CommonLit 360 Best Practices Supporting Struggling Readers with CommonLit 360

A middle school teacher discusses a reading lesson with a group of her students sitting at a round table.

Vocabulary activities, differentiated reading lessons, scaffolded writing, and more to accelerate learning for all students.

Teaching ELA units to struggling readers can be daunting. CommonLit 360 is intentionally designed to support all learners. In this blog post, we will share some strategies and recommendations for teachers to best support all learners in their classroom as they teach the 360 curriculum.

Build student investment with the unit introduction

Each CommonLit 360 unit begins with an introductory lesson that teachers can leverage to build student investment. Get students excited about what they are going to be learning in the unit with photos, discussion questions, text previews and more.

In 9th Grade Unit 1: Following the Crowd, the introductory slide deck hooks students by asking them how strongly they agree or disagree with statements like “If you do something bad while in a group, you should not receive a tough punishment.” These statements will be explored through readings in the unit, and this slide deck will spark student interest immediately through debate and discussion.

A screenshot from the introductory slide deck for 9th Grade Unit 1: Following the Crowd.

If students need more background information, teachers can customize the deck to include extra knowledge students may need to be successful. Teachers can add relevant videos that will hook student interest right off the bat.

Deepen student understanding with vocabulary lessons

CommonLit 360 units come with vocabulary lessons that teach students 7-20 key terms found in the texts they are reading. Teach vocabulary lessons up front so students can recognize challenging words later in the unit. Fold in vocabulary activities as small group work or homework to help students practice these key vocabulary words.

Teachers can use our full suite of vocabulary resources to expose students to key terms repeatedly, including our sets of vocabulary activities, quizzes, slide decks, and Word Wall resources.

CommonLit’s vocabulary instruction aligns to research-based best practices, giving students multiple opportunities to use new words in a variety of contexts. Students read, hear, and see representations of new words in unit decks, media explorations, and more. Vocabulary words are highlighted in anchor texts and students are encouraged to utilize them in class discussion.

Support struggling readers with teacher moves and built-in tools

Each Essential Reading Lesson comes with an introductory slide deck to hook students prior to reading. These decks set clear, tangible big ideas for students to engage with before reading. They encourage students to make personal connections with culturally relevant discussion questions and build key background knowledge to maximize student comprehension. Like the unit introductory slide decks, they are fully customizable so teachers can add any vocabulary or background information needed to help struggling readers prepare for the text.

In 9th Grade Unit 1, the deck for “Cheboygan Day” introduces the plot, asks students to answer a relevant discussion question, provides background information about the setting, and previews the skills students will focus on during the lesson.


As students complete the reading lessons with the 360 Curriculum, there are many supports to scaffold instruction for diverse learners.

Throughout the text, students will encounter a variety of comprehension questions. These nudge students to go back to the text and identify key ideas before moving on. Some of these questions will encourage students to share an answer with the class, share an answer with their partner, or independently write down their ideas.

Students also have access to key digital tools. Students can listen to the text read aloud, translate the text into 30+ languages, or take digital notes as they read.

Finally, CommonLit encourages teachers to read portions of the text aloud to students. This helps to build student comprehension and engagement before gradually releasing students to read portions of the text independently.

A screenshot of a 360 reading lesson.


Help students hone their writing craft

CommonLit 360 writing lessons include scaffolded practice to help students apply the skill they learned. We recommend teachers begin these lessons as a whole class. As the lesson progresses, teachers can gradually release students to partner or independent work. Let’s look at an example:

In 9th Grade Unit 1 “Writing Lesson: Exemplar Paragraph,” students begin the lesson with a journal prompt. Then, teachers can help struggling readers by completing Part 2 as a whole class, reading the exemplar paragraph and watching a short video to learn the skill. Finally, in Part 3, students can use the exemplar paragraph as a model to help them complete the Assessment Question in a complete paragraph.


As students work, teachers should circulate through the room to check on student progress and understanding. Teachers can have their Teacher Copy handy so they can see correct answers and address any misunderstandings on the spot.

Teachers can also ensure that struggling readers complete each writing Exit Ticket to build confidence in their writing. Teachers should give specific, targeted feedback and praise to students as they grow their writing skills.

Prepare students for the end-of-unit essay with essential writing lessons

By the end of each 360 unit, students will produce an extended piece of writing. We help students reach that goal by chunking the writing process and building their skills along the way.

For example, in 9th Grade Unit 1, students start at the most granular level, examining an exemplar paragraph and practicing writing a full paragraph. Then, students learn how to write a strong argument, how to plan their essays, and how to write introductions and conclusions. They will be able to write all parts of an essay before they dive into the end-of-unit essay prompt.

A screenshot of the arc of writing instruction for 9th Grade Unit 1, demonstrating how the writing units are chunked to allow for greater student understanding.


If students need extra writing practice, some units include optional essays as well. In this unit, students can also complete a narrative essay which will push students to think creatively throughout their writing process. In this unit, an optional narrative essay asks students to rewrite a scene from “Cheboygan Day” from another character’s perspective.

Leverage discussion lessons to prepare students for essay writing

Before completing the end-of-unit essay, students can reflect on the texts they have read in a class discussion. These discussions are an opportunity for students to rehearse and formulate their ideas and hear what others have to say. Discussions are a great way to build student engagement and buy-in, especially for struggling readers.

The discussion lesson in 9th Grade Unit 1 asks students to answer the question “Should people be held accountable for what they do under the influence of a group?” This discussion will help struggling readers formulate ideas for the end-of-unit essay about group behavior. The discussion preparation will also help students practice finding evidence to support their answer, a skill they will need for the end-of-unit essay.

A screenshot of the class discussion lesson for 9th Grade Unit 1.

Utilize supplemental resources to provide differentiated practice

Each unit comes with supplemental lessons that can provide extra practice for struggling readers. These supplemental texts are perfect for differentiation as they are available at different difficulty levels, with some below and others above grade level.

For example, in 9th Grade Unit 1: Following the Crowd, teachers can access 7 supplement texts in English and 6 in Spanish. These texts give students additional background knowledge and opportunities to interact with texts. Consider giving struggling readers these supplemental texts in small group work blocks or as homework assignments for extra practice.


Next Steps

We’re eager to support you as you dive into CommonLit 360! If you are a classroom teacher and want to learn more about the 360 curriculum, we offer a variety of free webinars to get started. Register for a webinar here!

For SY 2023-2024, we are releasing a new support package, School Essentials PRO Plus, that is ideal for rolling out CommonLit 360 in your school or district. This package includes:

  • 360 Unit Skills Assessments
  • Continuous Virtual Professional Development and Consulting
  • CommonLit’s Professional Development Portal
  • CommonLit’s Assessment Series (Benchmarks)
  • School-wide data reports
  • Canvas integration
  • Clever, Google Classroom, and ClassLink integrations

If you are a school or district administrator who wants to discuss rolling out CommonLit 360, email our team at partnerships@commonlit.org.

A screenshot of what CommonLit offers for its free customers, along with what schools receive when they purchase one of our three support packages: School Essentials, School Essentials PRO, and School Essentials PRO Plus.




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