to a piece of literature.

Journal Entries

After each section or chapter, have your students write journal entries or personal responses to the information in the reading. Ask your students to explore the motivation of different characters by explaining why a character acted a certain way; or how those actions would have changed if such and such had happened. You can also have your students explain what they would have done differently if they were a character in the story; or change the setting or point of view and ask how the story would be different. Finally, try to always include an aspect to the writing activity that forces your students to personally relate to the piece of literature. For example, if reading The Diary of Anne Frank, ask your students to describe a time they had to hide from the world. What did they do? Were they found?

Students created diaries, like the Diary of Anne Frank, to help personalize and internalize the literature
Anne Frank Diary

The more creative you are with your writing prompts and the more students can relate personally, then the more your students will start to internalize the literature.

Group Activities

Once you cover the basics and get your students writing about literature, you can incorporate more exciting activities. Individual projects can accomplish this, but group activities, which are any activities that require students to work together to accomplish a goal, are a great way to allow students to interact with literature while also working on social skills. Working with others is an important part of the adult world, and many students struggle with how they should interacting with others. Use fun group activities to bring literature into the social world.

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