2-Minute Strategies 2-MIN. READ

The Long Reach of Literacy Development

By: Martha S. Butler 02/27/2024
Learn how to develop literacy skills in the classroom and help your students succeed academically and beyond.
In the classroom, the students are relaxed and engaged in independent reading.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, says, “Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope.” I, too, believe that. As someone who works directly with Grades 3–5 teachers, I recognize that literacy is at the heart of our educational system. It lays the foundation for our students to thrive academically.

When students develop literacy skills to navigate the many challenges they encounter—beyond human instinct or survival skills—they can effectively interact with their peers, and they’re more likely to engage in learning.

Developing Early Literacy Skills

Reading aloud to students, providing phonics instruction, or encouraging creative writing will help build early literacy skills. Even upper-elementary and secondary students who need support with reading and writing will need regular exposure to rich text and literature at their instructional level.

It’s important to surround children with a variety of texts from different genres and cultures that will pique their interests. Using short poems or song lyrics can serve as a model for their own writing. When your students don’t know how to start writing, give them a sentence starter. To build confidence and class community, try establishing reading buddies at similar levels and shared writing journals to allow them to develop their written and verbal communication skills.

How to Develop Digital Literacy Skills

Assuming students of the technology generation are naturally literate in technology is easy, but that’s not always true. The skills students use to play games do not transfer to using online platforms, and many students do not know how to problem solve through technical issues or find credible resources.

Try exposing students to different types of technology including online literature. Show them how to read research materials on a digital platform, or implement interactive eBooks into your lessons. Try teaching students how to code, or create digital projects that require them to learn how to use different online tools.

The Value of Cross-Curricular Integration

Literacy skills are needed in every subject, even mathematics. As educators, collaborating with other teachers across all subject areas is critical to creating a common language that students will recognize from one subject to the next. 

You can create a list of vocabulary words across subject areas or use a graphic organizer across the curriculum, such as the “hamburger method” for writing instruction. The bun is the topic sentence, the supporting details are the lettuce, tomatoes, and burger, and the bottom bun is the conclusion.

Building Critical-Thinking Skills

Literacy helps students develop critical-thinking skills by teaching them how to analyze information, break down arguments, and make informed decisions.

Try engaging students with problem-solving games, real-world writing assignments, or relevant discussions that require debates. Discuss why someone would buy and sell stock in the stock market. Or, have your students analyze photos of people interacting. With a partner, have them determine what’s going on in the photo and explain what details led them to that conclusion. This encourages students to tap into their background knowledge and develops their critical thinking.

Instilling the Importance of Civic Participation

Engaging students in lessons that help them recognize the importance of voting, taking part in government initiatives, addressing healthcare issues, and understanding general finance prepares them to make informed decisions into adulthood.

Have students participate in mock elections. Allow them to analyze the bias and propaganda in the ads and discuss how candidates intentionally target specific audiences.

Helping Reduce Poverty

We can make sure our students graduate with the ability to read and write at a level that can help them get out of poverty and give them hope to change their environment and circumstances. With a foundation in literacy, our students will have a better chance of finding high-paying jobs, choosing where they want to live, and even furthering their education.

By encouraging students to read and write about healthy and wealthy communities, they will begin to understand how communities thrive and how communities collapse. Or, have students write about programs and projects they would create to improve their community.

Our Children Are Our Future

From years of being in the classroom, I’ve realized that a student's literacy skills can have far-reaching effects on the decisions they make, their professional success, and their communities. As the song by Whitney Houston goes, “The children are our future.”

When students question why it’s so important to master their literacy skills, point to the future and remind them that literacy provides the foundation to pursue their hopes and dreams. A strong literacy foundation is not only a necessity—but it is also the right of every human being.

Want to hear more from Martha? Tune into the Extraordinary Educators™  Podcast.