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5 Practical Strategies for Literacy Development

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Proficiency in literacy is more important for the well-being of Canadians now than ever before. Some statistics cite over 50% of the population over 16 years of age lack the reading skills necessary for living and working in a modern society [1]. So how can we go about improving this? The strategies below offer a practical approach for parents and teachers alike to promote the growth of literacy in young people.

1) Build Your Understanding of What Effective Literacy Instruction Looks Like:

This is the most important place to start if your goals are to help raise the literacy skills of your child or students. By educating yourself on what literacy means and what it looks like in today’s world, you set yourself up to be able to design and implement effective practices within your classroom or home that have a positive impact on literacy development over time [2]. What this might include is having knowledge and understanding of the curriculum at the level your child is operating at, a basic understanding of childhood development, and some idea of where to find resources that will support your programming. Effective literacy instruction requires you to support connections that are made between things like reading, writing and speaking [2]. You need to be able to respond to the diverse learning styles and readiness of your students and provide fair and measured feedback. If you really want to help your students or children improve their literacy skills, becoming a more educated and capable teacher yourself is the first place to start.

2) Design a Responsive Literacy Learning Environment:

Once you’ve researched and begun to raise your own understanding of what effective literacy instruction looks like you can start to move forward in designing an environment that encourages and responds to the improvement of literacy skills. Ask yourself these questions. What does an ideal environment for the growth of literacy skills look like? How might this change depending on the age and stage of the learner? How can an environment that stimulates inquiry, reflection, dialogue, reading and writing be developed? Again, there is no magic formula for creating this; so much of learning depends on the individual — their needs, interests, and learning styles. With that in mind, there are some things to strive for. An environment where literacy learning thrives will work to foster positive attitudes about learning and literacy development. It allows and encourages the learner to raise questions, express opinions, take risks and explore ideas. And it ensures that their are ample opportunities for reflection, conversation and collaboration to deepen understanding [2]. Think hard about how this would look in your home or classroom and then begin to cultivate that space.

3) Use a Comprehensive Approach to Reading Instruction:

The key elements included in a comprehensive approach to reading instruction include dedicated time for reading each and every day and the use of strategies that look to build oral language, fluency, comprehension and motivation [1]. Reading and language instruction in children go hand in hand. Language is the link to family, cultural background, and personal experience so modelling proper use of language will help children make connections between what they’re reading and their own lives. In younger children, use a program or mode of instruction that emphasizes phonological processing, or the process of using letter sounds to decode a word they’re reading or spelling [1]. Frequent practice in this regard helps to make reading automatic. Ask your student or child to make connections during reading activities [1]. Summarize, draw inferences, ask about the importance or role of certain characters. Strategies like these will help ensure that reading comprehension is being practiced. Finally, one of the most important factors involved in reading instruction is having motivated learners. Part of building that motivation from a young age involves having them reading a little every day and having resources available to match the age and stage of the reader. By constant reading practice, a child will come to see themselves as a good reader and be more likely to pursue reading on their own [1]. A comprehensive approach to reading will teach young learners to think about reading, monitor their understanding, and help them figure out what they know and need to know to make sense of different texts [1].

4) Model A Strong Literacy Environment:

This is a key factor in raising children who value reading, writing and literacy development. Make sure you engage in activities with young learners such as joint reading, drawing, singing, story telling and role-playing. Set aside time for yourself to read so that young learners see it as something which adults do regularly. Have discussions with them about what they’re reading and ask questions to have them explain and retell in their own words [3]. With older children, play word games, talk about word meanings, make inferences from pictures and have plenty of age-appropriate reading material ready to go. With older students, hold conversations about current events, model healthy internet consumption and talk to them about what that might look like and why. A big part of motivating learners to value literacy development comes from modelling that environment yourself by setting aside time to read and making a point to hold conversations about these ideas.

5) Try These Proven Literacy Strategies:

As students progress through grade levels, the level of reading and writing at which they are expected to perform becomes increasingly more difficult. Successful students are often able to draw upon numerous strategies to help them deal with this. For those who are struggling, one of the common reasons is that they don’t know how or when to effectively apply some of these strategies. Reading and writing strategies are numerous so I’ll only list some of my personal favourites here — the links to these resources are found below. While engaging with a piece of text, have students establish the most and least important information. Give them time to read and re-read the piece and supply them with a “t-chart” (i.e. most important information on the left and least important information on the right). Have the student write down the most and least important information and then discuss why they made these choices [4]. Another one of my personal favourites is the “rapid writing” strategy. This is particularly useful when generating ideas for a longer piece of writing or for responding to a short prompt. Have students write non-stop, as fast as they can on a particular topic for a prescribed amount of time (usually 2-3 minutes). Have them read their piece aloud and see what they’ve gotten down. Discuss how this strategy can be used to begin writing a longer, more polished piece. Alternatively, you can have students use organizers to classify or categorize their writing [5]. Lastly, a reading challenge is a great strategy to engage students and motivate them to practice their reading. One challenge in particular asks students in grades 9 and 10 to complete 16 classic novels by age 16; of course, this can be adopted to suit your students at the age and stage they may be in [6].

There you have it. Five strategies which you can implement to help create a learning environment that is geared towards improving literacy skills in young learners. If you have any strategies which you feel are particularly effective, please feel free to share them below.

Written By Nick Mehring, Owner and Education Director of Prep Academy Tutors of Kitchener-Waterloo


[1] Canadian Education Statistics Council, Key Factors to Support Literacy Success in School-Aged Populations, 2009.
[2] Government of Ontario, Paying Attention to Literacy, 2013.
[3] Supporting Your Child’s Literacy Development at Home, National Center on Improving Literacy, Accessed February 14, 2019, https://improvingliteracy.org/brief/supporting-your-childs-literacy-development-home
[4] Government of Ontario, Think Literacy Reading Strategies, 2011, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/reading.pdf.
[5] Government of Ontario, Think Literacy Writing Strategies, 2011, http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/studentsuccess/thinkliteracy/files/writing.pdf.
[6] Holly Welham, “Ten Ways to Improve Student Literacy,” The Guardian, May 8, 2014, https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/may/08/ten-ways-improve-student-literacy.