Wednesday, September 10, 2014

6 Literacy Activities that Work

Literacy is perhaps one of the most important skill sets students need regardless of their post-secondary pursuits. Here's six reading and writing strategies that I like to use. Some of them are used more than others, depending on the needs of my students.


One of the more overlooked skills is skimming through a text. Even if the goal is to do a close read, it's still helpful to teach students a few steps to develop a technique. They scan and skim when they browse the Internet, so all you're doing is providing is some guidiance to the process and challenging them to practice on documents (starting with print is recommended). This is especially useful with non-fiction and general research. An extension activity could include something on website evaluation.

2. Question-Answer Relationship

This is about a process that we go through when we read. The activity challenges students to write out their thought process through an organization that matches the unpacking of inquiry when we read and think. If there's one thing classrooms need more of, it's metacognitive activities, thinking about thinking. 

3. One-Sentence Summary

The benefit of this activity is that it provides students the opportunity to practice writing strong sentences by condensing their ideas. It's often the limits on creativity that help develop it further. Essentially, this is microblogging, so let's have a conversation with our students about writing quality Twitter (and other social media) posts and how it relates to writing quality sentences. Word choice is everything, here. The photo to the right shows a wall in our classroom that is dedicated to anonymous summary responses. To add some evaluation, I have students mark a few responses with a plus or delta symbol (like or change). We can easily see if certain responses are more liked or need to be changed, which models for students the importance of prioritizing time by identifying the most popular or troubling areas. 

4. First Lines

Making predictions is one of the best components to a learning activity. First lines challenges learners to make predictions as to what a paragraph is about after reading only the first sentence. This activity helps learners become more engaged readers while practicing identifying main ideas. It also transfers well into writing more effective topic sentences. An extension activity could be to have students rewrite the first line after they confirm the accuracy of their predictions. Great stuff for ELLs, including English as a primary language speakers. After all, when English is used in the classroom, we are all ELLs.

5. Truth Statements

Introducing or reviewing topics can be more engaging when students write a few truth statements. The stem for these is something like, "It is true that ... " This activity can be shared out on sticky notes to a board with a confidence scale (1 to 4) to add some reflection to the process. This helps students develop their self-assessment and self-evaluation skills, which are critical to effective writing. I usually do this one after a brain dump, done individually, so students have some of their own facts to formulate statements. If you start a topic with the truth statements, have the students reflect on the accuracy of their statements to bring closure to the lesson.

6. What? How? Why? Outline 

Sometimes we call these journalist questions. When my students ask me what I'm looking for in a short response, I suggest answering these three questions as specifically and focused as possible. If the question is about what factors made assembly lines possible in the automobile industry, students should focus by choosing one factor, like interchangeable parts, to comment on instead of listing all the factors. This sets them up to tell how production employs interchangeable parts before finishing with why this factor is so critical to the success of the assembly line. There's nothing wrong with a three-sentence paragraph if they're good sentences. Students also need to learn that it's better to focus on one part really well than to try to get it all in and confuse the reader.

Thank you for reading. A second part with more challenging literacy activities will be posted next month. Please comment with ways you think these activities, or others, can be used to support our learners.