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Teaching Literature Skills Ideas for English Language Arts Teachers

Teaching literature skills to students is an important part of your English Language Arts program. Get more ready to use teaching ideas from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.


It is important that when students enter our English Language Arts classrooms that they see meaning in the texts we read and the lessons we teach. Helping students to understand literature on a deeper level can help them derive meaning from future works that they read. In this Twitter chat recap, teachers share their best lesson ideas, resources and teaching strategies. Read the tips below to gain more ideas on how you can teach literature skills in your classroom.


Q1: What specific skills do you focus on when teaching literature/novel?

  • A1: I focus on reviewing literary elements while we are reading. Then, once we finish the story, I focus on analysis
  • A1: I like to use short stories to intro skills, then review with novels
  • A1: What I am teaching novels or short stories I focus on plot, character, setting, theme and conflict.
  • A1: central/main idea, cause/effect, text structure, compare/contrast, inference
  • A1: Mood, Tone, Author’s Purpose, Author’s Craft, Using literary devices to engage the reader or illicit a response
  • A1: I also reinforce reading strategies like context clues, inferring and making connections.
  • A1 cont: I cover plot and setting, conflict, character and characterization, point of view, theme, irony, symbolism, etc
  • A1: Through university, I have learned a lot about and like to focus on critical reading through different lenses, especially at the senior levels. Also things like tone, audience, purpose, etc.
  • A1: I like to use picture books to intro skills and then practice with novel or short story
  • A1:  I enjoy using books as a gateway to building communication skills. Many of my students struggled with conveying information from a text or simply recalling facts. Discussing the facts as a group seemed to be a sweet spot for us.
  • A1: Right now I’m using a podcast to practice skills before we start a novel later this month. Using @limetownstories which is a fictional story (though its presented like a nonfiction report w/ narrative elements)–so engaging! And fun! Would only use w/high schoolers though
  • A1: I used Pixar short films in my internship as our starting point to analyze plot structure.
  • A1: Citing textual evidence and making connections with the text. I always follow up their answers with “awesome. Can you give me a specific example from the author that shows what your talking about?”
  • A1: To interact with the text as Ss would like. I want them to identify what speaks to them and share their reactions


Q2: Where do you find or how do you select texts to match the skills you are teaching?

  • A2: I’m always on the hunt for great short stories and poems so I can offer students a choice on what to read
  • A2: I actually plan opposite and match skills to the texts b/c I teach struggling learners, engagement is key. So finding engaging texts is #1 priority
  • A2: I keep a Pinterest board of the picture books:
  • A2: I look for short texts to model and intro skills. I love The Hockey Sweater by Roch Carrier. Then I pick readings that would interest my class.
  • A2: I try to find highly engaging texts and then target each skill as best suited. I also use short stories to add additional practice for skills that need more work.
  • A2: Here are some of my favorite short stories to use
  • A2: I ask for ideas on my Insta stories and search hashtags on socials for things that fall under the unit I’m covering. I also talk to veteran teachers.
  • A2: Recently, I have gone to @Newsela and @CommonLit to find texts that address standards that need focus.
  • A2: Other texts are “required” from our county/textbook. Well our official text is SpringBoard and with that comes Tangerine by Edward Bloor
  • A2: Short stories, poems, or even lyrics seem to do the trick for us.
  • A2: As a new teacher I find the curriculum a good place to start for text suggestions. For supporting and additional texts I also like Newsela!
  • A2: I’ve never tried doing that for resources! I had no idea that social media hashtags would be so useful!


Q3: How do you help student identify theme? What is your favourite lesson?

  • A3: Theme is tough, but in Grades 7 & 8 I focus on author’s message. “What does the author want you to think about after reading this book?”
  • A3: I use this graphic organizer at first & work towards determining theme w/o it by end of year
  • A3: Theme can be a struggle for many students. Repeated practice is key. Here’s everything I do with theme
  • A3: I made it into a 4 step process:
  • A3: I rely a lot on graphic organizers when it comes to theme! Teaching theme is also a good place to do cross-curricular with art as that is largely based on theme sometimes.
  • A3: I start off with the Outsiders and we make a list as we read. Love teaching it with this novel and short stories like The Necklace and The Scarlet lbis.
  • A3: Students annotate for theme seeds or topics that are repeated throughout the text. Later they develop these topics into the points they feel the author is trying to make over the course of the book.
  • A3: I can’t think of a specific lesson, but I like to start by introducing general theme topics and then having students specify them with theme statements.
  • A3: Keeping a visual tally of ideas that come up over and over again especially in heavier texts like Shakespeare.


Q4: How do you differentiate the lessons for students who need extra support on a specific skill?

  • A4: I group struggling students and we do some “kill and drill” with text excerpts like these practice sheets
  • A4: Reading & writing conferences. We’re all working on something similar but I can offer support or challenges depending on what they need
  • A4: I modify for 3 groups: high, middle, and low. My hough group usually gets tic tac toe charts focusing on Blooms top levels. My middle get content questions. My low group get content questions with page numbers to help them locate answers.
  • A4: I teach a whole class lesson, then I call groups of students to my guided reading table to reinforce skills and extra practice.
  • A4: Putting them in mixed level groups for help, using the Pixar shorts and commercials during tutoring, pulling out additional quotes for practice, visuals, etc.
  • A4: Sometimes I try grouping kids with different tasks on menus. (That way everyone gets a menu so no one has to be the wiser.)
  • A4: My school & district really focus on responsive instruction. Planning ahead & using assessment data to provide targeted small group instruction. And of course focusing on content, process & product differentiation.
  • A4: I find pairing to be helpful for reading tasks so they learn from one another. Universal DI is also super helpful on a day-to-day basis.
  • A4: Ways to differentiate: the task, the group, the text, the directions, chunking information


Q5: Share any resources you have found helpful for teaching literature skills (blog posts, books, websites, etc.).

  • A5: Free graphic organizers. Find this resource on Shopify CAD or Teachers Pay Teachers USD
  • A5: Ideas for whole class novels.
  • A5: Whole Novels for the Whole Class by @arielsacks
  • A5 I’m working on a series of blog posts covering how I teach the different literary elements including texts to use and activities. Here’s the first one on plot
  • A5: Using Learning Stations
  • A5: Supporting ESL and IEP students
  • A5: My biggest resource is my team, Facebook and Twitter plns like this one. Teachers in the trenches are the most creative problem solvers. I do like Jim Burke’s English Companion.
  • A5: Whole Novels for the Whole Class: A Student-Centered Approach by Ariel Sacks
  • A5: I love Kelly Gallagher’s books. We often use them in classes. Very practical and full of helpful tips on skills.
  • A5: Some of my best ELL ideas are here:

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