I was recently browsing Pinterest to procrastinate on school work when I came across a website that actually made me want to get back to work. Well played, life…well played. The website is commonlit.org, and it offers a compilation of free texts sorted by type, theme, and grade-level. It can be difficult and time-consuming to differentiate content, but websites like commonlit.org give me confidence that I can meet the needs of all of my students! Keep reading to learn more about Common Lit and a few of my other favorite things (websites for differentiating texts, to be specific).
- Common Lit: The first thing that struck me about commonlit.org was its broad listing of common literary themes. Once you select a theme, you can choose a discussion question based around that theme, which will take you to a page with relevant fiction and nonfiction texts sorted by grade level. Even better, each text includes a set of text-dependent questions and discussion questions rooted in Common Core Standards. It also includes links to paired texts and related multimedia, answer keys, and even a parent guide. In addition to theme, you can also search by genre, literary device, or Common Core Standard. Commonlit.org is completely free, though you do have to register in order to access all of its resources. My only complaint with Common Lit is that some themes have limited resources for particular grade levels; however, I think this will only improve over time, as Common Lit relies on teachers to add content. You could easily use Common Lit to differentiate content by assigning heterogeneous groups texts at their reading level related to the same theme, genre, or standard. However, if you want all students to read the same text, the next two resources are definitely for you!
- Rewordify: Let’s say you find an 11-12th grade text on Common Lit that you want to modify for struggling readers or use with a younger grade level. Simply copy and paste the text into rewordify.com and click “rewordify” to create a modified text. Rewordify identifies tricky vocabulary words and replaces them with easier synonyms and/or definitions. You can toggle the settings to adjust how many words are replaced as well as whether/how the original words are displayed. In addition to modifying texts, Rewordify offers some strong vocabulary and grammar features. For instance, you can print lists, quizzes and activities using the vocabulary words replaced in the original text; you can also view parts of speech, color-coded for identification. Like Common Lit, Rewordify is totally free, and even offers a wealth of classic literature and public documents if you are looking for a particular text.
- Newsela: This resource is somewhat of a mix between Common Lit and Rewordify, offering modern and historical news articles, primary sources, biographies, and famous speeches each re-written at five different Lexiles. Each article provides a writing prompt as well as four text-based questions focused on specific Common Core standards. Articles can be filtered by topic–opinion, war & peace, kids, law, health, and more–as well as Common Core standard, and of course, Lexile. One of my favorite features of Newsela is that you can find or create text sets based on novels, themes, subject areas, and more, so if you find an article you love, you don’t have to worry about losing it! The one downside to Newsela (if you’re cheap like me) is that the paid version has some awesome features that you will have to look at longingly every time you log in. However, if you are willing to pay for a subscription, you can create classes, assign articles, and track results based on Common Core Standards. Newsela will also automatically adjust the Lexile for each student based on their performance on past quizzes.
- Actively Learn: One of my close friends, a fellow middle school English teacher, recommended this resource, and I am stoked to use it in my classroom! This tool provides a wide variety of free and paid fiction and nonfiction texts, searchable by grade-level, genre, subject, page count, and more. In this way, it is very similar to Common Lit. However, what distinguishes Actively Learn is its assessment features. Whereas Common Lit provides an uneditable set of text-based questions, Actively Learn allows you to use and edit pre-made questions OR create your own questions. It also allows you to place questions anywhere within the text and require students to answer the question before they can continue reading (if you like). Questions can be multiple-choice, poll, or short answer, and you can align Common Core Standards with them. Aside from questions, you can also add links, notes, and multimedia, and even whiteout text that you don’t want students to read. Like Newsela, Actively Learn allows you to create classes, assign texts, and grade assignments. Unlike
Newsela, you do not have to pay for a subscription in order to use these features; you do, however, have to have a subscription in order to use more advanced features like assessment data. In addition, the free version of Actively Learn allows you to upload three internet article, Google Doc, or PDF imports per month, while the paid version allows unlimited imports. This being said, the free version is by no means lacking, and I would still highly recommend this tool.
Differentiating content doesn’t have to require tons of time or boring content. With tools like these, we can reach and challenge all students to meet their potential! Do you have other ideas for how to simplify the process of modifying content? If so, leave a comment! Enjoy the rest of your summer, and happy teaching!