CommonLit 360's Related Media Explorations: Increasing Engagement and Deepening Learning

Three students sitting at a table and looking at one student's computer screen.

Learn about how CommonLit’s new comprehensive curriculum engages students in media analysis tasks that bring each CommonLit 360 unit’s topics and themes to life.

Maintaining high student engagement has always been a challenge for teachers. This was a main consideration when we designed CommonLit 360 units. Our approach, like everything else, is backed by research and the science behind why kids become authentically invested in reading — to uncover the deeper meaning and build an enduring understanding. Our ELA curriculum is packed with resources that do this: interesting texts, reading instruction, writing instruction, vocabulary activities, grammar practice, independent reading, and much more — all within units that are centered around a singular topic or theme, like the costs and benefits of social media (7th grade).

In this blog post, I describe an innovative piece of the CommonLit 360 curriculum that builds knowledge and student engagement at the same time, a lesson type called “Related Media Exploration.” The Related Media Exploration brings the topics of the unit to life through a guided analysis of multimedia including photos, charts, videos, or podcasts. This lesson type is highly interactive, requiring students to collaborate and discuss in small groups or pairs.

Below, I will walk through an example of a Related Media Exploration and also discuss the ways in which teachers can customize the lessons to work for different settings.

To explain the main pieces of a Related Media Exploration, I will use a lesson in 9th Grade Unit 1: Following the Crowd as our example. In this unit, students read about fictional characters who find themselves making choices based on the influences of others, and they’ll learn about the psychology behind why people often go along with the crowd, even when it contradicts their individual beliefs.

The header of the 9th grade 360 unit "Following the Crowd."
With CommonLit 360, ninth graders start their high school careers in ELA in Unit 1: Following the Crowd which includes high-interest short stories about how the actions of a peer group can influence an individual’s choices.

Each unit’s Related Media Exploration comes after students have read at least a few of the unit’s essential reading lessons. These lessons usually take about one class period to complete and are opportunities for the students to deepen their understanding of the content and themes of the texts in a way that adds excitement to the unit. To assist in facilitation, Related Media Explorations include:

  • A slide deck with ready-made activities, all editable in Google Slides,
  • A student handout, also editable in Google Docs, and
  • A teacher copy, with answers and facilitation tips.

Introducing the Lesson

Each Related Media Exploration introduces the lesson with a hook — usually an interesting question asking students to take a side or respond to a scenario — and a purpose for the activity. In this particular Exploration, students are reminded of a concept they recently read about (the idea of conformity) and are asked to apply that concept to their own lives.

Screenshot of Intro Lesson page
In this Related Media Exploration, a set of introductory slides establish relevance by connecting the topic to students’ lives.

The Multimedia Exploration

Related Media Explorations often include 2–4 videos, photos, graphs, or other digital media that provide differing perspectives of the same subject. The media are directly linked in the slide deck, and questions are displayed in the slide deck and student handout. We find that these materials are utilized most successfully in pairs or small groups so that students can discuss as they navigate through the multimedia.

For this particular ninth grade activity, students are asked to view three different videos that delve into the psychology behind conformity. Each video is under ten minutes and includes questions that progress in complexity.

Related Media section of 360 curriculum
In Part 1 of this Related Media Exploration, students watch a short TED talk that mentions a popular video that still periodically shows up in social media feeds today.

The questions about the multimedia require students to make connections to previous unit texts, compare two videos or multimedia, and/or synthesize information across the media. Students are also asked to reflect on their opinions (a metacognitive task!) and notice any changes in their own perspective.

In short, CommonLit 360 Related Media Explorations are highly engaging, rigorous, and collaborative activities — and we’ve done the work to make them extremely easy to facilitate!

The Independent Reflection

After students have collaboratively explored the multimedia links and discussed the aligned questions, they are prompted to reflect in writing through a culminating question. This open-ended, opinion-based question is intended for students to answer independently in preparation for a whole class discussion.

The Related Media Exploration slide decks are easily editable and include different versions of slides corresponding to the different methods of facilitation.

The Whole Class Discussion

Finally, the Related Media Exploration ends with a whole class discussion of the reflection question to give students a chance to show mastery of the knowledge they gained.

Starting the lesson with small group or partner work provides students the opportunity to practice discussion techniques in a lower-stakes setting before having to speak in front of a larger group. Students also have the ability to prepare for the discussion by developing their thoughts in writing during the Independent Reflection portion of the lesson.

Flexible Facilitation Options

All CommonLit 360 lessons come with useful teacher guidance and editable slide decks to assist teachers in maximizing student engagement for their particular classes.

If all students have access to internet-connected devices, we recommend giving students the opportunity to complete Related Media Explorations collaboratively with 1–2 partners. This way, all students can have opportunities to share their opinions and practice their speaking and listening skills throughout the Exploration. Meanwhile, teachers can circulate and provide targeted support to pairs that need help.

Teacher-Directed Option: For Low Connectivity Environments

For classes with fewer internet-connected devices, a teacher-led exploration is recommended. This facilitation method involves the teacher displaying the slide deck and playing the videos for all students on a single internet connected device that all students can view, pausing to allow for partner or whole class discussion along the way.

The Related Media Exploration slide decks are easily editable and include different versions of slides corresponding to the different methods of facilitation.

Because there are multiple facilitation options, we recommend teachers preview the slide deck and customize the directions to meet the specific needs of their students.

Next Steps

If you are interested in learning more about Related Media Explorations and CommonLit 360’s comprehensive ELA curriculum, here are a few options for next steps: