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Dear IC

Dear IC… All Teachers are Reading Teachers

Now Accepting Your Questions:

Calvin J. Stocker

Dear IC,

I am a core content teacher that doesn’t teach ELA specifically and I was wondering how I might approach increasing my students’ ability to read and write well? I know that literacy is “kind of a big deal” and I think I’m ready to begin engraining some literacy-based instructional strategies into my lessons. Can you help with that?


Litra See


Hi Litra,

I like how you stated that you do not teach ELA specifically. As you might have already begun to internalize, teaching students how to read and write is ALL of our jobs. Yes, literacy is important and highly effective teachers consider how they can utilize literacy-based instructional strategies as they develop their long-term plans, daily lessons, and even their routines and procedures. As you have likely learned by now, the literacy gap IS the achievement gap! If we can teach our students how to read and write well, nothing can stand in their way of getting to and through college. Here’s a snapshot of some “quick ways” you can engrain literacy specific strategies into your classroom:

Quick-Write Share Out


Probably one of the quickest and most simplistic ways to emphasize literacy in your classroom. The “quick-write share out” is essentially the following process:

  1. Have students complete a quick-write on a prompt or question pertaining to the concept you are teaching (e.g. “Accord)ing to George Washington, the United States should… I know this because he says…”.
  2. Once your students are completed writing, have them stand up and begin some music. As the music plays, have students move around the classroom randomly.
  3. Once the music stops, they partner with the person standing closest to them.
  4. The first reads their quick-write to their partner.
  5. As soon as the first students finishes reading, the second student responds to them using one of the following two sentence starters:
    1. “If I understood you correctly…”
    2. “What I found most interesting about what you said was…”
  6. The partners switch roles and repeat the process.

Overall this process takes about four minutes to complete and you will see comprehension levels on those concepts soar. Further, you are able to cater to multiple learning modalities using this strategy (visual, verbal, etc.). Changing up the sentence starter prompts is also a great idea, especially if you want to focus on the discussion (e.g. “Four impacts of the __________ that I heard you say were…”). The sky is truly the limit with this one!

Promote “Active” Rather than Passive Readers

Active reading is essentially annotating, but please know that there is more to annotating than simply writing down the main ideas and details in the margins.

If you truly want to promote quality active reading and increase comprehension, be sure to give students space to write in the margins (at least 1″ on both sides will suffice, though 1.25-1.5″ may be more appropriate for younger grades). As well, there are more processes that we want our students to undergo as they read than simply finding the main idea or summarizing. Comprehension increases when students not only summarize the text they are reading, but also make predictions, connect to the text, question things, create clarifications, and evaluate or form opinions.

Check out this simple poster I created to help both you and your students with teaching/learning the strategies. I used to enlarge this poster and put it on a wall in my classroom. It held me both me and students accountable using the strategies every single time they read. A general mantra in my classroom was that: If we are reading, then we should be writing. If we are writing, then it should be based upon what we are reading. My recommendation would be to isolate each of the annotation strategies and teach them. Remember, you will need to do a teacher model of what a “solid” prediction, connection, etc., looks like. My criterion was that each annotation needed to be both “specific” and “relevant.” Just keep in mind, this is a process and it will take some time. I promise the benefits are well worth the time though.

Here are a few examples of what student annotations might look like:

Graphic Organizers

Sometimes reading and writing alone are not enough. We all process information and organize it in different ways. A way to help your students become better at accessing the information they have learned is to have them organize it in meaningful ways. Consider having students develop Flow Diagrams, KWL charts, Cause and Effect maps, Mind Maps, Venn diagrams,
Story Maps, Timelines, Five “W” Charts, and many other types of graphic organizers. I have included some examples of these below:

Literature Circles (2.0 Strategy)

This is probably the strategy that will take the most amount of pre-work, as it requires solid routines and procedures, great management skills, and of course some effective modeling. With that being said, this was probably one of the most effective literacy strategies that I used in my classroom, second only to active-reading.

Each student is given a specific role within the literature circle. The literature circle’s task is three-fold: 1) Read the text. The text might be a story, textbook pages, or some other form of reading. 2) Interact with the text. Each student takes on a specific “role” within the group and creates annotations based on that specific duty (more on that below). 3) Discuss the text. After students read two-three paragraphs together (this varies by grade-level), the Discussion Director gives each person in the group (groups of four work best) 60-90 seconds to make their annotations (individually). Students write their “duty specific” annotations in the left-hand column of their role’s sheet (see below). Once each member of the literature circle has had an opportunity to write their notes, focusing specifically on their “role,” the group members engage in about 60-90 seconds of conversation on what they just read. As they engage in conversation, the students who are not speaking write notes in the right-hand column of their literature circle sheets (see below). The Discussion Director’s job is to ensure that everyone stays on-task and is participating (ensuring equity of voice as well). The process is then continued until the group has completed the reading. Students have now not only read the text, but they have also written about it and discussed it!

Each “role” sheet contains the following:

  1. Description of the specific “duty” or role.
  2. Sample questions (essentially, what they should be thinking about as they read the text with their group).
  3. Blank left column where they write their “role specific” annotations. This is completed individually when the discussion director gives them independent time.
  4. The lined “group” annotations. This is where students write down ideas and thoughts that other individuals in the group have shared out during the discussion.

Example: Connector Role

** It’s always a good idea, especially when you first begin using this strategy, to have students review their specific roles and the questions they should be considering as they read before they begin the actual literature circle. Doing so familiarizes students with the role and helps focus them right away. As you use this strategy more often and all students have the opportunity to serve in each of the roles, you won’t need to spend as much time having them reviewing their roles.

Here is a link to each of the “role” sheets. I recommend only using the following roles, especially at first as students get used to the process and because they are the more “legitimate” roles that will have the largest impact on literacy:

  1. Discussion Director
  2. Connector
  3. Summarizer
  4. Illuminator

P.S. You may also want to copy them front and back in order to give your students as much space as possible to write their annotations.

Best regards,


How have you embedded literacy strategies into your instruction?


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