SparkNotes has enormously helpful—and free!—resources made for the books and subjects you teach. With more than 1,000 study guides, No Fear Shakespeare translations for all the Bard’s most popular plays, free full texts for popular books like Pride and Prejudice and Frankenstein, and videos for more than 20 books, we’ve got you and your classroom covered.
Check out our suggestions below for how to use SparkNotes with your students.
Literature guides are the bread and butter of SparkNotes. With more than 700 literature guides and counting, we offer everything students need to understand the book, play, poem, or short story they’re reading: Plot Overview; Summary & Analysis of each chapter, scene, or section; Character List; Analyses of Major Characters; Themes, Motifs, & Symbols; Key Facts; Important Quotations Explained; Context; Full Book Quiz; Study Questions; Suggestions for Further Reading; Suggested Essay Topics; and Video Plot Summary (select titles). These resources are meant to supplement and support, not substitute, the reading assignment. We feel the same way you do—we want students to read the original text and understand it so they can participate in lively discussions, write deeply about related themes, and cultivate a lifelong love of reading.
Some of our literature guides are so popular, we decided to add even more highly demanded sections to them! After polling teachers and students, we came up with more than 20 new sections to add to our existing guides. The expanded sections in our top 50 titles include: Genre; Writing Style; Foreshadowing; Point of View; Tone; Plot Analysis; Companion Texts; Central Ideas Essay. Literary and Historical Context Essays; Quotes by Theme, Character, and Section; Key Questions and Answers; What Does the Ending Mean?; Additional Character Analyses; Additional Themes; Protagonist; Antagonist; Setting; and Movie Adaptations.
Our top 25 titles include even more good stuff: Infographics; Allusions; Additional Key Questions and Answers; Quotes by Symbol; Quotes by Setting (coming soon!); and Metaphors and Similes (coming soon!).
Key Sections While our Summary & Analysis sections are the most popular components, we believe you can use every page of our literature guides to your advantage. Here are some examples:
- Context: These sections provide biographical information about the authors, plus the historical, societal, and personal factors that influenced the work. You can use the Context sections to help students understand how F. Scott Fitzgerald saw through the glittery materialism and moral emptiness of the Jazz Age in The Great Gatsby; why Aldous Huxley warned of the pitfalls of linking science, technology, and politics in Brave New World; and how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s experience as a Nigerian in the United States influenced her characters in Americanah.
- Study Questions: Each literature guide comes with a handful of questions and answers that demonstrate to students how to go about analyzing a text. Each question is open for interpretation and argument, but can also be answered by looking directly at the text for details they can combine to produce an answer. In your classroom, you can present our Study Questions to your students, and have them write a “devil’s advocate” response that differs from the interpretation we came up with.
- Key Questions and Answers: This section targets the most frequently asked questions that students have about the text, and provides an answer with textual evidence and thoughtful analysis. Since your students are probably asking these questions already, you can present the questions to your class and hide our answers at first, asking students to search the text and provide evidence for their own answer.
- Companion Texts: When you want to expand your students’ understanding of the topics and themes in the text, our list of multimedia links to articles, videos, and podcasts can do just the trick. Explore some of the links together to ground your students in contemporary discussions of the very ideas presented in the classic text you’re reading.
- Infographics: Our infographics provide beautiful, colorful visual summaries of the most popular books and plays. With your students, feast your eyes on them and see if you can spot some of the symbolic meaning hidden within different sections of the infographics (e.g., in Frankenstein, there’s an allusion to Michelangelo’s painting The Creation of Adam. Discuss what this could mean!).
Classroom Activity Idea 1 Break students into groups and assign each group one of the Themes from the text you’re reading (these can be found under “Main Ideas” in our literature guides). Have your students create a chart where they list each chapter (or scene, etc.) at the top. Ask your students to discuss in their groups how the theme is either introduced or developed through the characters, setting, or plot elements. Underneath each chapter in their chart, students can record whatever comes out of their group discussions.(They should provide evidence from the text to support their claims.) After they complete the chart, students will see how their assigned theme developed over the course of the whole text. (Note: you can do this activity with other elements, such as our Character List, Symbols, Motifs, etc.!)
