Integrating Literacy in the Content Classroom

“Why do we have to write? We’re not in English class!”
“Do we really have to read the entire chapter?”
Many students have the impression that reading and writing only happen in English/LA class.

However, this misconception is not only with our students. Many adults also believe that literacy instruction is solely the responsibility of the English/LA teacher.

In casual conversations with other teachers, I have heard these responses when talking about literacy across content areas: “It’s not my job to teach them how to read!” or (my favorite) “I didn’t go to school for English, so I’m not grading writing.”

The idea of integrating literacy skills, particularly reading, writing, and speaking, into the core content areas is not a new concept. In fact, most teacher certification programs require a class about integrating reading and writing in the content classroom.

So why, after we leave college, do so many content teachers ignore or drop the inclusion of literacy in the classroom?

Whatever the reason may be to forego literacy in the content classroom, it is time to bring it back! For students to improve, they must practice reading, writing, speaking, and listening every day in every content area.

As August comes to a close, many teachers are either beginning to plan for the upcoming school year, or have already begun school, and I would like to challenge you to find ways to incorporate literacy in your classroom.

What is Literacy?
Literacy has generally been defined as the ability to read and write; however, literacy is so much more than just reading and writing. Literacy includes: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

How we interact with language and texts varies depending on the type of text and the content. Interaction with texts also goes beyond just reading and writing about them; when we interact with texts, we also think about them, discuss them, and use the texts in subject-specific ways.

How to Incorporate Literacy in the Content Classroom
All subject areas can incorporate reading, writing, and speaking in their classrooms! Remember, for many of these strategies, you must model for students how to use them before assigning them to be completed independently.

  •  Think-Pair-Share: This is a great strategy to help students practice speaking and listening skills. It is a great strategy to use as an anticipatory set or closing activity, or even as a transition between topics or lessons during class. There are three parts to this strategy:
    1. Think: The teacher poses a question, prompt, or observation to the students. The students then take some time to think about the topic.
    2. Pair: Students then pair up with a partner (you can designate the partners or allow students to choose partners) and talk about the responses that each partner came up with. They compare and contrast their responses, and then come together to create a joint answer.
    3. Share: After the students discuss the prompt with partners and come up with a shared response, the teacher then calls on the pairs to share their responses with the class. You could record the responses on the board, and then use these responses to lead to a class-wide discussion on the topic.
  • ABC Summary: After a lesson, unit, or reading activity, the teacher can have students summarize their learning with an “ABC summary.” On their paper, students will list the letters of the alphabet vertically. The teacher will then ask the students to write a word, phrase, or sentence beginning with that letter to explain or relate to the topic. This is a great strategy to work on comprehension and writing.
  • 3-2-1 Exit Ticket: At the end of the lesson, have the students list three things they considered important from the lesson; two things they would like to learn or find out more about; and one question or concern they still have about the topic.
  • Text Features & Text Structures: When giving students a reading passage or informational text, demonstrate and model how to understand the text for your content area. Point out text features (bold, underlining, headings & subheadings, pictures & captions, tables & charts) and show students how to use those features to understand the content. Point out transition words and text structures and show students how authors of your content organize their texts to help students understand the topic. For more information about text features, check out the “Effective Instructional Strategies Series: Text Features,” and for more information about text structures, check out “Classroom Strategies | Text Structure” and “20 Strategies to Teach text Structure“. After point out these features, use graphic organizers to help students organize their learning and the content.
  • Cornell Notes: This note style is extremely beneficial for students when organizing note-taking and their understanding of content. It can be used during lectures or reading activities. The students take notes on content in the right hand column, after the notes they go through and record the main ideas in the left hand column. At the bottom of the page, as a closing activity, they write a summary of their learning. To see sample Cornell notes and learn more about the strategy, check out JMU’S Learning Toolbox: Cornell Notes.
  • Think-Alouds: Model for students how to think about and understand a text by reading it out loud and stopping to share your thinking and questions. Learn more about the think-aloud strategy here or from the Model Think-Aloud strategy by Derek Fernandez.


These are just a handful of the hundreds of strategies out there to incorporate literacy in the classroom. For more information on literacy strategies, check out the resources below:

Integrating literacy across the curriculum helps students become stronger learners. Hope everyone has an awesome 2016-2017 school year!

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