CommonLit: Uncommonly GoodDecember 19, 2017
by MK Jarvis
Sorry for stealing your line, cookie elves, but it is perfect for describing my newest ed-site favorite, CommonLit. It might be better described Uncommonly Great because it has many awesome features that other ed-sites don’t have. Perhaps the number one reason it’s so great is that “CommonLit is completely free, forever.” Their words, not mine.
Before we get to the free, though, let’s talk about the function. I can’t remember clearly how I found CommonLit in the deluge of educational websites and apps. I think I was searching for an ed-site that could track student progress. For me, looking for a new tool or examining an app or website can be tiresome. Many times my search ends in disappointment. The site either doesn’t do what it promises or it’s a stripped down, free version that doesn’t do much of anything. Many times the content of the site is great, but after setting up classes and talking it up to the students, the site only offers data for three students. I’ve even paid out of my own pocket for a premium version of an app, only to find it isn’t all that user friendly for the students. So far, CommonLit is none of these things. Here are some of the features I like best about CommonLit:
CommonLit is a free collection of fiction and nonfiction for 5th-12th grade classrooms. Search and filter our collection by lexile, grade, theme, genre, literary device, or common core standard.
CommonLit has a huge library filled with stories, articles, and poetry. This week, my students are reading “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, “How Santa Clause Found the Poor-House” by Sophie Swett, and “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Anderson. I teach seventh grade, but a couple of these stories have fifth and sixth grade lexile levels. I didn’t mind too much lowering the lexile because I wanted the students to get used to the way CommonLit looks and how they get from question to question in guided reading mode (more on that in a sec). Plus, these stories are classic and ageless for the season and I thought the messages of kindness and thinking of others were important to emphasize. You can find articles on just about any theme or subject you can think of, ie. powerful women, great American speeches, middle/high school favorites, culture, etc. Students could never get bored with the great selection of titles on CommonLit (ahem, Hope springs eternal!).
Guided Reading Mode
If you choose to, you can put the story selection in guided reading mode. As they read, students are stopped every few paragraphs and prompted to answer a question. They can’t just skip over the questions because any text below the question is blurred and unreadable. Once they answer the question, more of the text clears and they can begin reading again. This method slows them down and allows them to check their own retention of the text. Also, it’s harder for them to get lost in the text and just give up because they can’t find the answer to the questions at the end.
There are a few tools for students to use, too. Any vocabulary that may be challenging in the lexile level is tagged. The students can select the tag and a definition pops up. They can also highlight words and check the in-program dictionary. They even have the option to have the story read to them. It is read in the halted robot voice, but could still be helpful to some students.
Yes, it does track progress … in each class … and compares classes … for free. Some of the categories are assignment averages, informational versus literary, and an assignment breakdown for the classes. It even lists the top students and the students who are struggling. You can also see how individual students are doing with each story they read. As you score answers, you can leave feedback.
Additional Cool Features
I’ll use the words of CommonLit for these features as I have not used them myself … yet!
Great for social studies teachers or for building background knowledge in reading class, CommonLit’s text sets cover a range of historical, cultural, and political topics and include relevant reading passages from a variety of genres.
Teaching a book unit this year? It’s a best practice to supplement book units with short passages from a variety of different genres. These reading passages were handpicked by master teachers to supplement your book unit. They provide essential background information and can help spark discussions around common themes.
Handcrafted to be engaging and rigorous, CommonLit units are groupings of 6-10 texts organized around an essential question. Each unit lasts 1-3 weeks and comes with a graphic organizer, paired texts, multiple choice questions, short constructed response questions, and final assessment essay prompts. While unit materials are mostly printable for now, you can assign each individual text digitally.
Teachers’ Lounge: Texts with Lesson Plans
CommonLit’s “Teachers’ Lounge” is a place where teachers can find high-quality lesson plans built around some of our most high-interest texts.
I know, I’ve said that already. It’s just so nice to find something that doesn’t cost money or too much time. I’m still pinching myself.
CommonLit is easy to navigate and read. As my students used the ed-site today, I heard no complaints and the students had very few questions about how the site works.
There is even a blog with helpful articles by teachers who are writing and developing CommonLit.
I think the only con is that students have to register with an email address. Our county provides students with an address for this very thing, but your county may not have this accommodation.
Maybe in the coming new year you can give CommonLit a try in your ELA classroom. I think you’ll love it as much as I do. What do you have to lose? It’s free!
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