We recently sat down with Michelle Brown, Founder and CEO of CommonLit, to talk about how her company’s resources are changing the game for literature teachers. The following piece is based largely on the conversation we had with her and the tremendous number of insights she offered around improving literature instruction.
Time is the most valuable resource for any thoughtful educator. And for literature teachers, that means having to decide between searching for texts, writing discussion questions, and grading student responses, among other responsibilities. If you ask Michelle Brown, however, the intelligent use of technology can make these time-allocation decisions a lot easier.
And that’s why she created CommonLit.
CommonLit is an online platform that delivers high-quality, free instructional materials to support literacy development for grades 5-12 (though the company is working on building out its 3rd and 4th grade materials). The site houses hundreds of fiction and non-fiction passages. You can check it out here:
So how might this resource benefit a literature teacher?
Let’s start with the savings – literature teachers stand to save significant amounts of time (and money) by no longer having to scour the internet for useful reading resources or creating their own. While Michelle would argue that well-selected novels and books should serve as the foundation for effective literature instruction, there’s still a significant need for supplemental resources that make anchor texts more accessible to students. That’s what CommonLit is – a phenomenal supplement to a teacher's core texts.
Suppose your upcoming unit included To Kill a Mockingbird. Planning ahead, you anticipate students will struggle with concepts related to The Great Depression, living in the South, or racial tensions. This is a perfect place to strategically pair the text with a supplementary short passage or historical article. And rather than spending significant amounts of time finding that material, you can now use CommonLit! The site allows you to filter materials by Lexile range, grade level, theme, genre, literary device, or standard to quickly find a passage that’s coherently connected to your text.
CommonLit is also designed to help teachers implement research-based best practices in their literature instruction. For each of its pieces, it provides background information, suggests annotation tasks, and supplies tier 2 and 3 vocabulary footnotes. The value in providing background information is that it helps instructors quickly frame a passage without giving away the main point (which many teachers do because they didn’t have enough time to plan). The benefit of having annotation tasks is that students are more accountable for understanding what they read.
In addition, the CommonLit platform provides a host of really cool tools that help out during the reading process. It provides assessment and discussion questions, parent reading guides, and Spanish translations. Michelle also told us about two new features that just went live on the site. The first one facilitates cross-content collaboration, making it easier for social studies and science teachers to find passages and articles that are being read in English class. The second one turns on “guided-reading mode,” providing students with checks for understanding after each paragraph and allowing teachers to differentiate texts.
CommonLit’s text sets can be viewed here:
And a video showing you how guided reading mode works can be viewed here:
Finally, CommonLit is platform-neutral. Even though it has been optimized for Chromebooks, it will work on whatever device or technology your school or students might have. And if technology devices aren’t available, nearly all of the site’s resources can be downloaded, printed, and shared as a hard copy.
Add it all up, and CommonLit just might be the best free resource for literature teachers on the internet! Here’s what students and teachers are saying: