ELA Instruction


Every Day Students Are Lit: Engaging ELA Instruction

By Diane James, SREB

Students reading The best way to improve writing, speaking and vocabulary skills is through literature. Studying literature also teaches students about their past, other cultures and broadens their horizons and view of the world. It entertains too!

But not all students like to read. “We know that students don’t wake up in the morning and say “yay, literature,” says Vernitria Rice, an English language arts teacher at Southwest Dekalb High School in Decatur, Georgia. However, engaging ELA instruction can ignite a curiosity and interest in reading.

Rice uses captivating projects, student competitions and literature circles in which small groups of students gather to read, discuss and engage in critical thinking. Through this cooperative learning experience, students debate ideas, share experiences and deepen their understanding of books. A bonus is that struggling readers gain access to grade-level materials and realize that reading is fun!

Literature Circle Grouping

 Girl reading a book “A lot of students don’t care about their own grades, but they don’t want to let their peers down,” says Rice. That’s why grouping is important and effective in literature circles. It must be strategic and intentional. In the general level classes, Rice applies heterogeneous grouping in which students of more diverse abilities are placed together. There is always at least one student in the group who is very motivating and reads on grade level to help the rest of the group. Rice uses homogenous grouping in her advanced classes as all students have similar abilities and read on grade level or above.

Literature Circle: Differentiation

Literature circles must be differentiated. In Rice’s classes, students must read three books from an approved list. Accelerated and AP students choose their books, but in her general level class, all students read the same book, and each group becomes an expert on one section of it. They discuss the book together and do activities to share with others as preparation for class assessments.

Headshot of Vernitria Rice Once a week, students gather in literature circles to complete exercises related to selected texts and complete study questions. Students have about three weeks to complete the book, culminating in a project.

Another part of her differentiation process involves how students access books. They enjoy an array of options, including an electronic version, a hard copy from the classroom, library or media center, or a YouTube audio recording. Rice says her 10th-graders sometime FaceTime each other while listening to a recording. She’s delighted that even those who could not read on grade level knew what was happening in the book because they were listening and engaging with their peers.

Products and Projects

Rice shares the following group projects and procedures that get and keep students engaged.

  1. Assign each group a series of chapters from a novel and require them to create a visual representation (storyboard or Google slides) of the events in the chapters.

  2. Identify 10 vocabulary words: define and share in a sentence.

  3. Use text connections.
    a. Text to text: Compare to something you’ve read before.
    b. Text to self: Compare to a personal experience.
    c. Text to world: Compare to a world event.

Choose one of the following projects to complete with your literacy circle members.

Project Option Project Description
iMovie Book Trailer
  • Create your own book trailers  that communicate the key details of the plot (60 to 90 seconds).
  • Introduce the main characters.
  • Communicate one or more of the key themes.
  • The tone of the trailer should complement the tone of the book.
Character Instagram
  • Create an Instagram account and profile for the characters from the book you’ve read.
  • Post photos, memes, quotes, etc., that the characters would post.
  • Follow and be followed by other characters from the book.
  • Justify your choices with inferences and textual evidence.
Character Playlist
  • Create a playlist with at least three songs that represent four characters from your book.
  • Make a CD cover that includes a list of these songs and CD cover artwork that represents your character.
  • Write a justification and analysis for each song to be presented.
Scene Script and Performance
  • Select a pivotal scene from the book you’ve read.
  • Refashion the scene from prose to drama by writing a script (complete with a character list, stage directions and dialogue).
  • Perform the skit for the class (3 to 5 minutes).

Literature circle board games

Board Game and Project Competition

Students compete with other groups at the end of the year by creating a board game of their favorite book. The game must contain game pieces, trivia cards and instructions. The game should give players a good understanding of the novel’s plot, characters, setting and theme.

“These presentations are a big deal. You have to wow me,” maintains Rice. Students have buy-in because they have a choice, and they want to win. Even the students who didn’t read the entire book will read enough for the project. “Reading is reading, that’s what I’ve come to resolve,” says Rice. “They definitely become engaged with these projects.”

Contact: Vernitria Rice, Vernitria_V_Rice@dekalbschoolsga.org

This article was featured in the October 2022 issue of SREB School Improvement’s Promising Practices Newsletter.