Classroom Activity Idea 2 As a class, read through our “Style” section to get a better sense of the type of writing style the author employs in the text you’re reading. Brainstorm an additional list of adjectives you could use to describe the writing style. Then, ask students to write a paragraph about a rather mundane topic (what they ate for breakfast; what their shoes look like; what the weather is like; etc.). Then, ask them to re-write that paragraph in the same style as the author. Have students compare and contrast their two paragraphs, and discuss whether or not the meaning was affected by the style. Ask a few volunteers to read their second paragraphs aloud.
No Fear Shakespeare
When your students are baffled by the Bard, we’re here to help. SparkNotes believes Shakespeare’s plays are too genius, poignant, and important to let students struggle with them alone. Our No Fear Shakespeare editions include the full text of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets along with side-by-side translations into modern English. You can find 25 of these books here on our site, totally free.
(Pro tip: SparkNotes also recently launched Deluxe Student Editions of our beloved No Fear print titles! These books are expanded to include A+ essay tips, Key Questions and Answers, popular quotes and analysis, and so much more. Find these in Barnes & Noble stores or at bn.com.)
Key Sections In addition to our popular No Fear side-by-side translations, we are also to proud more Shakespeare help for your students:
- No Fear Shakespeare graphic novels: Our gorgeous graphic novels include full-color illustrations of every scene in the play paired with helpful line-by-line translations of the original text. Break up your reading of Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, or Macbeth by going through excerpts from the graphic novel together. Ask students to consider how the illustrator depicted different elements of the story (characters, setting, etc.) and discuss how it either changes or illuminates their understanding of the play.
- Shakespeare’s Life & Times: This comprehensive guide includes a detailed biography of William Shakespeare, social and historical context, important quotes, and so much more. Point students to this section when they need help understanding the world Shakespeare lived in, or when they need to do research for an essay or writing assignment.
Classroom Activity Idea As your students read one of Shakespeare’s plays, assign them a section and have them read aloud the original text with a partner. Have them make note of lines that they don’t understand the meaning of. After reading, ask the pairs to share with their partner a line that tripped them up. Both students should work together to translate what they think Shakespeare meant, and rewrite it in modern English. After they’ve wrestled with the original text, have students look at the SparkNotes No Fear translation, and cross-check with their own interpretation. Then, have them read the original text aloud again, this time with their understanding solidified.
Many classic works have entered the public domain, and you can find a treasure trove of these titles (more than 130!) for free on our site. Some examples include Frankenstein, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, The Odyssey, The Awakening, and so much more. Every page of the complete published text is available and can be used however you’d like in your classroom!
Classroom Activity Idea SparkNotes knows a lot of our full texts won’t be in your curriculum. No one has time to read and teach all of them, and none of the titles are contemporary works. However, if you want your students to become at least familiar with some of these classic books, choose a full text title you’re not reading as a class and assign a page or excerpt for students to read. (It’s OK if it’s from the middle of the text.) Ask students to print it out or copy and paste into a digital document. Instruct students to read the excerpt and highlight words that stand out, reminding them that it’s OK if they don’t understand the plot; they’re just getting a sense of the author’s language. Then, have students create their own “found poem” by reorganizing their highlighted language into a new document, transforming the words into a poem related to whatever theme or topic they’d like. (From this activity, students should understand how malleable these classic and “antiquated” texts really are!)
SparkNotes isn’t just for English class—it’s also an incredible resource for many other subjects, ranging from Philosophy and Biography to Chemistry and Computer Science. Each Subject guide is split into sections that feature in-depth summaries about relevant topics.
Subjects that can be categorized as Math and Science—such as Physics and Biology—are broken down into relevant topics, each of which features comprehensive descriptions and explanations, as well as sample problems and solutions.
