Responding to Literature in the 21st Century: Tools for Collaboration

by Janine Schall, University of Texas-Pan American, Edinburg, TX

We know that collaboration can help students create more sophisticated responses to literature. As students think together through oral or written dialogue they hear multiple perspectives, challenge others’ thinking, and revise initial responses. While children have always talked with friends about the books they read, today reading is increasingly social in new ways. Informal talk on the playground is being supplemented with a variety of online resources. For example, a very quick Google search brought up multiple online sites for fans of the Harry Potter series, including a message board, wiki, and fanfiction site.

These sites are sometimes run by a publisher or author, but they are often started by children and adolescents who want to share a reading experience with others. These children are building, maintaining, and moderating the sites. In addition, they are contributing a tremendous amount of content through writing, artwork, and video.

It is clear that children love to talk about books with other children in these informal, out-of-school contexts. How can teachers harness some of that impulse towards social interaction to support thinking about literature in school as well? In this post I will briefly discuss three online possibilities that can help with this: social networking, wikis, and voicethread.

Social Networking

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace are hugely popular, with millions of daily users. While probably best known as a way for people to keep in superficial contact through short, often-trivial postings, social networking sites can be powerful educational tools.

The obvious use for these sites is for the teacher to set up an account for the class. Students and parents can ‘friend’ or ‘follow’ and the teacher can use the site to announce homework, share student work, and answer quick questions. The teacher, students, and parents can also use the site to share class-related content; for example, if PBS is showing a Masterpiece Theater series that relates to work the class is doing, the announcement on the PBS Facebook page can be shared with the class Facebook page.

How can these tools be used to support collaboration?

    •The teacher can pose thought-provoking questions on the Facebook or Twitter page and ask for responses.
    •When students are confused about a reading assigned as homework they can ask a question on the page for the other students or the teacher to respond to.
    •A group could develop a fictional Facebook page for a book character. Who would be the character’s friends? What would their status updates be? What photos and videos would they post? The same goes for Twitter: how could you retell a story through a Twitter account (check out this example. Preview before you show to students–there’s occasional questionable language.)

Given the age limits most sites have, the use of social networking is best kept to middle school, high school and college age students. Also, if you choose to use social networking sites I strongly urge you to have an account specifically for educational purposes. Do not allow students on your personal account.


WOW Currents readers are probably familiar with wikis, especially the popular Wikipedia. A wiki is based on software that allows for multiple authors of a webpage. Members of the webpage can all add, delete, and revise content. There are several sites where teachers can set up a class wiki, including Wikispaces. Generally, a basic wiki is free; bells and whistles require some level of paid membership.

The whole point of a wiki is collaboration. How can literacy teachers use this technology to promote collaboration?

    •Set up a class wiki. Each literature circle group can create their own page on the wiki. As they are reading the book they can add content about the book, following whatever guidelines you come up with.
    •Connect with other literacy teachers in your school or around the world. Use a wiki to provide space where students from different classrooms can explore literature together.

This site has more information on using wikis.


Voicethread describes itself as “a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways – using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam).” How can this be used in a literacy classroom?

    •When reading a whole-class book, groups of students can use Voicethread to explore different questions about the book. Once these are published, the rest of the class can comment on the Voicethreads through text, images, audio or video.
    •When groups are reading different books on the same theme, each group can create a Voicethread about their book, then other groups can widen and extend the conversation by commenting on connections they see across Voicethreads.
    •The discussion can be moved beyond the classroom by allowing members of the school community, parents and other family, and the general public to comment on the Voicethreads.

How are you using these particular tools in the literacy classroom to support collaboration? What other 21st Century tools do you use to help children explore literature together?

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3 thoughts on “Responding to Literature in the 21st Century: Tools for Collaboration

  1. Janine Schall says:

    That’s a great article! It’s an interesting example of the powerful connections we can make between technology and literature.

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