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Diversifying Your ELA Themes

#antiracistedu #carbte #disrupttexts curriculum diversity ela Dec 08, 2021


Unit themes are at the core of most English Language Arts (or ELA) classrooms, which begs the questions: what are you teaching beyond books? How are your course themes also a proponent of social justice and critical literacy? This is what #DisruptTexts means when they explain that work towards anti-racism and culturally sustaining pedagogy is more than a diverse book shelf; it's more than simply cool, engaging books on their own. This is about how you teach those books and why. 

Most ELA courses in the U.S. sound the same and that sameness has primarily left out our voices, our topics of conversation, and our critical lens. This can and must change and one way to do so is to try new themes for your units in ELA. 

Unit Theme: The American Dream Is Not For Everyone.

In this unit, you can use books to tell the stories of marginalized people for whom the American Dream was never a reality. They tried their hardest to accomplish the American Dream, did everything they were told would lead them there, and still never came close to acquiring it. The American Dream is a flawed idea, but is one that still persists today. The main question you can push your students to consider is, in the face of the narratives they have encountered and the stories they have read, who is the American Dream really available to? 

Unit Theme: Passing Can Be for Survival. 

Use stories that feature characters who socially pass for another racial, social, or gender group. Examine why they do so and how that might be to survive instead of presenting it as a character flaw or aesthetic choice. Think about how the necessity of passing in these books sheds light on discrimination and power hierarchies. 

Unit Theme: Expectations of Womanhood Can Be Socially Constructed. 

Use texts that explore womanhood. Discuss the expectations imposed on women throughout the book and push students to see the ways that these external forces cause stress and discord and potentially prevent characters from being their true selves. 

Check out our Instagram post which includes books to consider for these themes! 

And one more thing about the connection between these topics, titles, books, and students’ emotional and social well being: 

*ABAR is an acronym used for anti bias, anti racist 

Something else to consider is how there are always voices consistently excluded from ELA classrooms. By continuing the exclusion of certain voices from the curriculum, we are preventing students from interacting with these groups as humans experiencing their own joy and struggles. When we bring those voices in, we bring their experiences, issues, and humanity into the classroom and into our students’ consciousnesses. 

Here are some voices to work hard to include: 

Incarcerated Folx 




Folx with Physical Challenges

Immigrant Women 

Check out our second post on Instagram expanding on each of these groups and offering titles for your use. 

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