Since my grad program has a focus on content area literacy, I thought I’d share some of my favorite strategies. While some strategies might seem like too much work and not worth the time, each is designed to help students improve their reading and writing skills – not that you are teaching them to read or write better, necessarily, but you are teaching students how to learn content more comprehensively through reading and writing.
Every strategy requires 4 steps of explicit instruction to ensure students truly understand how to use the strategy and are getting the most out of it:
To start, PreP is a strategy to activate students prior knowledge. I’ve only included a short outline, but there are tons of articles online about each of these strategies.
EmPOWER is a strategy to teach formal writing. The best part is that you don’t have to teach the whole strategy, just the parts you need most. As a former writing tutor, I like the concise steps involved in this strategy that create good habits in writing:
Teach better reading comprehension using ConStruct:
The beauty of each of the above strategies is that they are most effective when coupled with graphic organizers. I love graphic organizers. Especially Semantic Organizers, also known as Concept Maps. I like to make a map for each unit so I can clearly see which concepts, vocab, and equations are important to cover.
An example of the concept map for a unit on Heat in Physics:
Another literacy strategy, clearly incorporating graphic organizers, is the KWL chart. Students fill one column with what they know about a topic, the next column with what they want to know about that topic. and the third with what they have learned about the topic at the end of the unit. I did an example about fruit:
Lastly, LGL is a great way to help students synthesize reading text and, eventually, to learn to write their ideas without using the original author’s wording. Here’s an example using snowboarding:
The “list” is a grouping of words from a pre-chosen text the entire class has read. The students then group words into different classifications. Lastly, students label each group. This chart is useful because it shows the students that the basic themes of the reading on snowboarding to be the conditions, events, and history related to the sport. Finally, you can then assign a writing prompt for students to describe the conditions, events, and history related to snowboarding – since the students will no longer have the text in front of them, there is no temptation for plagiarism.
As mentioned before, each of these strategies should have a graphic organizer (of your choosing). There are articles on graphic organizers littered around the web, but there is no need to do anything formal or fancy. A simple graphic organizer will be easier for a student to implement and be more effective in the end.
One last note, science teachers are often resistant to using literacy strategies in their class. The important thing to remember is that teaching content literacy is different than teaching reading and writing. Content literacy is improving students reading and writing skills in order to teach a deeper level of content understanding. Just try one thing at a time!