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  • Writer's pictureTeacher's Workshop

7 Ways to Make Learning Personal

It’s difficult to find a book that every child will love. They like contemporary stories that seem similar to their own, but they also like to read about experiences that take place in distant countries hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Not every story needs to be relatable, but there are other ways to make learning personally meaningful so that students really invest themselves in the process of reading and writing. Here are seven, many of which I review in my online course:

Every week, I give my students free time to pursue a topic of choice and then they package their knowledge at the end of the year in a way that makes most sense to them and their topic.


I love to push pause on a unit and ask students to write with no rules or expecatations. My students study the techniques of literature so often, but rarely get the chance to express their own view of the world with a story.

Creative nonfiction

Instead of a traditional analytical essay on a novel, I will sometimes allow my students to pick a topic from the story and write about its relevance in their life or in the modern world. I’ll ask them to write about the novel in the introduction, but then give them the chance to think and write freely.

Video Essays

At the end of the year, instead of giving a final essay, I give my students the opportunity to create a video essay about everything they’ve learned. I want it to be something they can show their family and friends and look back on and be proud of.


It’s a lot easier for some students to formalize their thoughts with audio instead of writing. A podcast also gives them the chance to interview someone they love or admire. Students learn from books, but also from having deep conversations with people who will always play an important part of their life.

Storytelling and personal narratives

I play a game with my students where they have to tell a quick story about a topic on a card, like: road trip, ice cream, shoes, rain, favorite candy, etc. It gets them to speak in their own voice instead of the academic one they sometimes use in essays, and it gives them ideas for a personal narrative where they tell a story that represents who they are.

The conclusion

Every time I hand back essays, I remind my students that the conclusion is a space to explore the relevance of literature. That might mean telling a quick story related to the topic or connecting the book to a movie, song, history, or current event that helps demonstrate the timeless quality of the novel.

Scott Cameron

English language arts teacher

Teacher's Workshop, professional development for secondary ELA teachers


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