Joining the Conversation about Young Adult Literature
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In this lesson, students create a persuasive case calling for the adoption of a particular young adult literature title into their school's language arts curriculum. They then present their argument in the form of a letter or speech addressing school decision-makers such as the English department chair or the language arts curriculum coordinator. The lesson includes research on a chosen title, development of a well-reasoned argument supported with evidence, and interaction with a real-world audience.
Persuasion Map: Have students use this interactive graphic organizer to map out their arguments calling for the adoption of a particular young adult literature title into their school's language arts curriculum.
From Theory to Practice
Alfred Tatum argues that high school students are frequently not well-served by the literary texts they read in school. Tatum urges teachers to "reconceptualize how texts are selected," in part by "tak[ing] stock of the types of texts that adolescents find meaningful and significant" (83-84). Similarly, P. L. Thomas recommends "expand[ing] the selection of text among all involved in the teaching-learning process" as a way to promote critical literacy (82). Involving students in the selection of classroom texts gives them an opportunity to act on their existing knowledge and experience as readers. By advocating for specific young adult literature titles, students can assist in expanding the curriculum with relevant new literature and take an active role in shaping their literacy learning.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Sample list of new YA (young adult) titles to consider for an 11th grade English classroom
- Secondary materials on selected titles (including book reviews, author websites, professionally prepared discussion guides, critical essays, pictures of book jackets, and a sample chapter excerpt)
- Online Resources for Student Research
- Web Resources for "Joining the Conversation about Young Adult Literature" (Teacher sources including annotations of Student Web resources)
- In the context of reading workshop or a literature circles unit, have students keep a list of young adult (YA) books they read, rating each book for its literary quality and appeal to teens.
- As students choose books to read, provide them with links to respected YA blogs and review sites from the Online Resources for Student Research in order to get them thinking about the professional conversation surrounding the publication of new books.
- If possible, present students with copies of the existing Language Arts curriculum for their specific course or grade level. Ask them to consider the texts currently in use; to examine themes and essential questions that provide context for literary study; and to identify issues, characters, and life experiences not represented in the current curriculum.
- Prepare an archive of critical resources and background information on the titles that students begin discussing (book reviews, author Websites, discussion guides, critical essays, and author interviews) or ask students to create such archives. Use the Teacher Web resources (which includes annotations of Online Resources for Student Research to facilitate this preparation.)
- Make copies of necessary handouts.
- Reserve time in the computer lab for sessions requiring access to online research materials.
- Bookmark the Online Resources for Student Research link to provide students a starting point for their research.
- Bookmark and test the Persuasion Map and Letter Generator. Familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the proper Flash plug-ins installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- choose a novel to recommend on the basis of its thematic content and literary quality.
- identify the literary and thematic elements that distinguish the novel as relevant and worthy of classroom study.
- consult secondary sources (such as reviews, Websites, and critical essays) to find further evidence of the novel's worth.
- synthesize research material, develop an argument, and support ideas with evidence.
- create an argument that will appeal to and persuade a specific audience.
- Explain that students will be drawing on their experience as readers and their emergent knowledge of young adult literature in order to take part in shaping English Language Arts curriculum decisions.
- Frame the discussion by saying that new literature is constantly being created, and bringing new books into the classroom is a way to keep the conversation fresh and relevant. Curriculum lists periodically need to be updated, but updates need to be made in relation to the existing curriculum. Turn to the list of books currently in use. What kinds of stories and life experiences are represented? Whose voices are missing? What stories are not being told?
- Discuss what makes a book relevant for classroom study. What qualities should such books contain? List qualities on the board.
- Divide students into small groups. Ask students to brainstorm recent YA books that fit the criteria for classroom study. Books might be ones they have read or heard about through reading workshop, literature circles, classroom booktalks, or teen programs at their local library. Students should note the ways in which nominated books fit the criteria of relevance for classroom study. Alternatively, teachers who want to establish boundaries for the discussion could present the class with a list of 10-15 titles to work with that match the brainstormed criteria. (See Sample Booklist of new young adult titles).
- Tell each group they must come up with a short list of 3-5 titles to recommend for inclusion in the curriculum. The short list will eventually be narrowed down to one title after groups have researched the books under discussion. As students nominate titles to include on the short list, they should write a rationale explaining how each book matches the criteria of relevance for classroom study. Alternatively, groups could compile a menu of 5-7 titles to recommend for a literature circles unit.
- Visit groups as they brainstorm, assisting groups in articulating rationales as needed.
- Each group should turn in its short list at the end of class with a brief written rationale for each title on the list. Prepare for the next session by collecting copies of short-listed titles along with a preliminary set of secondary resources on each one. Alternatively, assign students to compile such resources. Use the Online Resources for Student Research and Teacher Web resources as starting points for resource compilation.
- Inform students that in this session they will research their short-listed titles by consulting book reviews, professionally prepared discussion guides, critical essays, author statements or interviews, or other resources in order to select a single title (or a set of titles) that best fits the class criteria for relevance. If necessary, teachers might establish a set number of sources or a specific list of types of sources that students are required to consult.
