Core Unit 5
The Teaching of Literary Appreciation and
Academic Standards
Using Adolescent/Young Adult Literature
Part of the job description of most language arts teachers includes teaching to help students
achieve academic standards approved by states or local school boards. This means that the
teaching of a novel must usually be shaped to also address mastery of particular literary analysis,
writing, reading comprehension, and oral presentation skills. Most states post the academic
standards they intend for students to achieve. Below is an example of Indiana’s Literary
Response and Analysis standard for grade 9.
English/Language Arts: Grade 9: Standard 3
READING: Literary Response and Analysis
Students read and respond to grade-level-appropriate historically or
culturally significant works of literature that reflect and enhance their
study of history and social science. They conduct in-depth analyses of the
themes of these works.
Structural Features of Literature
Explain the relationship between the purposes and the characteristics of different
forms of dramatic literature (including comedy, tragedy, and dramatic monologue).
Compare and contrast the presentation of a similar theme or topic across genres
(different types of writing) to explain how the selection of genre shapes the theme or
Narrative Analysis of Grade-Level-Appropriate Text
Analyze interactions between characters in a literary text and explain the way those
interactions affect the plot.
Determine characters’ traits by what the characters say about themselves in narration,
dialogue, and soliloquy (when they speak out loud to themselves).
Compare works that express a universal theme and provide evidence to support the
views expressed in each work.
Analyze and trace an author’s development of time and sequence, including the use of
complex literary devices, such as foreshadowing (providing clues to future events) or
flashbacks (interrupting the sequence of events to include information about an event
that happened in the past).
Recognize and understand the significance of various literary devices, including
figurative language, imagery, allegory (the use of fictional figures and actions to
express truths about human experiences), and symbolism (the use of a symbol to
represent an idea or theme), and explain their appeal.
Interpret and evaluate the impact of ambiguities, subtleties, contradictions, and
ironies in a text.
Explain how voice and the choice of a narrator affect characterization and the tone,
plot, and credibility of a text.
9.3.10 Identify and describe the function of dialogue, soliloquies, asides, character foils, and
stage designs in dramatic literature.
Dialogue: a conversation between two characters
Soliloquies: long speeches in which characters, on stage alone, reveal inner
thoughts aloud
Asides: words spoken by characters directly to the audience
Character foils: characters who are used as contrasts to another character
Stage designs: directions and drawings for the setting of a play
Literary Criticism
9.3.11 Evaluate the aesthetic qualities of style, including the impact of diction and figurative
language on tone, mood, and theme.
9.3.12 Analyze the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its
historical period. Example: Read selections that are connected to a certain period in
history, such as “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving and Our Town by
Thornton Wilder. Describe the role that the time period plays in these works and
analyze the author’s perspective on the period.
Many states, like Indiana, also have language learning standards for English as Second
Language learners at a variety of competency and grade levels (See examples at: ).
MCREL (Mid-continent Research on Education and Learning) has developed similar
language arts standards and benchmarks based on a systematic analysis of several states’
academic standards. The standards provide typical expectations for grades K-12. These
standards and benchmarks may be found at:
In addition to standards for literary analysis, English teachers must also address standards for
reading comprehension, writing, and oral presentation.
Young adult literature and assignments drawing from YA literature can be used as
vehicles for helping students achieve academic standards while at the same time helping to
develop a love of reading. In fact, during this time of heavy academic emphasis and testing,
assignments that draw upon literature relevant to students may be more important than ever for
developing and maintaining a love of reading.
Developing an Appreciation for Literature Along with Skills
According to Nilsen and Donnelson, a main goal of teaching literature is to elicit a response
from students so they can explore their own lives and improve their logical thinking skills (Nilsen
and Donnelson, 2005). Nilson and Donnelson discuss seven stages of literary appreciation an
individual who loves to read goes through during his or her life. Stages one through three
encompass the kindergarten through elementary years and involve:
1) (stage one) developing an early recognition of the pleasure and profit from printed words;
2) (stage two) learning to decode words becoming independent with print, and
3) (stage three) being able to lose oneself in books by the late elementary grades.
Stages four (finding oneself in books) and stage five (venturing beyond self) include the Jr. and
Sr. high student, and stages six (reading widely) and seven (aesthetic appreciation) are most
often associated with college students and adults.
