Teacher Tech blog with Alice Keeler

Paperless Is Not a Pedagogy

Alice Keeler

Creating Customizable ELA Units for Free Using Commonlit.org by @bartonkeeler

Creating Customizable ELA Units for Free Using Commonlit.org by @bartonkeeler


Customized English/Language Arts Units with CommonLit.org

A Guest Post by Barton Keeler

So I have two daughters (grades 7 and 9) who are homeschooled by my wife who has a variety of other Independent Study students on her caseload.  She, my wife, is tasked with the responsibility of creating high level, individualized lesson plans for ALL STUDENTS in ALL SUBJECT AREAS. Needless to say she is feeling a bit exasperated.  She could just throw a textbook at them and be done with it but what if there was a better option?

Enter Commonlit.org to the rescue.

Choosing Texts

Commonlit.org is a free resource full of text sets organized by theme, book title, unit, Lexile level, grade level. etc.  

I sat down with my daughters last night and we browsed by theme.  My 9th grader was drawn to the one titled “Fate and Free Will.” Weighty issues for one so young.  (My 7th grader ended up choosing the theme of “Death” but to each her own). Each theme is attached to a central or essential question that forms the focal point of each text set.  This theme features the question “Can We Control Our Fate?”

Next, we are given the option to browse the texts by grade level.  There are a variety of filters also available to look for certain Lexile levels or types of writing.

Then, we selected several poems, short stories and informational texts that would help answer the essential question.

Tools for the Teacher 

Anyone can set up a classroom and add someone as a student.  Then the “teacher” can assign any text set they wish. Or a student can just go onto the website and create their own text set informally.

Commonlit also allows the teacher to monitor student progress and it pairs nicely with Google Classroom.  

Anyway, I then selected a few of my favorite texts from this theme such as the poem “Ozymandias” and the short story classic “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”  My daughter added an informational text on the Conquistadors and their conquest of South America. I then told my daughter she could explore what was available in other grade levels and that she could pick and choose what she wanted to add or substitute.

Each text comes with a few multiple choice comprehension questions. I have my daughter look at these to make sure she is getting the basics of the text.  However, my favorite component of each text is the discussion question. These are deeper level questions that require textual evidence.  I will usually have her read through them, be prepared to discuss them but to just pick one question and answer it in a well developed paragraph. Here is where I will add a few parameters based on what standard I want to address. For this first unit I am having her include a clear Claim, Evidence in the form of a quote or direct reference to the text, and Elaboration in which she discusses the evidence and shows how it supports her claim.

After she reads and digests each of the assigned or chosen texts in the theme she is then ready to write an essay answering the essential question–drawing from the texts in the unit and the evidence she has accumulated along the way.  

For the first unit I wanted to focus on writing–specifically utilizing evidence to support a claim. For the next unit I will have a different standards-based focus and may have her complete another type of project to answer the essential question.

Barton Keeler is a high school English teacher in California.

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