- Depending on available resources, students could peruse copies of short-listed titles checked out from the classroom, school, or local library, reading excerpts and examining the way the book is packaged. If students have access to computers, they could search online for background information on short-listed titles through author Websites and book review blogs using sites recommended on the Online Resources for Student Research. If students do not have computer access, they might consult a packet of book reviews and author information provided by the teacher.
- Distribute copies of the Research Evaluation Sheet and stress to students these large questions to consider while they conducting research:
- What is the book about?
- What themes or big questions does this book explore?
- What aspects of the book might be considered controversial or need defending?
- What have reviewers said about this book?
- What aspects of this book would appeal to, engage, challenge, and enrich the thinking of teen readers?
- How does this book enhance or extend the existing curriculum?
- What is the book about?
- Ask students to record information from their research on the Research Evaluation Sheet. Students may want to record information on index cards by category: they can store cards for individual books in separate sandwich bags, then sort and rearrange the cards later in the process of shaping their argument.
- As students work, meet with groups to discuss the information they are finding and how it shapes their thinking about the most relevant title on their shortlist.
- Students should discuss, debate, and deliberate in order to select just one title per group to recommend. Groups must provide reasons to support their selection in the form of evidence about the book's merits as recorded on the Research Evaluation Sheet, complemented by student testimonials and explanations of how the book would enhance and extend the existing curriculum.
- Begin the session by reviewing the elements of persuasive writing using the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet. Share with students the Persuasive Letter Rubric to clarify expectations for persuasive letter.
- Then begin a discussion of how a group of teens might convince a curriculum decision-maker to adopt a new title for classroom study. How should a persuasive letter or speech be constructed in order to persuade this audience? List ideas on the board and come to agreement on a set of criteria for this group of persuasive arguments.
- Decide to whom the letter should be addressed by finding out who makes curriculum decisions in this school or district. Do students need to address a department chairperson, an assistant principal, a central office administrator, or some other person? Also, in what form and setting should the argument be presented? Should students write a letter and send it to the administrator in charge? Should they invite the administrator to their classroom in order to present arguments orally? Or should students attend an English department curriculum team meeting and present their arguments publicly? Finally, should the class select the one most persuasive argument to present out of all the group arguments submitted, or should each group have the chance to present its work, allowing the administrator or curriculum team to hear about multiple books? Make decisions about the recipient, the form of argument, and the number of arguments to present based on your local context.
- Once these decisions are made, have students return to their small groups and develop their arguments using guidelines adapted from the ReadWriteThink lesson Persuading an Audience: Writing Effective Letters to the Editor. Depending on classroom dynamics, students may compose individual letters or collaborate to write a single group letter. Remind students to include information they gathered during their research and recorded on the Research Evaluation Sheet as supporting evidence. You may wish to have students use the Persuasion Map tool as they draft their ideas.
- Circulate throughout the room to confer with students as they draft their persuasive letters or speeches, referring them back to the list of ideas for effective persuasion that was brainstormed on the board at the start of this class session. Remind students that their task is to use their research on the group's selected title in order to mount a persuasive argument about the book's thematic relevance, literary value, and student appeal.
- Tell students that they should finish the draft of their letter for homework and that letters will be exchanged for peer review tomorrow.
- Students can use the Letter Generator to prepare their letters.
- Remind students of the decisions they have made as a class regarding the audience and format for their persuasive arguments. Then ask students to return to their small groups and read their drafts with their designated audience in mind. Have them identify the strengths and weaknesses of each draft using peer review guidelines adapted from the ReadWriteThink lesson Persuading an Audience: Writing Effective Letters to the Editor.
- After students have received feedback, allow time for them to revise their arguments.
- When revisions are complete, ask students to read over all the arguments that have been produced and select one or more to present to their intended audience based on the quality of the research and argumentation. Students must justify their decision with references to specific aspects of the chosen argument.
- Have students interview a department chair or curriculum director to find out how curriculum decisions are made and the process by which new titles are introduced and adopted.
- Help students conduct a survey of students in other language arts classes to bolster arguments about characteristics of literature that appeal to teens as well as issues teens want to explore and discuss. See the ReadWriteThink lessons And the Question Is ... Writing Good Survey Questions and And the Question Is ... Evaluating the Validity of a Survey to facilitate this process.
- Assist students in researching instances of nominated titles being taught in other districts. This can be done through the author's Website, publicist, or assistant, or by surveying area curriculum supervisors.
- Rehearse oral arguments and offer students coaching in preparation for a persuasive speech presentation before an English department or curriculum team. Then arrange a meeting with the district curriculum coordinator or present the argument orally at a curriculum/department meeting.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Use the Persuasive Letter Rubric (which may be adapted with the ideas generated through student discussion in Session Three) to evaluate persuasive letters.
- Ask students to reflect on their work in nominating, researching, and recommending new YA titles for the English Language Arts curriculum. Suggested questions include:
- What aspects of their argument do they think will be most persuasive to the designated audience?
- What obstacles do they face in convincing their audience to act on the basis of the argument?
- Based on the arguments they have seen, how might they frame their argument differently next time?
Ideally students will complete the reflection after they have received a response from their designated audience. Another option is to have students revisit their reflection once they have received a response.
- What aspects of their argument do they think will be most persuasive to the designated audience?