Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Embedded Literacy Across the Disciplines

K20 Center, Aimee Myers | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


Participants will gain a deeper understanding of embedded literacy through the modeling of interdisciplinary instructional strategies. Participants are asked to: a) evaluate five components of literacy, b) explore various strategies for embedding literacy in various subject areas, and c) reflect upon how literacy can be embedded into their own discipline with the instructional strategies provided to them during the session. Through collaborative participation, participants will recognize some of the core characteristics of embedded literacy and its use in the classroom to deepen learning.

Essential Questions

  • How can literacy support higher-order thinking?

  • What component of literacy is most significant to your specific discipline?

Learning Goals

  • Identify and evaluate the significant components of literacy.

  • Develop an understanding of how instructional strategies can build a toolbox for embedded literacy in the classroom.

  • Apply instructional strategies to their own subject area to support discipline-focused literacy.

Materials List

  • Embedded Literacy Presentation Slides (attached)

  • Literacy Components handout (attached; 1 per person)

  • Instructional Strategy Note Sheet handout (attached; 1 per person)

  • Digital Literacy Infographic (attached)

  • "Characteristics of Literacy-Rich Classrooms" reading for JigSaw (linked in Explain)

  • Post-it notes


Inform participants that several new instructional strategies will be introduced to them throughout the session. These strategies are tools to support embedded literacy. Encourage participants to use their "Instructional Strategy Note Sheet" to jot down ideas for how they would personalize the strategy to be a tool in their specific classes. Once all the new strategies are modeled, the presentation will allow time to reflect on how to use the strategies.

Sticky Bars explained: Distribute the "Literacy Components" handout. Allow participants to read the handout briefly. Once they have read the handout, ask them to decide which of the five components of literacy is the most significant for their content area and grade level. This decision should be based solely on their experiences as teachers. At this time, distribute sticky notes. Ask them to write down their literacy component as well as a brief statement supporting why they feel that component is the most significant to them; give them a minute to place their thoughts on the sticky note.

Now, ask participants to come up to the board and place their sticky notes in the appropriate column. Columns should consist of the five literacy components they had available to them to choose from: content-rich nonfiction, close reading, text-based answers, complex text with academic vocabulary, and speaking and listening. Once everyone has placed their sticky note in the appropriate column, the result should create a bar graph displaying the participants’ thoughts (see slide three for a visual representation). The visual created by the participants during this part of the session should show the most significant literacy component(s) based upon the group’s expertise. Allow a few minutes for discussion and feedback. You can pull sticky notes off the graph and read them aloud for more in-depth conversation or examples.

OBJECTIVES: Now that you have the participants engaged, share with them the objectives for the rest of the session. Explain how the components of literacy will be utilized throughout the session through the modeling of instructional strategies, like the previous Sticky Bars activity.


3-2-1 activity explained: Show participants the “3-2-1” slide, and let them jot down notes. This allows them to know the expectations for the video clip ahead of time and interact with the video clip based on those expectations. Ask participants if there are any questions about the 3-2-1 activity before showing the clip. Once participants are ready, show them the video clip from the Teaching Channel, “Literacy in Physics: Reading a Primary Source." Once this 6-minute video clip is complete, give participants a few minutes to complete their 3-2-1s. Allow participants to discuss with the whole group aspects of the 3-2-1. This gives them time to share resources with each other, give support, and offer ideas to overcome obstacles.


Jigsaw explained: Sometimes reading comprehension involves reading a text from beginning to end. However, literacy can also be developed through a close reading. One close reading strategy is the Jigsaw strategy. To jigsaw a text, a teacher breaks the text down into smaller pieces. Each student only reads the small piece they were assigned. Once they are done, they will piece it back together by listening to other students share what they read. For the Jigsaw activity in this session, participants will be reading “Characteristics of Literacy-Rich Classrooms” (click link for ASCD article or use the URL under resources to reach that page). Distribute the reading material and assign reading sections to participants. There are four reading sections: part A, part B, part C, part D. Everyone will read the introduction. Inform participants that this section will explain embedded literacy through a guided reading, rather than a lecture. The reading will take place through two instructional strategies: Jigsaw and Thinking Notes.

Thinking Notes explained: Point out the “Thinking Notes” visual on the slide. Inform participants that Thinking Notes is an instructional strategy that encourages active reading. Active reading can be challenging for many students. Often students passively read and retain very little. Using a reading strategy like Thinking Notes can facilitate active reading and encourage students to interact with the text. Ask participants to use Thinking Notes during their reading, and inform them that they will use their Thinking Notes to share out with their groups later.

After giving participants 5 minutes to read their assigned portions, they should get into groups where all reading sections are represented: A, B, C, and D. This is where they piece the text back together. Give groups 5 minutes to share. Once small groups have shared, each group should report out to the whole group.


Infographic explained: Show the slide with the infographic. If you have the resources to print the infographic in color, pass out handouts. If you do not have color copies, the slide can be used for the whole group. Ask participants to examine the infographic for just a minute with the following question in mind to frame their analyses: “What is the impact of digital information on our world today?" You can allow participants to get into small groups or pairs to discuss the framing question and the infographic.

Literacy is not always text; it can include numbers or pictures. Infographics are a great resource for literacy scaffolding and can be found easily online for classroom use. In this case, the infographic will be used to expand participant knowledge about literacy practices. To report out on their analyses of the infographic, participants will use the Tweet Up writing strategy. Tweet Up is a great strategy to help students begin writing an argumentative stance and even thesis statements. 21st century students are mostly familiar with Twitter, also writing a tweet is less intimidating than a thesis statement. However, when formatted correctly, a tweet and a thesis statement are very similar.

Tweet Up explained: Show the Tweet Up slide to the groups. Inform them that they will not actually be using Twitter. On a piece of paper, they will "tweet" about the infographic. Their tweet should take a stance (be argumentative). They can include a hashtag that shows the main idea of the infographic. The whole tweet must be under 140 characters. Once the group has written their tweets, have participants hang their papers or posters around the room so everyone can share their thoughts.


Think-Pair-Share explained: Ask participants to take a few minutes to think about how they could use instructional strategies as tools to support literacy in their own classrooms. They should jot down their thoughts on their strategy handouts. After a minute, ask them to turn to a partner and share their thoughts with each other. After another minute, ask if anyone would like to share out with the whole group.

Show participants the slide with the instructional strategies website. Share with them that they can access any of the K20 instructional strategies they experienced today (and many more) at that URL. Then, show them the next slide with the K20 LEARN website. Inform them that there are many lessons on this site that support literacy and that utilize some of the instructional strategies they practiced today.

Research Rationale

In the past few decades, an overwhelming number of students fall below adequate reading levels. Low reading abilities impact not only a student’s performance in class but also have a great impact on being able to understand questions on high-stakes tests (Marchand-Martella et al., 2013; Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008). As students move further into secondary school, a lack of strong written communication skills and critical thinking skills continue to hinder a student's abilities to access higher education opportunities (Lattimer, 2014; Wendt, 2013). For students who reach these opportunities, sustaining strong academics at the higher education level is especially challenging if they did not have the support to develop a strong foundation in reading and writing.