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CommonLit for content discovery and curricular connections

As librarians, wehn we gear up for a new school year, it’s exciting to have a few new strategies for engaging learners with literature and for building our own literature discovery/selection toolkit.

You’ll absolutely want to introduce CommonLit to your classroom teachers and you’ll absolutely use it yourself to make curricular discoveries and to help teachers make connections.

Designed for grades 5 through 12, CommonLit curates a collection of freely available fiction and nonfiction content.  It also designs thoughtful, rich standards-aligned instruction around that content.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 9.11.37 PMMichelle Brown, the tech nonprofit’s founder, saw the need for free, high-quality instructional resources as a first-year 7th grade English teacher in a high-poverty school in rural Mississippi. She began developing the concept for CommonLit  while studying education policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.CommonLit

The CommonLit library of more than 440 readings may be browsed or searched by keyword and filtered by such criteria as: recent additions, Lexile, grade, theme, genre, literary device demonstrated, and Common Core Reading: Literature standards.

The authentic interdisciplinary text includes news articles, short stories, speeches, poems, historical documents and excerpts from classical literature, all selected to support the course of study for middle and high school, especially for English, social students, science.

Readings are organized around fourteen commonly-taught universal themes. Two essential questions around the themes are intended to engage students in the type of conversations they might experience in college classrooms.

For instance, the theme Justice, Freedom & Equality asks

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 8.32.00 PMWhat is fair? From Hammurabi”s Code to the Bill of Rights, people have enacted codes to protect “fairness.” But what is the definition of “fair”? Is it the same thing as equality? Who should decide what”s fair and what”s not fair?

Which is more important, freedom or security?: Some argue that to be truly safe, we must give up some individual freedoms. Others argue that preserving our freedoms should be our highest priority. In this category, teachers can find texts to spark a student debate about this timeless question.

Note that each theme offers age-appropriate strategies, leveled readings and activities for examining the essential questions. Texts are sorted into three Lexile-determined levels.Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 8.36.58 PM

Select a reading and you will find the text itself with numbered paragraphs; the themes to which it is connected; a contextual note with suggestions for engaging with the text; notes containing definitions and footnotes; standards-aligned text-dependent questions; questions to spark discussion; related media; and suggestions for pairing.

All the instructional resources are created by teachers for teachers. Registration is free. Registered users can access related media, the article’s teacher’s guide and parent guide (designed to expand the reading and discussion experience at home), as well as the printable teacher and student PDF for off-line use.

Screen Shot 2016-08-21 at 8.38.10 AMCommonLit‘s partners include: NPR, Science News for Students published by the Society for Science & the Public, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Globaloness Project (see this post).

CommonLit is a fine example of content and instructional curation that belongs in every librarian’s toolkit.

Coming soon: set of analytics tools to help teachers monitor student progress toward specific literacy goals.

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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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