Skip to content

From the Classroom: Response to Literature

This month’s “From the Classroom” column features a lesson from Brian Kelley, PAWLP Fellow and 8th grade language arts teacher. If you feel inspired after reading Brian’s post, please consider sharing your own favorite lesson here on the blog! To learn more about contributing, please click here.


8th grade ELA


7 days


Since we began the year by encouraging independent, self-selected reading, I wanted to build in some writing to complement that effort. Furthermore, I was given a boost from reading Jim Burke’s Writing Reminders: Tools, Tips, and Techniques. Burke notes that kids need to experience writing in many genres, “Writing a response to literature differs from most other forms of writing in that it involves reading, understanding, and writing about another text; for these reasons, and the likelihood that such a prompt will appear on any exam students take, this is a crucial form to master (211).”

Fortunately, a response to literature can take many forms, many scaffolds, many paths. It can answer an explicit question and it can address a more personal experience–what the text means to the writer.


  1. In dialogue journals, students wrote entires around the Book-Head-Heart protocol from “Disruptive Thinking” by Kylene Beers and Robert Prost. I noticed that my students struggled knowing the difference between connections made by “the head” and “the heart.” Anything not directly attributed to a text connection gave them some trouble. They could point to a piece of text. They could tell me that it mattered. Yet, explaining why it mattered proved difficult. Furthermore, when we discussed how text connections could be complemented by personal connections, they did not quite follow my line of thinking.
  2. Students selected a novel, a poem, or a song to write an extended response to literature.
  3. We created lists of moments in the text which appealed to us, which made us want to question, which made us want to learn from, et al. We spent some time talking and sharing examples. For instance, one student said she “wanted to jump into The Fault in Our Stars” so she could shake Hazel by the shoulders to wake her up to the fact that Augustus was in love with her. When I asked the student why that mattered, she said, “Because then she would have known happiness. She didn’t know she could be happy. Maybe she didn’t even think she deserved happiness.” I spent the better part of subsequent classes asking kids, “Could you see that to me in the text? Could you compare it to something in the world, from another book, from history? Could you share what it reminds you of from your life?”
  4. Once students could talk about those questions with me or a writing partner, we wrote about the one moment that appealed to us in some way. I emphasized talking about it first so we could dig into it. I stressed their asking one another “Why did the moment matter? What does it make us think of? What can we compare it to (in real life, current events, another book)? I stressed the importance of a text connection is the connection and so often “connection” is about being human.


Talking. We all know 8th-graders enjoy talking. A point of emphasis for us this year is using talking (at respectful-of-other-people levels) as a way to develop and improve our ideas.


I am using class time for students to read 2-3 essays of their peers so that they can leave positive feedback via post-it note. This continues the conversations, but it also exposes kids to more books, poetry, and music that they may want to check out.

Brian Kelley profileBrian Kelley teaches 8th-grade creative writing at Charles F. Patton Middle School in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. You can email him at,  connect with him on Twitter @_briank_ , or follow his podcast The Classroom (on iTunes) or his blog:


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Mackenzie Conway #

    I really enjoyed reading about your creative lesson! I can see from the pictures that this was a successful and interactive activity. I love how you let the students discuss it and “dig into it” before writing about it. This allows students to get all their ideas heard prior to putting it on paper and it definitely enhances their confidence in their ideas! Thank you for sharing!


    December 4, 2017

We'd love to hear what you think! Please comment below.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: