Students Enjoy Literacy Responsibilities

By Mia N. Small, English Language Arts Teacher, West Cary Middle School, Cary, NC

Take a minute to think about one of the most reserved students you have either taught or interacted with in a learning environment. Imagine if that same student began to effortlessly fulfill the role of a student leader. 

What does it take to make students accountable for their literacy engagement? We, as teachers, often hear or read about the role of literacy in students’ daily lives. From students viewing messages on social media to writing text messages to their best friend forever (BFF), literacy is ubiquitous. However, what does that kind of empowerment and decision-making look like in a classroom?

During this past school year, our Seventh-Grade Professional Learning Team met weekly to plan lessons that were not only aligned with the state standards but that would foster literacy engagement and responsibility.

One of our most successful literacy lessons involved a cross-curriculum text: Paul Revere’s Letter and Deposition.* Students were assigned the role of becoming an “Excerpt Expert.” To start things off, I modeled my expectations with two excerpts from the beginning of the text (see the first excerpt I used below). 

Paul Revere’s Words My Translation
“In the Fall of 1774 & Winter of 1775 I was one of upwards of thirty…who formed our selves [sic] in to a Committee for the purpose of watching the Movements of The British Soldiers.” “During the fall and winter, Revere was one of nearly 30 men who monitored the British soldiers’ movements.”

I orally shared the modern translation. I also explained why I included specific information. For example, mentioning the seasons helps readers infer the effect of the weather during Revere’s travels.

Paul RevereNext, each group selected two numbers written on sticky notes from the white board. Unbeknownst to the students, the sticky notes corresponded to an excerpt number. Each excerpt ranged from 2 to 12 lines.

In groups, students read and annotated their selected excerpts. Then groups were in charge of putting Revere’s words into language that would be easily understood. Students presented to their peers and everyone was responsible for listening and writing down the presented information.

One of my most reserved students started a trend by encouraging her group to present at the front of the class instead of standing near their desks. It was amazing to witness unprompted peer-to-peer encouragement. We provide students with the tools to engage in lessons, so when the students begin to steer those lessons, it makes the ride even more rewarding.

*The lesson was purchased from