Extension activities for literature lessons?
Sometimes, we teachers need a list to get ideas flowing, a starting point. I am currently brainstorming ways to make literature come alive (a cliche, I know) for my students.
I want students to remember the characters and language of what we share together. That satisfied, exhilarating feeling from reading? My students should experience that. When I think of extension activities, I know I won’t always have time for fancy, lengthy prep.
I need activities for literature lessons that won’t cost a fortune or require a ton of time. In prepping for myself, I hope I’m helping you. Here are TWENTY-FIVE simple activities for literature lessons.
Host a gallery walk.
Hang blank “posters” around the room. Label the posters with important concepts for a graffiti activity. As students walk around the room, jot down your ideas as well. If students post an idea that prompts a question, write a sentence starter for other students.
Use the student work to clarify any misconceptions and to start class discussions. Students enjoy seeing their work displayed in class, no matter how old they are.
Color! I give students guidance with literary coloring sheets, but you can ask them to draw pictures, doodle notes, or brainstorm examples on blank paper. I often set a timer and ask students to create for four minutes. At the end of that time, we discuss what students created from the story.
Ask for student feedback.
Ask for “audience questions.” Students can submit their inquiries anonymously, and you can close out the class period with these or begin the next class period with a common theme from the questions. I’ve used a digital format like Google Forms, but you can also use note cards.
If your students are in groups, assign one or two elements for exit tickets. Compile student information for the next class period. You’ll be able to identify areas that need more clarification as well as areas that students already understand.
Provide choice with graphic organizers.
Use graphic organizers as visual note taking sheets. Let students choose their sheets. Student choice with literary analysis is a must for any extension activity. Every student will not be interested in every piece. By asking students to choose what they enjoy, they can then expand and feel comfortable to branch out.
Provide advanced literature concepts.
Some students are massively interested in our field. Many of these students will become lawyers, marketers, and English teachers. Provide a bigger picture of a concept with advanced work on the topic at hand.
For example, students who enjoy a story like “Why I Live at the P.O.” will be interested in other authors from Southern Gothic such as Carson McCullers and William Faulkner.
Connect to other work.
As a student, I once remarked that I had read The Little House in the Big Woods series. A teacher remarked that I would enjoy The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. (Female protagonist set in a historical setting.) She was right.
Mention connections of literature and nonfiction texts to students based on their interests. You have a larger picture of reading material available than your students. Don’t be afraid to spread your knowledge!
Discuss your reading and be honest about your thoughts concerning the reading. Summarize books, or highlight interesting parts of books. I can model a love of literature for my students.
Students might not be comfortable as readers and sometimes, we teachers are their models for loving literature.
Give background information.
A common pre-reading activity includes background information of the author, setting, or allusions. You can easily make background information an extension activity though, especially if an earlier reveal of the information would ruin part of students’ discovery of the story. Present the background information in various ways. Videos, old commercials, images, diaries… You can showcase the artistic allusions from the story to enrich the setting.
Distribute sticky notes.
Give students a sticky note as they enter class.Begin a class period by asking students to write one idea from the story: A character they dislike, the most memorable scene, the most maddening conflict, and compile the notes.
As you discuss students’ ideas, move the notes. Show students how the overlapping and connecting of ideas leads to literary analysis.
Colors with characters, setting, and more can be fast and meaningful additions to literature discussions. Color-code the characters based on color psychology. Julius Caesar would be purple for his royal and exclusive behaviors. What about Romeo? Odysseus?
True story: my class and I reviewed The Hunger Games. We highlighted important characteristics and actions of the main characters. Then a student inadvertently enhanced the lesson.
Yes! Yes she should!! Prim, the soft-spoken contrast to the protagonist Katniss, should be symbolized with a delicate color.
I immediately altered my lesson. Now we would review characters, as well as decide what colors symbolized them. From a few classes, they decided:
- Katniss- orange
- Prim and Rue- purple or pink
- Haymitch- brown
- Gale- red
- Peeta- blue
- Cinna- yellow (they wanted gold because of his eyeliner, but I had no gold paper)
I thought it was interesting how one class wanted Cinna gold, but another wanted him purple because he’s so delicate with Katniss.
When we reviewed with Catching Fire months later, all classes agreed that the Avoxes needed to be red. I figured the two most mentioned Avoxes have red hair. Nope my students said. The color symbolizes the blood from when their tongues are cut.
Got it. And I love it.
This was a simple and inexpensive twist on review, and we had great discussions. Character colors can be a fast and meaningful addition to literature discussions.
Analyze mentor sentences.
Mentor sentences bring a new depth to literature. What makes a sentence memorable? quotable? Study the literature with language. Not only can you meet language standards, but you can also learn more about the story by looking at individual words and sentences.
When I have numerous mentor sentences, I assign a few sentences to partners or groups of students. Our discussions lead to greater analysis.
Create a soundtrack.
Characters, books, and conflicts can have soundtracks. Students should provide evidence as to why those songs relate to a character (for example).
Another option is for the teacher to name a song and to ask students to decide why the song relates to an element. This allows the teacher to control the cleanliness of a song. It is also a fun way to build relationships with students as they learn about your personal choices in music.
Students see infographics on social media, and they can build them on apps like Canva. Infographics might not tell a complete story, but they do allow students to dive deeply into a specific area, like characters. Once students create an infographic, put them together for a larger picture of the literature. If students do create digital inforgraphics, compile everyone’s finished piece and assemble them in a Google presentation. Then share with the class for an extra study tool.
Make a one pager.
