Four Creative Ways to Use CommonLit's Nonfiction Text Sets

Last week, the team at CommonLit was thrilled to announce the release of Nonfiction Text Sets. Text sets are groups of 5-20 individual texts that share a common topic. To kick off this announcement, we published 27 new texts sets to the site (see a list here). All of them are freely available to teachers.

In this post, I’ll explain a few of the ways I imagine teachers could use our nonfiction text sets to purposefully drive student achievement in both English and Social Studies classrooms.

Research and Writing

Teachers can use CommonLit for an extended research unit on a topic such as The Civil Rights Movement. In a research unit, students read extensively on a single topic and then form a conclusion based upon the expertise they have gained. Our text set on the Civil Rights Movement, which includes 16 different texts (and counting) can be assigned to students strategically, or as a complete set. Below are just a few examples of writing prompts that teachers can use to drive the research unit:

  • Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, how was non-violent protest used to promote the goal of racial equality?
  • What role did the court play in the Civil Rights Movement?
  • What changes were made to America’s laws during the Civil Rights Movement? How did these changes affect the lives of African-Americans?

Argumentation and Debate

CommonLit’s text sets can also be used to practice argumentative writing, which is a cornerstone of college-readiness. Argumentative prompts require that students read widely about a single debatable topic, and pick a side to defend. Students must compose an original claim, and support that claim with concrete examples from the various texts they’ve read. The final product of an argumentative unit could be a longer essay and participation in an oral class debate or discussion.

Below are a few examples of argumentative writing prompts that teachers could assign to students based upon CommonLit’s American Civil War text set:

  • Was the result of The Civil War ever truly in question? In other words, was there any way that the South could have been victorious?
  • Was The Civil War avoidable? Was there any way that leaders could have prevented confrontation?

Learning Vocabulary

Texts sets are a great way for students to learn vocabulary. Within each CommonLit text set, teachers will find domain-specific vocabulary words and concepts that appear continuously throughout the texts on that given topic. Through frequent exposure to these words, students will be much more likely to retain the definition and use them in writing and speech.

For example, here are just a few domain-specific words that are repeated within our Modern Democracy in America text set:

“bill” - 2 times
“election” - 3 times
“right” - 3 times
“Supreme Court” - 4 times
“legislate” or “legislator” - 3 times
“democracy” - 3 times

Differentiation and Reading Ladders

Text sets also make it extremely easy for teachers to differentiate instruction while still keeping students in the same class learning about the same topic. Using the CommonLit digital platform, teachers can assign different texts on the same topic to different students based on their ability level.

Let’s use the Native American History text set as an example:

  • If a teacher wants her students to understand Native American removal, she could assign “Excerpts from Trail of Tears Diary” (1000L, 5th-6th grade) to struggling students and “Andrew Jackson’s Speech to Congress on ‘Indian Removal’” (1390L, 9th-10th grade) to more advanced readers.
  • For a teacher who wants their students to learn about the history of Native American boarding schools, “Those Kids Never Got to Go Home” (9th-10th grade)  may be appropriate for some students whereas “Behind the Native American Achievement Gap” (7th-8th grade) may be better for students on a slightly lower level.

Another slightly different option is to use something called “reading ladders.” A reading ladder is a series of texts, often on the same topic or within the same genre, that become progressively more difficult. Students can move to the next text once they show mastery on the lower level text. This is a great way to help students gain a sense of confidence as they struggle with complex text.

Using CommonLit’s Native American History text set, students may begin with a text like “Excerpts from Trail of Tears Diary” (1000L, 5th-6th grade) and then move to a somewhat harder text like “From Resistance to Reservations” (1080L, 9th-10th) since these two texts address very similar topics.

Regardless of what strategies you choose, we hope that you love our nonfiction text sets!

If you need any help implementing CommonLit across your school or district, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly at I’m excited to talk to support you and learn about how you’re using CommonLit.

CommonLit Launches Text Sets

Washington, D.C. - Edtech nonprofit Commonlit announced today the launch of the latest addition to its free digital library: text sets. Each text set contains 5-20 individual lesson resources that share a common topic or historical period.

Like all of the materials on CommonLit’s free website, the texts themselves can be assigned to classes or individual students through the platform. Students answer a set of text-dependent questions online and teachers access data analytics on student progress. Each text also comes with a discussion guide, recommended paired passages, related media, and a parent guide. Schools with limited technology can download a printable version of the resources.

“We created text sets to help teachers prepare coherent units, rich with supplemental texts to build essential background knowledge and help students gain a sense of expertise about a topic or historical period. Text sets will make it easier for teachers to do research-based instructional design," says Michelle Brown, founder and CEO of CommonLit.  

Current text sets include:

Ancient Egypt
Ancient Greece
Ancient Rome
Native American History
The American Colonies
Slavery in America
The American Revolution
Founding the United States
Westward Expansion
The Civil War
Reconstruction to Jim Crow
Worker’s Rights
The Gilded Age
The Progressive Era
World War I
The Great Depression
The Holocaust
World War II
The Civil Rights Movement
The Cold War
The Vietnam War
Modern Democracy in America
Political Theory
International Revolutions
Women’s Rights
Influential Speeches

"Text sets allow students to read deeply and critically about a topic. Through repeated exposure to a breadth of information on one subject matter, students begin to draw thematic conclusions, learn new vocabulary, and connect historical dots,” says Anna Hodges, CommonLit’s Director of Content Development.

Text sets are available to educators and parents through a free account at

CommonLit Partners with Texthelp to provide accessible content for all learners

Texthelp’s literacy and language support toolbar is now available on CommonLit’s free educational content platform

October 10, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – Today, CommonLit, the free online platform for 5th-12th grade literacy, launched a new integrated toolbar, that will make complex text more accessible to all types of readers/learners including those struggling with literacy. The toolbar, which offers text-to-speech and translation support, is made possible through a partnership with Texthelp, a company that creates literacy and language support software. The toolbar will be available to CommonLit users for free.

Texthelp’s software toolbar will enable teachers and students to:

  • Listen to text read aloud;
  • Translate selected text into different languages;
  • View word definitions with a single click;
  • Highlight digital text.

CommonLit’s digital library contains over 450 lessons that include authentic published works from National Public Radio, Science News for Students, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Digital Public Library of America, and more. Each lesson includes a standards-aligned question set, a discussion guide, linked to related multimedia, and a guide to engage parents and promote literacy development at home. Today, CommonLit is being used in over 12,000 schools across the United States.

As part of this exciting new partnership, Texthelp is also providing reading fluency support via the CommonLit platform for struggling readers and English Language Learners (ELL) through their Fluency Tutor for Google tool, which can also be used with any of the OER content. More information on how to get started on Fluency Tutor is available on CommonLit’s website.

“We are thrilled to be able to offer Texthelp’s advanced technology to the hundreds of thousands of students we serve,” said CommonLit’s founder, Michelle Brown. “This toolbar makes CommonLit text fully interactive. It’s a game-changer for teachers who are trying to support struggling readers and English Language Learners in class.”

Rob Fleisher, CommonLit’s Director of School Support, used Texthelp’s Read&Write browser extension when he taught 7th grade English. “These tools are a way for students with disabilities to be on a level playing field with students that don’t have disabilities. Through this partnership, we are able to bring Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles to scale.”

Mark McCusker, CEO of Texthelp: “As Open Education Resources become more prominent in the education content space, we recognize the importance of content accessibility for both students and educators at any stage of the learning journey. Encouraging students of all kinds of learning abilities is key, not only nourishing their comprehension of texts, but also developing their reading fluency.  We’re delighted to partner with CommonLit as they continue to grow and offer more OER resources.”

Founded as a nonprofit, CommonLit’s mission is to help students make measurable gains in reading and writing. For more information and to explore the site’s new accessibility features, visit

CommonLit Launches Version 3 to Improve Adolescent Literacy Nationwide

New interactive tools let students see progress in reading and writing

September 21, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – CommonLit, the free website for 5th-12th grade literacy, launched version 3.0, a new interactive platform that allows teachers track student progress in reading and writing. New features enable teachers to differentiate reading instruction, tailored to the unique needs of students. This major release was made possible through the support of AT&T, Brinker Capital, AmerisourceBergen, and Fast Forward.

CommonLit addresses a critical need. Despite a flurry of educational reforms, only 34% of eighth graders can read at a proficient level (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2015). In a single classroom, student reading aptitudes often span eight reading levels (Firmender, Rice, & Sweeney, 2013).

