10 Ideas to Teach Beyond Reading Comprehension

I am thrilled to share 10 literary activities that will help students engage with fiction texts. It’s more than about being meaningful. It’s about providing students the tools they need to deeply immerse themselves in literature and realize all the joys reading can bring. My name is Lauren Szczesny, the founder of LIT Lessons, and I know these 10 activities will help students not just learn in creative ways but love learning as they do!

Reading comprehension is a foundational skill students need to be successful in any class, especially English Language Arts. Yet, as students approach upper elementary grades and middle school, they must develop a new skill set when engaging with fiction texts. Beyond identifying story elements, students begin to think critically in different ways. They start to analyze literary devices, synthesize how author’s craft texts, consider the ways symbols and themes connect, examine how setting influences conflict, and even how point of view shapes the reader’s understanding of the text. It’s deep learning, and it requires thoughtful, special teaching. In short, it’s all hard work.

This shift in learning can be dramatic, for students and teachers! However, the teaching and learning that results from that shift can be amazing. It is amazing because entirely new worlds open to students as they explore the unique elements of the books they read. It’s never easy to take them there, but it is possible. To help, here are 10 ideas that offer creative, thoughtful activities for students to get you started!

Character – What Would _____ Do?

This activity sparks fantastic discussion! Go beyond identifying character traits and prompt students to think about how those traits influence action. Ask what a character might do when faced with a scenario. For instance, you might ask, “What would Auggie (from Wonder) do if he saw an elderly person drop their groceries on the sidewalk?” Not only does this question ask students to consider his character, but it also encourages them to think about the outside factors that influence who he is.

Setting – Mood Lamp

The mood lamp activity is a great way for students to analyze the setting of a text. First, have students select a color they think represents the mood the setting creates (a wonderful discussion activity on its own!). Then, in three mood lamp bubbles, encourage students to think of three aspects of the setting that create that mood.

Conflict – Advice Column

For this question-response style writing activity, have students really dive deep into a conflict. Students write a letter to an advice columnist from the perspective of the character, explaining the problem they face and how it makes them feel. Then, students respond to the character as the advice columnist and give three pieces of advice on how they might resolve their conflict or what they can learn from the challenge they face.

Plot – Design a Plot Roller Coaster

Just as roller coasters have ups and downs, twists and turns, so do story plots! After reading a short story or novel, have students design a roller coaster that represents the plot of the narrative. For this creative assignment, students consider character emotions, conflicts, suspense, and more as they design their own roller coaster.

Theme – If Only I’d Known

Take theme one step further with this creative exercise. After reading a fiction text, students analyze a theme and lessons learned. Then, have them apply that lesson to a scene from the story. Encourage students to rewrite the scene and show how it would change if only the character knew the lesson they did not learn until the end.

Point of View – Vary the View

This activity can be as short or long as you want! Simply ask, how would this story, chapter, or scene be different if ____________ narrated it? Encourage students to think about how literary elements like conflict, tone, setting, and theme would change. If you want to extend the activity, have students rewrite the scene entirely from the different character’s perspective.

Tone & Mood – Word Choice Tracker

For this math-inspired activity, use a bar graph to track words, phrases, or sentences that create a positive, negative, or neutral tone. Then, prompt students to analyze their graph, diving into their data to identify the tone and using the evidence they collected to prove their analysis.

Symbolism – Surrounded by Symbols

Symbolism is an abstract concept and can be challenging for students. Start simple! Create fun sentences and then omit words or phrases and replace them with symbols (or even emojis!). Then, ask students to figure out the meaning of the sentence based on the deeper meaning of the symbols used. While students are analyzing symbols, they’ll actually feel like they’re breaking secret codes!

Flashback – Picture the Parallels

A picture is worth a thousand words, so have your students create a visual to understand flashbacks. Prompt students to draw the image created by the flashback. Then, create an image of the current context. Finally, compare the two and discuss how the flashback shines a light on the present.

Figurative Language – Write About It

Combine story elements with figurative language! For instance, have students describe the mood of the setting using personification or have them describe a character trait with a simile. Students will be writing their own examples of figurative language to analyze other elements. They will undoubtedly surprise with creative examples and have fun doing it, all the while analyzing the text in a meaningful way.

If you’re interested in more theme activities and materials, check out this FREE resource. It includes 9 theme activities and a theme video lesson.

About the Author

As an English major at the University of Pennsylvania, I cultivated and nurtured my deep passion for literature. From there, I taught middle school ELA for nearly a decade, creating materials and using novels as lenses with which to study the world. Now, I develop curriculum full-time, providing countless teachers and students with materials that foster deep appreciation, analysis, and real-world application of the stories they study.

You can follow along with Lauren with TPT store, Facebook page, or Instagram @officiallitlessons.

You might also like this post about 10 ways to encourage reading in your classroom.

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