CommonLit 360 How to Effectively Teach a CommonLit 360 Novel Unit

A group of male students discuss a CommonLit novel study lesson as their teacher looks on.

Build student reading comprehension with highly engaging novel study units, complete with engaging lessons and chapter guides as part of CommonLit’s free 360 curriculum.

CommonLit 360 is a comprehensive ELA curriculum for grades 6-12. Our standards-aligned units are highly engaging and develop core reading and writing skills.

Looking for engaging novel units that include student materials, engaging activities, and more? Want to hook students and get them excited to talk and write about books they are reading in class? CommonLit has you covered.

CommonLit’s 360 curriculum for grades 6-12 provides each grade with at least one novel study unit. High-interest texts frequently taught in ELA classrooms anchor these units, including Animal Farm, The Giver, and more. Each unit comes with everything teachers need to make their novel units engaging – chapter guides, reading and writing lessons, supplemental texts, discussion lessons, and more.

Engage students with Essential Questions designed around interesting topics

Each novel unit comes with an Essential Question that students will analyze throughout the book. The topics for each novel unit are designed to be interesting and relevant to students’ lives, allowing for lively discussion as students develop reading and writing skills.

Here are the novels and questions for each unit:

Grade

Text Title

Essential Question

6th 

The Watsons Go to Birmingham

How do people respond to and recover from challenges and tragedy?

7th 

The Giver

Which matters more: safety or love?

8th 

Brown Girl Dreaming

What makes up our identity? What parts of our identity do we choose for ourselves?

9th 

Animal Farm

How does power change us?

10th 

Things Fall Apart

What does it mean to be “civilized”? How does culture affect the way a person sees the world? 

11th 

The Great Gatsby

How has the American Dream evolved over the last hundred years? What makes a novel “great”?

11th 

Their Eyes Were Watching God 

How does one realize their authentic self in spite of societal norms and the expectations of others?

12th 

Frankenstein

Is ambition a positive or negative force? What responsibilities do scientists have for the technologies they create?

12th 

Othello

Coming early 2023

Spark student interest with  reading comprehension questions

CommonLit’s novel units come complete with all the lesson plans and materials needed to effectively teach the lessons. The books themselves are the only items schools will need to provide, with many books available online through Project Gutenberg.  

Each chapter or section of the novel comes with skills-based During Reading questions to guide students’ thinking as they read. The During Reading questions give students multiple opportunities to write in response to the text.

This is a screenshot of our chapter guide for Animal Farm, which includes skills focus, vocabulary, purpose for reading, thematic connections, and during reading questions with space for student responses.
This is a screenshot of our chapter guides, which includes skills focus, vocabulary, purpose for reading, thematic connections, and during reading questions with space for student responses.

The chapter guides are designed to be flexibly used – they can be assigned independently or in small groups, and allow for class discussions. Additionally, teachers are provided with their own copies that include summaries, facilitation guides, and exemplar responses.

We also provide reading assessments meant to be completed independently. These exit tickets give teachers a benchmark of student progress. The assessments can be assigned digitally or on paper.

Lessons that help build foundational writing skills

In our novel units, we give students ample opportunities to write about what they read. Throughout the unit, students answer open-ended assessment questions. They also engage in writing lessons which teach them foundational writing skills.

Take 9th grade’s Animal Farm unit as an example. Students learn how to write a thesis that includes a counterclaim and how to emphasize parts of a quote in their analysis. These lessons help students work their way to the culminating literary analysis essay. Teachers are also given optional narrative or creative essay prompts to include in the unit as well.  

This is a screenshot of the arc of writing instruction for the unit. Lessons include how to write a thesis that includes a counterclaim, emphasizing parts of a quote in your analysis, and writing a thesis that includes a counterclaim. Then, students will write a literary analysis essay as the end of unit assessment.
This screenshot shows the arc of writing instruction over the course of the unit in preparation for the end of unit literary analysis essay.

Most 360 units include a Related Media Exploration, a media analysis that is a unique  cornerstone of our ELA curriculum. These interactive tasks bring our novel units to life and provide useful background information while also providing opportunities for text-to-self connections.  

In our Animal Farm unit, students engage in two Related Media Explorations. The first is an overview of different types of government: capitalism, socialism, communism, and totalitarianism. The second explores the novel’s allegorical connection to the events and leaders of the Russian Revolution.


Discussion lessons to foster student debate

Our novel units go beyond reading and writing lessons to emphasize speaking and listening skills as well. Discussion lessons embedded in the units are great opportunities to extend student thinking and promote strong habits of discussion.

They come with supportive copies so students can effectively prepare for the discussion, as well as facilitation tips and student voice trackers so teachers feel confident leading students through the lesson.

In the Animal Farm unit, students will debate two questions: “What factors contributed to Animal Farm’s corruption? Was the ending of Animal Farm preventable or was it inevitable?”

Supplemental activities to hone student skills

Our novel units also come with lots of optional lessons to further engage students. For example, we provide vocabulary activities to help students internalize high-impact academic vocabulary words they will see in the novel they are reading.

The Animal Farm unit introduces 21 new vocabulary words and provides 5 activities and two quizzes to test student application of the words in context. We also provide grammar activities and quizzes, along with supplemental texts in English and Spanish.

This is a screenshot of the unit's vocabulary activities, including Activity 1 which is an in-context predictions activity.
This screenshot shows some of our vocabulary activities included in the unit.

Next Steps

Interested in learning more about our novel units? Attend our How to Teach a CommonLit 360 Novel Unit webinar.

If you’d like to learn more about our 360 ELA curriculum, you can explore it here.

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