Useful Instructional Strategies for Literature-Based Instruction

There are many different strategies that research has shown are effective in literature-based instruction (Cooper, 1993). These include scaffolding of instruction, modeling, cooperative learning, student choices, self-initiated reading and writing, using different modes of reading, activation of prior knowledge, and student responses to literature.

Scaffolded Instruction

Scaffolded instruction is a concept that has grown out of research on how individuals learn (Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1986; Vygotsky, 1978). This concept is based on the idea that at the beginning of learning, students need a great deal of support; gradually, this support is taken away to allow students to try their independence. This is what Pearson (1985) called the gradual release of responsibility. If students are unable to achieve independence, the teacher brings back the support system to help students experience success until they are able to achieve independence (Cooper, 1993).

The concept of support in scaffolded instruction is much broader than the modeling and teaching of strategies and skills; this is only one part of the scaffolding process. Providing support takes place in a number of ways - the way in which the selections are organized in a theme, the amount of prior knowledge activation that is provided, the way in which the literature is read by the students, and the types of responses students are encouraged to make.


Modeling has been shown to be a vital part of helping students learn the process of constructing meaning and of helping them learn the various strategies and skills involved in this process (Bandura, 1986). Modeling takes place first through the literature itself (Walmsley & Walp, 1990) and the way it is organized in thematic units. Modeling of specific strategies and skills is also provided by the teacher for those students who need it. This is done by using literature that has been read as models to show the use of strategies and skills (Walmsley & Walp, 1990). These lessons are known as mini-lessons and they may be formal or informal (Cooper, 1993). Modeling by the teacher is also done through reading aloud (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985), through demonstrating response activities and discussions (Martinez & Roser, 1991), and through shared writing (Cooper, 1993). Students also provide modeling for each other through cooperative learning.

Cooperative Learning

Cooperative learning is also a very effective instructional strategy that works well in literature-based instruction (Slavin, 1987). Students learn to read, write, and think by having meaningful engagements with more experienced individuals (Wells, 1990). Many times these individuals may be their peers.

Having Choices

Having choices in learning to read and write helps students meet their own individual needs (Johnston & Allington, 1991). By giving students options to choose from in what they read, how they read, and how they respond to a piece of literature, we allow them to actively construct their own meanings (Martinez & Roser, 1991).

Independent Reading and Writing

Self-initiated or independent reading and writing are also important instructional strategies to use in literature-based instruction.

See also Independent Reading and Self-Initiated Writing

Modes of Reading

The term modes of reading refers to the different ways literature may be read -- aloud by the teacher, shared, guided by the teacher, cooperatively, or independently (Cooper, 1993). By changing the modes of reading used for different students, we are able to scaffold instruction and provide different levels of support for students in order to make them successful in reading a piece of literature (Cooper, 1993; Cullinan, 1992; Tunnell & Jacobs, 1989).

Prior Knowledge Activation

Activating prior knowledge is another instructional strategy that is important in literature-based instruction (Cooper, 1993). Many different strategies can be used in activating prior knowledge; most of these strategies help students become independent in activating their own prior knowledge. Research on schema theory and prior knowledge has clearly shown that students construct meaning by using their prior knowledge to interact with the text (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). A thematic organization in which themes are carefully developed with related pieces of literature also supports the activation and development of prior knowledge; by reading several related selections, students build on their prior knowledge from previous selections as they read the next selection.

Responses to Literature

Responses to literature are also important to literature-based instruction (Martinez & Roser, 1991). By encouraging and allowing students to respond to literature, we promote the active construction of meaning.
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