Subjects categorized as Written Works—such as Poetry, Short Stories, and Film—feature study guides for individual poems, stories, and movies. Much like a regular SparkNote, each study guide contains a Plot Overview, Character Summaries, Main Ideas (including Motifs, Themes, Symbols, Key Facts, and more), Important Quotes, and Ideas for Further Study.
Our most popular guides feature Review Tests, so that you can test your students (or they can test themselves) on the material they’ve just read. Some guides also contain Study Questions, which you might use as the prompts for in-class essays, or to inspire in-class discussions.
Some guides also have References sections, which cite the resources that the author of the guide used when writing their summaries and analyses. If your students are up for an extra challenge, you might assign a few of the works on the References page as extra credit reading!
Classroom Activity Idea To enhance your students’ understanding of the text you’re currently reading, it can be helpful (and interesting!) to pair it with a biography of the author. For example, if you’re studying To The Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, or Orlando, you might encourage your students to check out our biography of Virginia Woolf. In it, they’ll learn about her childhood, her emergence as a novelist, and key people in her life, and they’ll also be able to take a quiz in order to test their recall of the information. Plus, the guide has study questions that you can use to inspire in-class discussions or assign as essay prompts!
Here are a few more pairings that will encourage your students to engage more deeply with the works they’re studying:
If you’re learning about Gothic fiction, try pairing your lessons with our guide to Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, which includes quizzes about characters, themes, and context, and even has the full text of his stories, absolutely free (here’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Cask of Amontillado” to get you started)!
If you’re reading The Handmaid’s Tale, try pairing it with our guide to Margaret Atwood’s poetry. It features overviews of her poems, as well as reoccurring themes, important quotes, significant symbols.
Making classic literature seem relatable and entertaining isn’t always easy—and that’s where the SparkNotes blog comes in! It’s full of funny, quirky content that’s not only LOL-worthy, but also the perfect supplement to our literature guides. Every post, slideshow, and quiz offers helpful, interesting facts and commentary about books, characters, quotes, and authors, so that your students are gaining valuable insight, packaged in an easy-to-digest, irresistibly engaging way.
Key Sections If your students think that they have nothing in common with literary characters, they might change their minds after reading our hilarious guesses at how famous fictional people would make small talk at awkward parties. If they’re struggling to keep up with the twists and turns in Romeo and Juliet, try showing them the story as told in texts. And if they can’t get a handle on how Piggy, Jack, Simon, and Ralph represent the conflicting impulses of humankind once removed from a civil society, try Quotes From Lord of the Flies, Ranked By How Obvious the Foreshadowing Is.
The blog also has slideshows celebrating Juneteenth, Black History Month, Latinx Heritage Month, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which we hope will inspire students to engage with authors and works that they may not have encountered before. From the most brilliant insults in literature to classic novels explained in satirical headlines to fictional characters explained in venn diagrams, we guarantee there’s something here that will make even the most apathetic student crack a grin. And have we mentioned that we’ve also got slideshows summing up Shakespeare plays and classic literature using quotes from the most popular shows, like Schitt’s Creek, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Office, The Great British Bake-Off? Because we do, and they’re BRILLIANT.
Classroom Activity Idea One-Sentence Summaries is the most popular series on the blog; every slideshow offers witty, super-short summations of books, characters, genres, and more. To help your students make sense of complex plot lines, nuanced characters, and important themes in the book you’re currently reading, challenge them to sum up the aspect of their choosing using lines from favorite songs, shows, and movies. Alternatively, ask them to use literary quotes to sum up current events or personal experiences. For inspiration, refer them to 30 Ways to Respond To Unwanted Flirting With Shakespeare Quotes, or Literary Quotes That Would Make Great Instagram Captions.
Pro tip: If your students are restless, stressed, or just having a hard time focusing, give their brains a break and ease into your lesson by taking one of our quizzes as a class. Read each question aloud, then go with the majority when it comes to picking answers. By the end, we bet your students will be relaxed, smiling, and ready to dive into the day’s tasks.
