How to teach A-level English literature

Updated July 19, 2017

Teaching English literature can be a rewarding experience. However, it can be difficult to engage students and convey the importance of learning to read and understand the literature presented. An effective educator must prepare lesson plans that will interest students in the texts and spur them to in-depth discussion. A teacher should always reflect on each lesson's focus and objective, and allow time in class for student feedback. The goal is to show students that reading and learning is a rewarding and lifelong process.

An effective educator must decide on a focused concept or specific topic she will teach during an English lesson. Choose a topic that is part of the curriculum for A-level literature. For example, "context" is a suitable concept for A-level literature lessons and is a useful angle when examining many literary works.

Choose a standard to guide the lesson. An English literature standard developed by the National Council of Teachers of English states that students should "read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the human experience." Following this standard, an English literature teacher might decide to focus on a historical setting that is unfamiliar to his students. Such national standards contribute to the ongoing discussion about English language arts classroom activities and curricula.

Choose an objective to directly guide the instruction for each lesson. For example, students might learn how a historical setting affects the plot in a work of fiction. With this objective in mind, the educator can select activities that will support learning the desired objective. For example, the class could examine the setting of the English royal court when discussing a Shakespeare play.

Choose a thought-provoking lead-in to introduce the lesson and engage the students. Write a question on the board, give students two minutes to respond in writing and then allow for class discussion. During the discussion, introduce the lesson's objective so that student's understand the connection to the lead-in.

Choose step-by-step procedures supporting the objective. Clearly explain the material and model appropriate behaviour at this point. With the definition of setting and plot in mind, the teacher might read a short selection from the literature text and then ask students to determine how the setting in the selection affects the events of the plot.

Plan for independent student practice. Students need to think and practice independently during the lesson while the educator is present. In-class review questions about the lesson can help reinforce the lesson's objective. Include difficult questions that might open new avenues of discussion.

Design appropriate assessment. Educators can assess students and their own lesson toward the end of each class. The assessment can an informal discussion or a more in-depth assessment such as a prompted writing activity.

After class, an educator should reflect on the lesson. Was the lesson's objective met? Were gifted students challenged? Did below-level students learn? Many instructors keep teaching journals to help hone their technique and create improved lesson plans in the future.

Things You'll Need

  • English literature text
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About the Author

Randi Flynn began writing in 1996 and has been published in Crosswalk, KY Pacesetter, Literacy Lift and as a freelance book reviewer. She is an English instructor who graduated from Morehead State University and holds a Master of Science in curriculum, instruction, and technology from Nova Southeastern University. Flynn also serves as adviser to a student literary arts magazine.