An elaboration of Nilsen and Donnelson’s 4th and 5th stages of literary appreciation follows
Optimal Age
Sample reading materials
Jr. High
oneself in
Realistic fiction
Contemporary problem
Wish-fulfilling stories
Science fiction
Social issues fiction
Forbidden materials
“Different” stories
Sample Actions
Hides novels in textbooks
to read during classes
Stays up at night reading
Uses reading as an escape
From social pressures
Begins buying own books
Gets reading suggestions
from friends
Reads beyond assignments
For teachers working with most adolescents, a key to developing an appreciation of
reading is first selecting young adult novels in which students can identify people like themselves
and then begin to venture beyond themselves. When such novels are used in assignments that
address academic standards, they go a long way toward developing and maintaining a love for
reading while also improving language arts skills. In addition, positive experiences with relevant
young adult literature can serve as a bridge to later study of more complex classic literature.
Merging Standards-Based Teaching with Nilsen and Donelson’s Concept of Literary
California’s Cyberguide curriculum project has funded teachers to develop and post on
the Internet teaching units that use novels and incorporate several of California’s Academic
Standards. Some of these novels are young adult novels. Timeri Tokay, for example, has
developed a teaching unit based upon S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders that addresses standards for
literary response, reading comprehension, and writing (See: ). Consuela Manrquiez has developed a similar
Cyberguide for the novel I am Joaquín (See:
Other examples include Mary Jewell’s unit for ESL students on John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and
Men (See: ) and a unit on Gary Paulsen’s
Canyons (See: ) developed by Kerry
Farrer and Terry Heck.
Scholars at San Diego State University have also developed the concept of Webquests.
These are guided projects that lead students to develop projects and presentations using
resources identified by teachers and include grading rubrics for assignments. Some of these
Webquests build on Young Adult Literature and are linked to academic standards in Language
Arts and other areas. Some examples can be seen at the websites below:
Whilrigig Webquest connected to a YA novel dealing with alcohol abuse (Connects to
Language Arts Standards)
Wind in the Door by Madeline LeEngle (Connects to California Standards in several
Holes by Louis Sachar(Connects to Arizona Standards)
In addition to these teacher-developed units which connect to Internet resources and
projects, many other standards-based resources that use Young Adult novels can be found on
the Internet. Sometimes these provided by teachers, sometimes by publishing companies, and
sometimes through compilation services like ERIC. Carla Beard at Web English Teacher has
gathered together teaching materials for more than 50 young adult authors (See: ). Edmund Sass has also gathered links to teaching
materials for dozens of young adult novels. His collection can be found at: . Other teaching materials related to
particular novels or authors can often be found by simply typing titles or author names into a
search engine such as Google.
The American Library Association has gathered lists of high interest and award winning
titles at: . The American Library
Association also provides a similar page for award winning children’s books that are often
appropriate for younger and less capable adolescent readers (See:
Assignment Options: Core Unit 5
For two different young adult novels (See American Library Association lists mentioned
above for ideas):
A. locate and evaluate web-based teaching activities in terms of quality and
usefulness for students you teach or could be teaching (describe these students);
B. discuss the activities in terms of academic standards for your own state (or
use MCREL standards if you cannot locate your state standards). What
standards do the activities address? How adequately do they address them?
C. if the activities don’t completely match your academic standards, describe how
you could modify the activities or develop new ones to match at least three state
academic standards.
2. Interview 3-4 literature teachers (you may use yourself as one of the teachers) who have
taught young adult novels to find out how they teach these novels in a climate with heavy
emphasis on academic standards.
A. Describe the ideas you have gathered;
B. Based on ideas you gathered from interviews, for two different YA novels,
develop at least one activity per novel (i.e. activity description, assignment,
student materials) that addresses an academic standard.
3. If you have web-page development skills, follow the Cyberguide or Webquest examples
mentioned above to develop web-based activities for 1 young adult novel. Your guide
need not be as developed as the Cyberguides, but should include:
A. 4-5 days of activities;
B. clear connections to academic standards which you list; and
C. links to web-based resources.
If you take on a more ambitious project involving multiple readings and interdisciplinary
goals (i.e. language arts plus social studies, science or some other content area), this
option may be counted as both Unit 5 and Unit 6 assignment options. Contact your