At, users access a free collection of high-interest, leveled reading passages, and assign rigorous lessons to students digitally. CommonLit’s curriculum is designed to promote higher-order thinking, analysis, and college-level discussion with the goal of ensuring that all students graduate high school with the literacy skills they need to be successful. The online product is designed to promote the use of research-based best practices for reading instruction.

CommonLit’s digital library is freely accessible to students, teachers and parents. Version 3.0 allows users to:

  • Assign reading assessments to students;
  • Score written responses with one click;
  • Send personalized writing feedback to students;
  • Review score reports on Common Core-aligned question sets;
  • Access high-quality texts and question sets, available for free only through CommonLit.

CommonLit’s digital library contains over 450 texts and question sets that include authentic published works from National Public Radio, Science News for Students, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Digital Public Library of America, and more. Each text includes a standards-aligned question set, a discussion guide, linked to related multimedia, and a guide to engage parents and promote literacy development at home.

Matt Stephens, a 7th grade teacher at E.L. Haynes Charter School in Washington, D.C., is an avid user of CommonLit. “CommonLit is game-changing for classroom teachers,” says Stephens. “The articles are rigorous and promote engaging classroom debates. The new version helps me deliver targeted formative assessment, and make better use of data so that I can personalize instruction to meet the needs of my students.”

Michelle Brown, the founder of CommonLit, formerly taught in a high-poverty rural school in Mississippi. “Students in underserved communities are getting left behind by the current edtech market,” she said. “Our goal is to make a dent in the adolescent literacy crisis at scale by giving teachers the tools they need to challenge students that read at many different levels. Today, we’re reaching hundreds of thousands of students in more than 12,000 schools across the nation.”

Founded as a non-profit in 2013, CommonLit’s mission is to help students make measurable gains in reading and writing. CommonLit has been recognized with innovation awards from Teach for America and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

For more information and to explore the site’s new features, visit

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About CommonLit

CommonLit is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit education technology organization that helps students make measurable gains in reading and writing. CommonLit was founded in 2013 to address the alarming resource disparity between high-income and low-income schools. The organization is based at the 1776 global tech incubator in Washington, D.C. For more information, visit

Must-See New Features at CommonLit

Notice something new on CommonLit? Over the past few months, our engineers have been hard at work creating new features to help you track student progress on CommonLit assignments.

Now, teachers are now able to create classes, and assign CommonLit texts to students. Students are able to log onto the website and complete the text-dependent questions digitally. Finally, teachers are now able to grade short answer responses and analyze student student performance on a dashboard. To learn more, watch the video linked in this post.

This blog post will explain the steps you’ll need to create a class, sign students up, and get started using our new features.


Teacher Step 1: Click on “MY PROFILE & CLASSES”

Teacher Step 2: Click on “CREATE A NEW CLASS”

Teacher Step 3: Input basic data on your class

Teacher Step 4: Use a Class Code to Set Up Student Accounts

When students create accounts on CommonLit, they’ll need to sign up with a unique class code provided by you, the teacher. If students don’t sign up with the correct class code, you won’t be able to assign them a text.

Since we love our users, we created two options for sharing a class code with students. I’ll explain these two options below:

  • Option 1: Manual Option
    In the image below on the left, you see a four digit code. As a teacher, you can instruct students to go to and click “CREATE AN ACCOUNT” on the homepage. There will be a popup where students can type in the four digit class code. Once they do this, that’ll link their account with yours!
  • Option 2: Auto Option
    On the right side of the image below, you’ll see a button that says, “Copy student sign-up link.” If you click that button, it will copy a unique link to your clipboard. This is a good option if you use Google Classroom, email, or Google Docs frequently with your students in class.

Note: The rest of this blog post will explain how to register students using the Manual Option


Students Step 1: Click “CREATE AN ACCOUNT”

Student Step 2: Click on “I AM A Student”

Student Step 3: Students enter class code

This part is very important! In this box, the students should enter your unique class code. (Your unique code can always be found under the “MY PROFILE & CLASSES” tab in the teacher portal.

Student Step 4: Input Basic Info

Note: Students don’t have to include an email address.

Student Step 5: Success! Your Student has Created an Account

You’ll notice that this student does not currently have any assignments to complete. In an upcoming blog post, we will show you how to assign a text through the teacher portal.

If you have any specific questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me, Rob, at I’m here to help!