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Mixing it up: Incorporating content-area literacy instruction

children at desksIn my role as a literacy consultant for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency, I have the opportunity to work with teachers in many different school districts. I often hear from teachers that the majority of their day is spent teaching reading and math. As they struggle to find time to teach social studies and science, many teachers are using content area trade books and other text sources during their literacy block.  What does this look like and how can it benefit students?

Content area literacy instruction happens in all classrooms, kindergarten through 12th grade. By complementing content-area textbooks with other sources, teachers can provide motivation for reading and may improve content-area learning.

If children are to be prepared for the literacy demands of the future, they need access to informational trade books, magazines, newspapers, and electronic text. Content-area literacy focuses on the similarities of literacy in the content area with general strategies – like summarizing, questioning, and making inferences – that help students with comprehension and can be applied universally across content areas.

teacher in classroomJodi Jacobsen, a fourth grade teacher at Manson Northwest Webster, has been successfully integrating literacy into content-area instruction.  I recently visited Jacobsen’s class to observe what she calls "workshop" time. This is when her team integrates literacy instruction with science and social studies content.

Currently, students are studying inventions and energy. Jodi began the lesson by having three students hold up three different objects: a Thermos, a blanket, and a thermal headband. Students concluded that these objects all have something in common – heat and energy. Jacobsen then showed a short video clip from StudyJams website related to heat energy. Tying both of the previous activities together, Jacobsen then read aloud from the trade book, Destinations in Science, stopping periodically to ask students if they could make connections between the book and video.

During all units such as this one, the fourth grade team ensures that their read-alouds fit into the content. For example, they’re currently reading a Magic Tree House book about inventors while they study inventions. The learning from these content-rich read-alouds is also a perfect way to spark student-led investigations or lead to students engaging in engineering design challenges.

During guided reading, the team pulls in nonfiction books that align with content-area standards. Their use of content area literacy is embedded into a Balanced Literacy classroom environment through shared reading, read aloud, guided reading, and independent reading. Content-area writing is also included throughout the day in all subject areas.

It was obvious to me while visiting Jacobsen’s classroom that a positive culture and climate exists, where students are engaged in collaborative conversations and learning that encourages the success of all. Throughout the lesson, students were asked to share their thinking with a partner or small group. As I listened to the students’ reflections, their grasp of the new material as well as their background knowledge of previous lessons was evident. Jacobsen’s lesson used a variety of instructional strategies, student groupings, and an excellent model of how the integration of science and literacy instruction can achieve deeper understanding of both.

If you’re interested in exploring more about content-area literacy, excellent resources can be found on the Iowa Core website. Check out the Science Resources webpage, which will lead you to the Curriculum Planning webpage from the website, where you can find ways to integrate using science to support literacy in English language arts.

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