Top 10 Content Literacy Considerations

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10. Resources: Variety is the key! Reluctant readers become engaged readers when they have multiple opportunities to select texts that appeal to their individual interests. Continuously collect a variety of texts, building a classroom library that challenges and motivates readers. The Young Adult Library Services Association has announced their 2015 Teens’ Top Reading Selections. Check them out!

9. Strategy Ownership: Let them own it! Avoid teaching strategies for strategies’ sake. Be sure to clarify the strategy’s purpose for students so they can gain independent ownership of it, understanding when it is most appropriately used. True strategic instruction does not involve a duplication of worksheets. Students should be generating the strategy through hand-drawn methods to develop the conceptual understanding that strategies are designed to stretch and adjust to fit the structure of the text. Every strategy doesn’t fit!

8. Write! Write! Write! Students need plenty of opportunities to write about content area learning. Even short, brief writing opportunities matter. However, holding students accountable for the proper conventions of grammar and mechanics should always be an enforced expectation. They take plenty exceptions to such conventions in their daily constant digital communications.

7. Text Structure: Help them organize! Every text is organized by some method. The author’s craft in developing the text must be detected by the reader. Texts are organized differently depending on the content area. The quicker a reader can determine the structure of the text the quicker he can comprehend its meaning.

6. Close Reading: Teach readers to talk to the text! Model how to annotate texts by demonstrating how good readers ask the text critical questions. Those critical questions include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Who is speaking in the passage?
  2. Who seems to be the main audience?
  3. What is the first thing that strikes you? Why? How so?
  4. What connections within the text do you notice? What internal differences?
  5. What seems most important?
  6. What does the author mean by particular words or statements?
  7. How does the author’s word choice convey meaning?
  8. What is the author’s purpose? Convince? Sway? Prove? Describe? Recount?
  9. What is the main message? the central idea? the overriding theme? What evidence proves your conclusion?
  10. How is the text structured or organized?

5. Text Features: Highlight the added benefit of text features! Most informational texts include a load of features including illustrations, diagrams, maps, timelines, charts, etc. Students need opportunities to interact with text features and make sense of how they add to the meaning of the reading selection. These elements must be directly taught without the assumption readers readily know how these elements contribute to content meaning making.

4. Cold Texts: Novelty is the truest test! Rather than “testing readers’ memory” of texts they have already read, provide fresh reading selections to assess the acquisition of skills. Provide new, rich passages that students interact with to determine meaning of unfamiliar words using a variety of strategies, to analyze author’s choice of text structure, or to determine the central theme or idea of a text, analyzing its development over the course of the selection.

3. Content Context: Keep it relevant! Make it real! Teach students to take on the characteristics of the discipline they are reading. They should read and write like a scientist in science, like a historian in history, like an entrepreneur in principles of business, like a graphic artists in web designs, etc. Every content area has its own subject-specific nuances. Expose readers to those discrete skills that are particular to the content.

2. Academic Vocabulary: Speak the language! Research indicates that vocabulary is the number one predictor of achievement on standardized tests. We know also vocabulary is crucial for unlocking the meaning of subject-specific content. Readers must know the language of any discipline to understand it. Academic vocabulary should be used in content conversations constantly and consistently by both the teacher and the students in the course of acquiring knowledge.

1. Background Knowledge: Activate it! Although background knowledge can be largely connected to vocabulary, there are other components to consider. Because learning is always an emotional endeavor, make the conscientious effort to connect readers to the text through sensory experiences. Connect learners to the content through prior experiences. If they have limited prior experience, help them create experiences through images, sounds, stories, poems, riddles, videos, etc. Activating background knowledge fertilizes the mental ground upon which we sow all new knowledge.

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