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A guide to teaching literacy across the curriculum

What does it mean to teach literacy across the curriculum? As educators, we know that literacy is key for students’ success both in the classroom and beyond. But how do we build literacy skills? And whose job is it to teach literacy, anyway? 

While you might think of literacy as a function of the Language Arts cassroom, the truth is reading comprehension plays a key role in every subject area. Processing texts, understanding their meaning, and applying background knowledge in new contexts are all fundamental skills that can be developed and applied in Social Studies, Math, and Science as well as English Language Arts (ELA). 
Teachers across the curriculum can help students develop literacy skills by teaching academic vocabulary in every subject—and Flocabulary can help!

Captivate students and make learning experiences memorable and interesting through Flocabulary. Teachers can sign up below to access the activities and lessons shared in this blog post. Administrators can contact us below to learn more about the power of Flocabulary Plus.

What is literacy across the curriculum? 

First, let’s start by defining a few key terms.

Literacy has a lot of different definitions, but the goal of literacy across the curriculum is to prepare students with the ability to read, write, speak, and listen in a way that lets them communicate effectively and make sense of the world. 

Literacy plays a significant role in reducing educational inequality and prepares students to be thoughtful contributors to school and society. In short, literacy is key for interacting with our world—which is why it’s so important to teach these skills in every subject and classroom! 

So let’s dig into a few easy ways you can start teaching academic language in any setting.

A guide to teaching literacy across the curriculum

1. Activate Prior Knowledge & Spark Discussion

We want students to use academic language – words like analyze, summarize, and defend, as well as content-specific language such as median, mode, and hypothesis—but how do we encourage this language in our classrooms? One easy way to increase literacy in any classroom is to use video to introduce a new topic and prompt discussion. 

There are plenty of studies on how music and memory go hand in hand. For instance, how did you learn the ABCs? Can you still sing the state capitals? Students are constantly surrounded by music and pop culture, so using music to your advantage in the classroom allows you to familiarize your students with new terms in a memorable, engaging way before really digging into a new concept. 
Not only is this a great way to engage your students and get them to speak in academic language, but it’s also a fun way to get students excited about any lesson! Flocabulary videos use hip-hop not only because students love it, but also because the average rap song uses two to three times more words per song than other music genres—packing in even more content in an easy-to-digest way.  Plus, they’ll be singing the songs the rest of the day!

In math class, you could use a video to encourage students to start using academic vocabulary before introducing a new concept. For example, if you’re teaching scatter plots, you could introduce the topic with a Flocabulary video. Using Discuss Mode, students begin using vocabulary like “outlier” and “variables” in a class discussion before practicing on their own.

2. Build on Informational Texts

Informational texts are everywhere! They can be found in almost every subject area and classroom, and there’s a reason why! Reading and analyzing informational texts equips students with the skills to be successful in college, career, and future learning. Because they can be found in almost every classroom, this is a great place to teach literacy skills across the curriculum!

By pairing your informational text with a video, you can pre-teach tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary and prepare students to break down what they’re reading. Research shows that vocabulary is an especially strong predictor of informational text comprehension. By exposing your students to this vocabulary before they read a complex text, you can increase overall comprehension! Plus, if you have struggling readers, you can assign practice activities like Flocabulary’s Vocab Cards or Read & Respond to provide scaffolded support and teach academic language.

Research from Nagy, W., & Scott, J. (2000). Vocabulary processes and Yildirim,K., Yildiz, M., & Ates, S. (2011) Is Vocabulary a Strong Variable Predicting Reading Comprehension and Does the Prediction Degree of Vocabulary Vary according to Text Types

For example, take a lesson on Ancient Egypt. You can use a kid-approved Flocabulary video to preview the topic and build vocabulary before students dig into informational texts to improve comprehension. You can even differentiate for students’ diverse needs by providing opportunities for further practice with vocab cards or a practice quiz—all while teaching literacy across the curriculum!

3. Ditch the text and try video!

Another great way to increase literacy across the curriculum is to use video instead of a long reading passage. Did you know that video viewers retain 95% of a video’s message compared to 10% when reading a text? Not only do students retain more information from a video than reading, but it’s a fun way to ignite interest in a new topic!

Using video in the classroom boosts retention and sets students up for success before they even begin a new area of study. Even more, you can easily differentiate for individual students’ needs by assigning practice activities, adjusting video playback speed, or turning on Immersive Reader and closed caption functionality—allowing every student to succeed! If you want your students to practice written literacy skills,  assign a Read and Respond to provide further vocabulary practice for struggling or advanced readers.

As a former Language Arts teacher and avid reader myself, I’m NOT saying to throw out all your books… but video can be a great way to encourage retention of new information when the goal of a lesson is to build new vocabulary or practice a new skill.

Let’s say you’re pre-teaching Chemical Reactions in your science class.  Instead of assigning a long passage on chemical reactions before a lab, you can introduce vocabulary and practice with a video to build the academic vocabulary students need to become scientists in the experiment.

Start teaching literacy across the curriculum

As educators, we want our students to not only succeed in our own classrooms but throughout their educational experiences and beyond. Literacy plays a pivotal role in this success. Think of how often you use your own reading and comprehension skills in everyday life!

Making literacy a goal of every class allows students to practice and build the skills that will support students as they navigate the 21st Century world. By supporting struggling readers to think, read, and write critically, teachers across the curriculum can prepare students to be meaningful contributors to society. 

It may seem overwhelming at first, but start small! Add a few minutes of vocabulary instruction at the beginning of your next lesson, and build from there. You’ve got this!

Captivate students and make learning experiences memorable and interesting through Flocabulary. Teachers can sign up below to access the activities and lessons shared in this blog post. Administrators can contact us below to learn more about the power of Flocabulary Plus.

Kelsey Schoppen

Kelsey is a former Language Arts educator who brings her passion for engaging and empowering students through edTech to her role at Nearpod.