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Syllabi, Strategies & Assignments

Sample Syllabus

Author Study Assignment

The instructor generates a list of “critical” authors who write about tough social issues and assigns one author to each student. Directions are for students.

  • Develop background knowledge by reading: Frost, S. & Sibberson, F. (Eds.). (2005). Author Studies. School Talk, 10(4), National Council of Teachers of English.
  • Conduct a web search for your assigned author.
    Look for resources that might be helpful to you in your own classroom.
  • Gather several books by your author.
    What do you notice about them upon first glance?
    Do certain topics or themes dominate the author’s work?
    Are any of this author’s books controversial? Why?
  • Read the books and think about how you might use them in a classroom with children. Consider how you might introduce each book and the sequence in which you might share the books in read aloud.
  • Share and discuss the books with others in a small group. Talk about how you might ask students to respond to the books in order to deepen their understanding of         :
    • the texts themselves;
    • a specific concept within the texts;
    • a literary element in the texts;
    • the author’s work/writing style;
      You may think of responses in relation to each book or to the books as a set.
  • Create a one-page (both sides may be used) brochure that includes the following:
    • the author’s background;
    • his/her work (books written, artistic accomplishments, awards, etc.);
    • ideas for using this author’s work in the classroom. How might controversial topics be addressed in ways that mediate conflict?
    • what this author brings that might be new or different;
    • where someone could find more information about this author.
  • Share author studies in class and post brochures online.

Alternative Reader Response Strategies

What follows is a collection of instructional strategies that you may want to use as part of your regular response to the weekly readings or as activities for leading the class.  For further information see, Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquirers (Short, Harste, w/ Burke, 1996, Heinemann) and Literacy Activities Handbook (Gossard & Lewison, 1993)

Found Poem A Found Poem is created by selecting powerful phrases from an article and writing them in the form of a poem.  After reading, in pairs or small groups, go back to the text to select and copy up to 7 or 8 powerful words or phrases (not whole sentences or paragraphs) that you feel best reflect the meaning of the piece. Rearrange these words and phrases into a poem, refining it until it captures the essence of the piece.  Groups then read their Found Poems aloud to the class.  These poems serve as great illustrations of the many different ways of interpreting a text.

“Four A” Strategy  Write about something in the text that you Agree with, something you want to Argue with, something you Aspire to, and at least one underlying Assumption you think the author is making. (Adapted from the Four “A”s Text Protocol, National School Reform Faculty, http://www.nsrfharmony.org/).

Graphic Representation   The graphic representation activity enables you to make sense of a particular subject in a new way.  In collaborative groups, represent the important issues of an article by creating a large graphic (chart, poster, banner, etc.) to present to the class.  In their design, you should try to integrate:

  • words or quotes from the article
  • a meaningful use of color
  • drawings or symbols
  • a thoughtful title

Jigsaw This strategy provides a way for a class or group to read an article or other text collaboratively in a shorter amount of time than it would take for each participant to read it independently. Before meeting, go through the text and decide where you might break it up into smaller sections. Number the sections on your copy and make a note of how many sections there are. Break the class into the same number of groups and assign one section to each group to read and report back on after a specified amount of time.

Learning Log   You may find this log format useful when reading texts or watching videos for content, concepts, and information.   New ideas from the text or video (quotations, notes, main points, predictions, problems needing solution, etc.) recorded in Column 1 are paired with the your responses to the material in Column 2.

Learning Log



Information from the Text/Video


Responses to the Text/Video

(Notes, quotes, facts, main points, key ideas, examples, details, etc.)

(Comments, questions, summaries

feelings, connections, reflections)


Variation: Three-Column Log. In the 1st column, write a quote or summary for something that stood out for you. Include author and page number. In the 2nd column, tell why. In the 3rd column, reflect or make connections.

Question Web After reading an article or chapter, make a list or cluster of whatever you wondered about or found confusing or puzzling.  Rephrase each item as a question and select the one question that is most important to you. Place this question in the center of a large sheet of paper and around it create a web of many possible answers as well as new questions that emerge.  Groups share their question webs with the class and discuss the most interesting questions and answers.

Quick write

After reading an article or chapter, set a time for 5 - 15 minutes.  During that time write continuously about your thoughts related to what you have just read.  If you run out of things to write, you can write "I don't know what to write" until you think of something else.  Once the timer goes off, read back over your free write to highlight parts that you think capture key ideas.  In discussion group, share your free write by passing your paper to another member of your group.  They read what you have highlighted and "ink shed" their thoughts in the margins of your free write.  After several turns of "ink shedding" pass the free write back to the author so that he or she can process what others had to say.  Share final thoughts as time permits.

Variation:  Authors share quick write highlights in discussion group.

Role Play an Author Panel Discussion

Role-playing is a dramatic process which enables group members to gain insight into the thinking of a significant literacy thinker/researcher, by assuming the role of that person and answering questions about his or her background, ideas, motives in writing a particular piece, interests, etc. This works best if the group has read articles by four different authors and each member prepares to be a different author. Each member comes to class ready to ask questions and engage in a panel discussion with other literacy personalities.

Text to Text, Text to Self, Text to World Connections

As you read, jot down other articles or experiences that the reading makes you think about. A text to text connection can be made when what you are currently reading reminds you of something you previously read. For example, this story or article reminds me of another story or something I read in another article. A text to self connection can be made when the text you are currently reading reminds you about something that happened in your own life. A text to world connection is made when what you are reading reminds you of an issue in the larger culture or world. In your group, share the connections that you and other members of your group made and talk about how the connections relate to what was being read. 

Traditional Reader Response

At the top of a page in your notebook, put identifying information (topic, chapters being read, article title, etc.).  As you read each chapter or article and want to respond to a particular point that an author is making, put a number by the point (in the book or on the article).  In your notebook, put the same number along with the page number on which the point was made.  Write your response to the point.  The responses may be focused on:

  • Personal responses, reactions, connections to your own life, agreements, disagreements, questions;
  • Conceptual relationships among the various readings, implications for instruction, strength of the piece (in terms of research, theory, and/or significance);
  • Writing style—how effective was the writing in conveying the author’s message: and/or
  • Compelling point of view--how convincing were the author’s arguments?

This can also be accomplished by margin notes on the articles or by using a computer file.

Webbing What's On My Mind

After reading and jotting down initial responses to an article or chapter that has been read, brainstorm a web of issues, themes, and questions that you might discuss in class. Starting with individual webs, your discussion group decides which issue, theme, or question is the most interesting to begin the discussion.  Discussion continues as other issues, themes, and questions are chosen.  As you are talking, create a new web that maps your groups’ discussion. The group webs can be shared with the entire class.