YA in the Classroom


I figured it was about time I posted a writing-related post. I know it’s been far too long!

Today’s post was inspired by one of the panels I hosted a few weeks ago, at the C4 Lit Fest, which was entitled YA in the Classroom. As an educator and a writer of Young Adult fiction, it seemed a pretty good fit for me to talk about this subject. A lot of the matterial is geared for local educators, but I hope it will help out teachers in other locations, as well.

Some of the points I brought up to encourage teachers to use YA in the classroom were:

– kids relate better to stories involving kids their own age

– the subject matter is likely to be more relevant to students than literature aimed at adults

– if the kids like what they’re reading, it will encourage further reading, stimulate their imaginations and they are more likely to want to write like their favourite author

– Manitoba has so many wonderful local YA authors, whose work can be more meaningful to students than something written in the United States or England because the language & spellings are more familiar, there are more recognizable settings and there can be historical or geographical references that support other curriculum studies

– using YA written by local authors helps support the literary community in their own province, the authors are more available for school visits, and school literary visits excite the students & encourage them to write, too.


YA over the past 30 years, as I mentioned in a previous post, has literally exploded onto bookstore shelves, especially in Manitoba. Publishers are now seeing this as a unique opportunity to reach a new audience. It is a resource of which teachers should make full use. There is such a variety of books to choose from; contemporary, comical, romance, speculative fiction, and graphic novels. Each one has its own unique stories and perspectives that a teacher can use within the class, depending on the needs of his/her students and the subject matter the teacher is trying to teach.

Speculative Fiction – encourages critical thinking with the ‘what if?’ scenarios To learn more, read interviews and book reviews on this subject, check out http://speculatingcanada.wordpress.com. It’s a great website that explores all kinds of Canadian fantasy, Sci-fi, dystopian/Steam Punk/alternative history stories, Monsters (vampires, werewolves, etc), all the types of stories that are popular with young people, today.

Here’s a quote from Speculating Canada by Jerome Stueart, who states one of the most important reason for using YA and in particular, speculative fiction, in the classroom: “I would put MORE speculative literature in the classroom starting with Kim Stanley Robinson’s climate change series, Science in the Capital—or his Three Californias. I would teach kids to imagine their own futures—what will they be doing 20 years from now, and what will society be like?  What do they WANT society to be like?  And where do they see the forces in control trying to lead us?  Kids can be taught to think speculatively and use it wisely.”

This is just one of the ways YA can be used in a classroom.

– Historical Fiction – can be taught alongside the history curriculum in a much more enjoyable way than simply stating/memorizing facts & dates. It brings history to life.


Locks system on the Red River created because of the the difficulty boats had traversing the rapids

– Romance – can initiate discussions about relationships, good and bad

– Contemporary topics (cutting, suicide, friend’s death, etc) – help students realize they are not alone with some of those subjects and opens discussions about how they can cope with similar situations

– Comical – Who doesn’t like humour at some point in their life? It can lighten the mood in a class and provide a pleasurable experience, encouraging students to read more.

Graphic Novels – encourages poor readers to read in an easier format. It can also be used as a teaching tool for art lessons, bringing out the use of colour, perspective, movement, textures

Carol Matas

Anita Daher

These are only a few examples of how YA can be used in a classroom. It’s up to the teachers to research the numerous titles out there, read the blurbs on the backs of the books, listen to their students to see what the current reading trends are and follow book blogs like Chapter by Chapter to discover what’s available. Find out what books people are talking about to see if they would work in their class.

I’m not saying one has to spend a fortune on book sets so each student gets a copy to study, although I’m sure each author hopes they will! It can be enough to have a copy of the books available in the class, allowing numerous choices for students to read during silent reading time, use for reading programs, or book reports. The teacher could also read the book, chapter by chapter, to their class and have discussions after each chapter to make sure that the students:

1) understand and difficult vocabulary appropriately

2) comprehend the main concepts in the story

3) discuss pros and cons about the subject matter as well as their own opinions

4) make a connection between the story & other areas of curriculum study

5) meet the book’s author, if possible (contact local writer’s guild or art council to see if there is a program that will fund author visits)

6) visit places mentioned in the story, if it has a local setting

All of the above deals with using YA fiction in a classroom, but doesn’t touch on the subject of the writer getting their work into the schools. These days, a writer needs to be involved in their own PR. So, how does a YA writer make themselves known to teachers?

– Send an email or letter to the local school divisions. Introduce yourself and your published work, telling them why you think your book(s) would be appropriate for use in the classroom. Ask them to pass the information to their teachers and librarians, letting them know you would be willing to talk to students about writing or do a reading.

– Find out when library conventions are being held and ask if you could participate and flog your book(s). You may not sell any at that time, but it gets your face and books out there, so when the librarians get their grant money and are wondering what books to buy, your name and book title will pop into their minds (with any luck!)

– Look into grant programs in your area and put your name on the list of people interested in participating. Sometimes, these grants can provide you with more income than the royalties on your book(s)!

Here are some resources both teachers and writers may find helpful:

Association of Manitoba Book Publishers (AMBP) gives a list of members here: http://www.bookpublishers.mb.ca/index.php/member-publishers/

Manitoba Writers’ Guild Public Readings Grant Program:

Canadian Library Association’s list of Book Award Winners:

Manitoba Arts Council’s Artist in the Schools Program:

The Writers’ Union of Canada National Public Readings:

Do you have a great YA book you think would be the perfect addition to any classroom?

Please mention it in the Comments section so teachers browsing through here might find it. Hope this has been informative to all you teachers out there who want to reach their students in a unique and satisfying way. 🙂

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