A few of our suggestions: Are You Fluent in Shakespeare? How Indecisive Are You, On A Scale of 1-Hamlet? Can You Guess The Book From The Bad One-Sentence Summary? Can You Guess the Fictional Character From The Bad One-Sentence Description? Is This A Taylor Swift Lyric Or A Quote From The Great Gatsby?
If you’re new to the blog and want to get a feel for the unique way we combine hilarity with valuable literary knowledge, check out some of our most popular posts!
Literally every single slideshow in our 1-Sentence Summaries series QUIZ: What’s Your Signature Shakespearean Insult? 8 Weirdly Specific Things That Happen in Every Dystopian Novel How To Tell If Someone Has a Crush On You, According to Jane Austen If Fictional Characters Had Tinder Macbeth As Told In A Series of Texts All The Books On Your English Syllabus Summed Up In Pie Charts QUIZ: How Would You Die in a Shakespeare Play?
Memes & Social Channels
Our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook accounts combine classic literature with pop culture in unexpected ways, using memes, tweets, and viral trends to create content that’s not only funny and engaging, but also—dare we say it?—cool. Our accounts showcase our humor as well as our literary knowledge, and our memes are edgy but never inappropriate, so you can share them in class without worrying that something cringe-y might pop up
Key Sections Memes have been so popular on our Instagram and Twitter accounts that we brought them to the site and added them to our most-read SparkNotes. We now have pages dedicated solely to memes in our Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice guides!
Classroom Activity Idea Challenge your students to give classic literature a modern-day makeover by asking them to create a meme about the book you’re currently reading—they can use a favorite TV show or movie, a viral trend, or anything else they can think of (as long as it’s appropriate for class). If your students don’t have access to personal computers at home, you can crop the top captions off of a few of our memes, leaving just the image (of characters and their lines), and print off copies for your class. Then, your students can choose a scene that they think relates to or represents a plot point or character(s) and write an accompanying caption!
SparkNotes is proud to offer content specifically for YOU, teachers! SparkTeach is a unique set of teaching guides, lesson plans, and worksheets designed to help make classic literature engaging and relevant. Inspired by conversations with real teachers, these resources were designed to give you everything you need to connect students with the books you’re teaching.
We created lessons to help students explore classic texts through relatable lenses, such as love, anxiety, and prejudice. In addition to these Real-Life Lens Lessons, we also have Poetics Lessons, Film Lessons, dozens of lesson activities, reproducible worksheets that build reading, vocabulary, writing, and critical-thinking skills, and helpful assessments.
Print editions of SparkTeach titles are available at all Barnes & Noble stores and for online ordering at bn.com, with the first 30 guides rolling out over the next year. SparkNotes is also pleased to offer free sample content online at SparkTeach.com for our first six titles! We hope you’ll check it out and adapt our guides for your students’ needs.Key Sections
- Real-Life Lens Lessons: Real-Life Lens Lessons are units that focus on a specific text over multiple class periods. The driving force behind each unit is the lens, a carefully selected, culturally relevant, and relatable theme through which students view the text. The lens invites students to explore the text in a way that connects the content with their own lives—their experiences, concerns, interests, and aspirations. Each Real-Life Lens Lesson includes Big Idea and Driving Questions, creative activities, writing prompts, final projects, ideas for differentiated instruction, assessments, supporting worksheets, graphic organizers, and more.
- Poetics Lessons: Poetics Lessons help students build understanding of important literary devices, such as metaphor, personification, rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter, and more. All of our Poetics Lessons come with downloadable worksheets or graphic organizers you can reproduce for classroom use.
- Film Lessons: Film Lessons help students go deeper into a text by watching a film version, making comparisons, and drawing contrasts. We suggest class-appropriate clips and specific versions you can watch with your students, and every Film Lesson includes downloadable worksheets or graphic organizers you can reproduce for classroom use.
Classroom Activity Idea All of our SparkTeach lesson plans are chock-full of engaging and creative activity ideas (plus worksheets!). Check out our samples at SparkTeach.com.
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