The use of technology in the English language arts classroom is hotly debated, but there's no denying that digital tools can offer unique opportunities for teaching and learning. This is especially true when it comes to teaching literature. Whether it's through interactive lessons or online projects, technology can help bring literature to life in ways that encourage student interest.

If you want to add a layer of technology to your literature units, there are important things to consider before getting started. Let’s take a look at some pointers!

Make sure the tech serves the lesson—and the student.

Does the technology you use help students understand the text better? Or does it help them understand the technology better?

The main concern when using technology to teach literature is that it should help your students meet the learning objectives you've set for them. That's the case whether you're using computers or just books, pens, and paper. If you use a specific technology in your classroom, there should be a specific justification for why that technology is essential to the lesson.

But there are secondary concerns, too.

Teaching with technology that students understand and use themselves on a regular basis could help them engage more thoroughly with the texts you're teaching.

Author and teacher Jordan Shapiro offers this on thinking critically about modern forms of media:

“I don’t advocate for games in the classroom because I think it’s important that people learn about videogames. I do it for two reasons: one is to engage in contextualization; the other reason has to do with fostering a critical way of thinking about media and especially interactive media. Whether you play videogames or not, nobody in the world is going to get through the next 20 years without having gone through some kind of education into the digital, interactive, procedural process.”

Engaging in discourse about new forms of media—not just video games, but also graphic novels, video essays, etc.—will better prepare students to think critically about these forms of media and how to analyze them as texts. This could be important for their future success as these forms of media become increasingly prominent.

Crucial for the literature classroom, most traditional methods of literary analysis can still be applied to works in these new mediums, meaning that many of the skills students develop by analyzing the new forms of media can also be used to study traditional texts.

Or you can teach a traditional text alongside a reinterpretation of that text in a newer medium, as with this choose-your-own-adventure-style game based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. This could lead to all kinds of great discussions and textual analysis—and could help your students develop a new understanding of just what makes Shakespeare's original text so powerful.

Use the internet to your advantage.

The internet is all about connectivity, which is why it’s great for facilitating discussion. If your school uses learning management systems like Google Classroom, Canvas, Blackboard, or Schoology, consider setting up a forum or comments section for your classes in which you and your students can talk about the books you're teaching.

There are a couple advantages to this approach:

  • You can ask your students questions or post comments about the book anytime.
  • Answer a student's question once, and it's there for everyone to see. Students with similar questions get their problems solved at the same time, saving you time and effort.

Of course, there are some things to be careful about:

  • The internet can be a notoriously toxic environment. Make sure that when you set up your forum, the only people who can access it and post comments to it are you and your students.​
  • Privacy concerns! If you're unable to restrict access to only you and your students, then anyone who knows your forum's web address can access it—including harassers and bullies. Students should be advised to provide as little personal information as possible. You may want to have your students use nicknames rather than their real names.
  • To make sure you and your students are the only ones who can post comments, you'll all have to register accounts with the website hosting your forum. This is a more minor concern than the previous two, but it's still something to think about.

Be aware of emerging technologies. 

As we know, technology is always evolving. What’s new one day could be obsolete the next. While you shouldn’t drop everything you’re using and immediately adopt the newest tools as soon as they appear, you should generally be aware of what’s happening out there.

Today, one of the biggest types of technology that has people talking is artificial intelligence (AI). As we mentioned previously on our blog, artificial intelligence has been under development for years but only recently became accessible to the public. Now, many teachers are using AI in the classroom to augment their lessons and assist with certain tasks like grading and planning. Some ELA educators are even using AI tools to supplement (but not replace!) literature-based activities and exercises.

Incorporate technology to enhance traditional reading experiences.

New programs and reading platforms offer you quite a bit of flexibility in how you deliver educational content to your students. Some platforms make it easy to blend online learning with more traditional experiences. Take KeyLit, for example.

KeyLit is our digital, interactive learning program featuring rigorous, standards-aligned lessons and assessments. It’s designed to guide students, working independently or in class, through a close reading of famous literary texts to help build critical reading skills. It can also help individualize lessons and target where students are struggling, making holding students accountable easier for you.

With KeyLit, students can explore brilliant works of literature without feeling like they’re completing scary summative assessments. Many of the lessons within KeyLit follow a multiple-choice question format asking students to recall key plot points, uncover character motivations, or analyze figurative language. A few multiple-choice questions that deal with more complicated ideas are “opinion questions” that are graded on completion. These are sprinkled throughout, allowing students to consider how they interpret an especially confusing passage risk-free.

Every KeyLit unit features discussion boards with thought-provoking response questions. This workspace allows students to express their ideas about the literary work, cite direct evidence from the text, and interact virtually with one another.

In addition to its exploratory nature, KeyLit allows you to hold students accountable without extra work for you. Each lesson features a plot-based reading quiz that objectively helps you determine who read and who didn’t. All questions are standards-aligned, allowing you to see which standards your students excel at and which need more attention. KeyLit even displays objectives at the top of each lesson so students clearly see what they should take away from the activities they complete. Worried about cheating? Though the questions are all in the same order per lesson, the answer choices are automatically randomized for each screen. Students cannot go back to prior questions once they’ve clicked “next.”

Once students complete a lesson, their submitted work is instantly graded, letting them see their results and find out where they need help. In the gradebook, you can isolate student reports and see which lessons were especially difficult for your class. This gives you the opportunity to create more targeted, individualized lessons without going through stacks of assessments!

The world of technology in the classroom can sometimes feel like the untamed wild West, but KeyLit allows you to harness it into something fun, exploratory, and useful. Give it a try to boost your units and spend more time on the parts of teaching you love!

How have you been using technology in your classroom? Do you have any success stories you want to share? Any challenges you're facing? We'd love to hear from you—let us know on Facebook!