One-pagers can provide a closing activity to your literature lesson plan. You can add try a twist by discovering the adjectives the author used. This one pager can be used with book titles, but you can also use it for covering an entire story. Students love one pagers because they can see what they learned, the assignment is short and manageable, and they feel successful. I like one pagers because I can differentiate for everyone.
Build a cross-curricular connection.
Other connections can include using maps and pictures, studying laws and court cases, and looking at the geography of a story’s area.
Students are fascinated by scientific discoveries during a story’s setting. They are often shocked to learn what were common deaths (pneumonia, diarrhea) and common medical practices (blood-letting).
Bringing other subjects to English class intrigues students who might not care for a story.
I don’t spend lots of money, but when possible, I do acquire pieces to reuse through the years. Throughout the years, I have used:
- Fake daisies to analyze a daisy to Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.
- A veil to cover my face for “The Minister’s Black Veil.”
- Plastic marigolds to set the theme of small gestures having a big impact in the short story “Marigolds.“
Giving students a physical object can help connect them to the story. Some of our students are kinesthetic learners, and holding an object helps them connect to a story.
Build a bulletin board.
Many of these extension activities for literature can become part of a bulletin board: sticky notes, one pagers, and coloring sheets can become part of a bulletin board.
Another option is for the teacher to add blank paper to a bulletin board, and for students to write notes, ideas, and concepts about the story, almost like a graffiti activity.
Read a picture book.
I keep picture books in my classroom and bring them out for certain stories because they contain beautiful pictures and illustrate difficult facts in meaningful ways.
Write to the author.
Sometimes, students possess strong feeling about literature, both positive and negative. Allow them to question, probe, and argue with the author through a letter or email.
An author letter is the perfect time to work on tone and audience.
Create a book launch.
When a book is released, a book launch showcases the book and author. A book launch can be a themed party that sells the books to the public. Ask students to outline decor, an invite list, and a PR release.
The next five options focus specifically on literary devices to lead students to literary analysis. You might work on these pieces through the novel or short story, but these pieces also deserve extra focus after the reading is done. They make for great extension activities for literature lessons.
Studying characterization needn’t be neat! Students can flip through the book, finding quotes from the character of study that indirectly characterizes him or her. Students should also look for other characters’ comments regarding the character as well as interactions between characters. (Eye rolling? Talking behind someone’s back? Dismissive looks? True engagement?) All of those small gestures have meaning. At the end of brainstorming, students should draw conclusions about characters.
One of my favorite ways to review characterization is to make several copies of graphic organizers, and allow student to choose which graphic organizer appeals to them. Doing so not only encourages student investment and ownership, but it also caters to different learning styles. At the end of the class period, allow students to display their graphic organizers and complete a gallery walk to see everyone’s expressions.
Study a symbol’s meaning…
Color, history, mythological connections: those components all tell about the symbol. Where is the symbol mentioned, and with whom is it connected? Many symbols connect to a larger picture, often socially or culturally. Discuss if the symbol is still relevant and maybe why it is or is not. What makes a symbol change throughout years?
A clear example of this is the scarlet ibis in “The Scarlet Ibis.” The ibis is in a nonnative location, is red (like blood), and suffers—all like Doodle. All three of those descriptions about the ibis can be further explored in connection to Doodle. Ask students to explain what message a symbol gives us.
Encourage students to brainstorm circumstances surrounding conflicts. Is the root of a conflict a personality clash? an event that the audience doesn’t know about, but might know eventually? the result of a larger force? immaturity or misunderstanding? a hidden belief (that the character may not consciously admit)? Internal and external conflicts bump against each other and shape outcomes.
Stories must have conflicts and analyzing them allows students to understand the story better, and eventually the theme. Allow students to freely brainstorm ideas and feelings about the conflicts. This will lead to a greater understanding of the story as a whole.
No one ever reads the same story twice. . . and that is because we all apply our life experiences to our reading. Students might glean similar themes, but they will all express those themes differently. The beauty of literature is that it holds different meanings for all people. Tell students that! As they brainstorm potential themes, encourage individual expression.
All components of a story shape and build themes, so brainstorm those concepts with students. Students might not realize the inner workings of a story, but once you reveal some of the secrets, they will be intrigued.
Ask students to write allusions and to research the reference. Why is the author including a particular allusion? Does it contrast a character or theme? Emphasize one? Does it enhance the reader’s understanding? Often, allusions are particular to the setting.
I find that researching allusions connects students to the story who might not normally find a connection to literature. Sometimes, students who prefer nonfiction will become more engaged with literature if they explore factual information from allusions.
Finally, allow students to choose what literary term stood out to them and ask them to free-write and color on note sheets. The activity will have greater meaning that way. Even if students’ brainstorm activities for literature don’t result in any profound discovery. . . that’s ok! They reviewed the story, took a risk, and realized what doesn’t work. But, more often than not, a brainstorming note later connects to anther part of the story, allowing students to experience true learning.
That is TWENY-FIVE activities for you! If you’d like this list in a simple PDF, click on the picture below to gain access.
Implementing various activities and bright spots into literature lessons can give students that spark to make them fall in love with reading. Students want the magic that stories bring to them, and with some inspiration and guidance from their teachers, students will experience it. The extension activities for literature lessons that make English class memorable, that bring home the memorable teaching pieces often have a bit of pizazz. Start with these ideas, and watch student engagement grow.
What “go to” method would you add for literature lessons? How do you dive deeply with students, and build an appreciation of literature? I’d love to add more to my lessons, and I hope these ideas give you a starting point.