Cross Discipline Literacy: Technology Infused Anticipatory Activities

Literacy- Content Strategies That Work (1)

Currently, I am digging deeper into cross-discipline literacy strategies to support the educators I serve. Many non-ELA educators find teaching and modeling literacy skills to students a daunting task. It is my goal to break-down common barriers that teachers face, and to equip them with research-backed strategies to implement into their own classroom.

Currently, I am reading, Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work (Fisher and Frey), which I would recommend as an excellent resource with practical strategies, including supporting struggling readers and ELL students.

In the chapter entitled, “Attention Getters: Anticipatory Activities to Inspire Learning,” Fisher and Frey state that anticipatory activities should not be focused on behavior, for example, bell ringers, time-bound, but instead should be tied to the introduction of a new concept. Anticipatory activities should elicit curiosity, provoke questions, and evoke recall and activate background knowledge. These activities are not intended to provide entertainment, but instead, to scaffold learning so that the responsibility shifts to the student. In fact, they suggest to ground new learning in meaning-based inquiry.

Literacy- Content Strategies That Work

1. Demonstration

  • Display a theory, concept, or phenomenon
  • An interesting demonstration does not replace the need for deep exploration of a concept
  • Also important to tell students the “Why”
  • Technology Tip: Connect with Experts via Social Media and connect with experts for demonstrations, guest speakers, or other classrooms. Check out G+ for “hangouts” and communities (my students connected with poets to learn from and share with the poems they wrote)

2. Discrepant Events

  • Surprising or startling to command students’ attention
  • Staged performance
  • Powerful to aid in memory – emotional connection
  • Include music, art, dramatic play
  • Technology Tip: Students are passionate about censorship, bullying, etc. Use iphoneFakeText to create a fictitious conversation between two students or you and the principal to evoke an emotional connection and introduce a concept.

3. Visual Displays

  • Visual tools to construct knowledge
  • Active participation by the learner because of the interactive nature of “technoliteracies”
  • Construct, share, and interact with information
  • Technology Tip: Use Google Maps to view pictures pre and post a natural disaster, such as a tornado, tsunami, or fire. Let students experience the devastation, visually.

4. Thought-Provoking Questions

  • This helps to assist students in organizing information
  • Meant to appeal to emotional channels of learning
  • May be general (KWLSH)  or more specific to the unit and encourage interdisciplinary examination “What is a hero?”
  • Driving or essential questions
  • Technology Tip: Use Popplet to have students mind-map and organize components to a specific concept.

Each of these instructional strategies can be used to introduce a new concept and provide meaningful work for students! And although these strategies may not be considered new, they provide a specific reason of what, why and possibly why. The best part… they are not content-specific and can be applied across grade levels and content area.

Cross-Discipline Literacy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Gradual release

At the middle and secondary levels, teachers are traditionally isolated by content area and grade. And although, we, as professionals, understand the hypocrisy in a traditional educational environment (life is not so neatly departmentalized, the blurring of concepts, skills, and content exists); it is difficult for some educators to see the relationship between what is being taught in their classroom and what is being taught down the hall. Calling upon our elementary educator friends, we are reminded that literacy is the thread that ties all of the areas together. And through the practicing and mastering of these literacy skills, our students gain opportunities, understanding, and communication skills that they will use long after they leave through the doors of our schools. Today’s students must be able to locate, understand, evaluate, and use written information and multiple literacies in both their personal and academic lives.

In theory, this connection of literacy throughout the content areas helps to reinforce reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in all students; in reality, fear and frustration runs rampant in the minds of teachers when they hear the words “All teachers are reading and writing teachers”.

To create a culture of literacy within a building, an “All Hands on Deck” approach is needed for systematic change. No longer can pockets of excellence in reading comprehension instruction exist; focused goals and high-quality, sustained learning must occur to equip all teachers properly. Along with a toolbox filled with comprehension strategies and understanding of text structures and styles, I tend to agree with the thinking of Fisher and Frey as to the clarification of my position on this:

“We do not believe that ‘all content teachers are teachers of reading.’ We are not discussing reading comprehension with the expectation that this take front and center in every math, science, history, arts, or elective course. However, reading and understanding texts is a central feature of every course” (11).  So, while literacy may not be the focus in each classroom, everyday, it is an essential component to every class.

The key is, You, as the teacher, are the best reader and writer in the classroom. Modeling your thought process when discerning information in content-specific text is essential. Take, for instance, an industrial arts educator. Teaching literacy would not include a study on Huck Finn, but rather, modeling and practice in reading and comprehending texts normally found in that area. How does an architect read a blueprint? When looking at a bookshelf, how does a woodworker interpret design, structure, angles, etc. We read fiction with the intent of identifying plot, conflict, characters; these same strategies would not be applied to informational text.

Strategy: Gradual Release of Responsibility

Structural framework used to increase reading comprehension containing four components. The framework is organic in nature, meaning, there is no specific order or rate in which to use each component. Formative assessment identifies student needs and allows teacher differentiation. Technology integration is one solution to differentiate within the classroom to meet the needs of all students. (After each component, a technology integration tip is listed)

1. “I do” Minilesson in which the teacher establishes the focus, goal, or concept and models the thinking aloud to the class. (Technology Tip: A teacher or class YouTube channel. Students are able to rewatch minilesson containing the teacher modeling the comprehension strategy, or choose from a collection of videos with the same focus but different content)

2. “We do” Teacher prompts, questions, and cues students’ thinking through guided instruction and facilitation. (Technology Tip: Try a tool, such as EdPuzzle, to embed questions, cues, and prompts into videos)

3. “Do it together” Collaboratively, students apply previous learning with academic discourse to complete a task. (Technology Tip: Voicethread captures the thinking of students through text, voice, and annotations. Provide one task for the class, and allow collaborative group work to be demonstrated and shared on VT)

4. “Do it alone” Students, individually, apply understanding to an authentic task. (Technology Tip: Students use Explain Everything to demonstrate individual application of learning on an original task)

Gradual Release of Responsibility is a framework that can be applied across content and grade-level. Modeling your thinking aloud on how one approaches texts/visuals/graphs in our content area, supports comprehension strategies used to understand information. And although literacy is typically thought of as an ELA standard, it plays an essential role in the lives of our students; equipping them for future endeavors when life isn’t so neatly divided by subject area!


I am Not a Reading Teacher

“Gatekeepers of Information” a term often associated with overzealous technology directors who overblock websites denying students and teachers access to information.

I want to offer a different lens on the “Gatekeeper” label to include educators who claim no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher.” When one takes this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific rhetoric. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th grade science test question:


The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require students read Huck Finn, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Simple Starts to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy

1. Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.

2. Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.

3. Organization – Content specific rhetoric often has repetition in organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying how the author organizes a text will help students locate needed information.

4. Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is any piece that provides a solid example that students try to mimic in their own writing. All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.

5. Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to uncover the meaning of the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning strategies and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence


Best of luck! Literacy Rocks!