Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Embedded Literacy Across the Disciplines

Keristy Nieto, Susan McHale, Milton Bowens | Published: September 16th, 2020 by K20 Center


This professional development focuses on defining and promoting literacy strategies across all subject areas. Participants will examine how literacy components are necessary for their subject areas, identify the specific literacy strategies appropriate for their content, and discuss ways to implement these strategies and elements into their disciplines. This professional development is an updated (2019) and peer-reviewed revision from an earlier professional development by Amy Myers Wood.

Essential Questions

  • How do we define literacy for different disciplines?

  • What literacy strategies are appropriate for my discipline?

  • What are the advantages of increasing literacy strategies for my discipline?

Learning Goals

  • Participants will identify which literacy skill is most important to their discipline.

  • Participants will evaluate modeled content-specific literacy approaches.

  • Participants will analyze various instructional strategies designed to increase content-specific literacy.

  • Participants will reflect on how content-specific literacy strategies of this session can be applicable to their own content.







Materials List

  • Presentation Slides (attached)

  • Instructional Strategies Reflection Note Sheet handout (attached; one per participant)

  • 3-2-1 Strategy handout (attached; one copy for every two participants to be cut in half)

  • Facilitator Video Resource Guide (attached; one per facilitator)

  • Content area readings—ELA, electives, math, social studies, science (attached; one per participant for their subject)

  • Data Never Sleeps infographic (, printed or digital copies (one per pair of students)

  • Tweet Up Strategy handout (attached; one copy for every two participants to be cut in half)

  • Internet-connected device (for viewing videos linked in the presentation slides)

  • Chart tablet paper

  • Highlighters

  • Pens or pencils

  • Sticky (Post-It™?) notes

  • Tape (for Tweet Up strategy birds)


Use the attached Presentation Slides to guide the session. Introduce presenters to the audience and begin with slide 2, outlining the expected outcomes. Explain that today's presentation offers a variety of instructional strategies and ideas that can be implemented in the classroom. These strategies and ideas are specific to these content areas: ELA, math, science, social studies, and electives.

Display slide 3, offering a working definition of content-specific literacy. What do we mean by this term? It refers to the ability of students to read complex text within the discipline and comprehend it, listen and learn from others, speak and elaborate on topics and ideas, and write critically about discipline-related topics. Ask participants: would students be performing higher-order thinking skills if they could perform these tasks effectively? (All of these elements do require students to demonstrate higher-order thinking.)

Display slide 4. Pass out a sticky note to every participant. Introduce the Sticky Bars strategy and call attention to the graph that you created during the preparation for this presentation. Ask each participant to write their name and content area on their sticky note, and jot down a student activity in their class that requires one of the literacy elements shown across the bottom of the graph: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. Invite participants to place their sticky note in the column that corresponds to one of the skills on the graph.

After everyone has placed their sticky notes on the bar, ask participants to make a general statement or summary statement about the sticky bar graph distribution as a whole.

After this discussion, pull off the representative sticky notes from each category, read the participant's name, find them in the group, and read aloud the student activity. Ask the participant for any needed clarification or further explanation based upon the activity description. Continue until you have addressed a variety of literacy-related activities from all four columns of sticky notes.


Inform participants that we will continue to explore literacy approaches today for their content. To do this, start by watching two videos from different content areas. Display slide 5, and pass out the attached 3-2-1 strategy handout to all participants.

Instruct participants that as they watch each video, they are to jot down three possible literacy approaches that the teacher in the video uses, two possible applications for their content, and one obstacle that might need to be overcome. Pause after each video to display slide 13, and let participants share their information with their table group using the 3-2-1 activity as the guide for discussion.

After all of the videos have been reviewed and feedback shared within groups, call on groups or participants to share out at least one element of literacy and how it was used in the video classroom and something that they might try in their own classroom, and an obstacle to overcome. Ask if any of the groups observed an obstacle that could not be overcome. Ask the entire group if they have any thoughts on how to meet that challenge.

Pass out the attached Instructional Strategies Reflection Note Sheet. Move to slide 14. Ask participants to reflect upon the strategies used in this presentation so far—Sticky Bars and 3-2-1. Also, ask participants to reflect on the literacy approaches they observed in the video, and choose one that might be usable or applicable for their content. Allow time for table groups or partners to discuss how they might implement these strategies in their content area. (Have participants hang onto their Instructional Strategies Reflection Note Sheet; they will complete their reflections later in the session).


Tell participants they will take a closer look at content-specific literacy through the lens of their own discipline. Display slide 15. Have participants split into groups using a modified Jigsaw strategy. Ask participants to move to one of the chart tablet posters—ELA, math, science, social studies, and electives—that represents the generic title of their discipline. At each content station, have an appropriate number of the attached content-specific readings available, along with pens and highlighters. Each group will read the text that is specific to their content area, becoming "experts" on embedded literacy for their discipline.

As they are reading their section, ask participants to use a close reading strategy called Cus and Discuss. This activity is explained on slide 16. Allow time for participants to read the article and discuss with similar-content peers what they circled, underlined, and starred.

Once you believe content peers have had time to discuss the article, display slide 18. Each group will use a Window Notes strategy to demonstrate a consensus they've come to about their reading. Have each group fold a piece of chart tablet paper into four quadrants. Next, invite participants to write bullet points in three of the four "windows" to address the four questions on the slide. Tell groups that they will create a visual representation of what they read in the fourth window.


Ask participants to find a partner that they have not worked with previously today. Once in partners, share digitally or print and hand out copies of the "Data Never Sleeps" infographic. The infographic is also linked on slide 19. If the participant numbers are large, have partners "pair square" or combine to make a group of four.

Ask the group: “How many of you are in a discipline where students need to read charts and graphs?” Display slide 19. Allow time for groups to discuss the question on the slide. If your group is large enough, ask partners to pair with another set of partners. Display slide 20. Introduce the Tweet Up strategy and ask participants to write a tweet about a teacher's responsibility in a data-abundant world. Have partners or groups place them on a tweet bird in the Tweet Up Strategy handout (found in attachments). Invite participants to share out their tweets and hashtag with the other participants.

After the Tweet Up activity, move to slide 21. Referring back to the Instructional Strategies Reflection Note Sheet, allow time for participants to continue filling out details about how the additional strategies might be applied to their classes.


The last slide, slide 22, is a short evaluation of the session in the form of an Exit Ticket strategy. Remind participants of the research rationale by Chavin and Theodore that was cited at the start of the session. Ask participants to consider how they will respond to these critical elements of literacy in their own classroom by choosing one of these questions shown and responding with a literacy approach they will use or currently use. Ask participants to record their response on a sticky note. Then, have them place the sticky notes on a section of whiteboard or the wall. If time permits, read a sample of the sticky notes.

Slide 23 is the online evaluation for GEAR UP participating schools. A QR code or link is needed for GEAR UP participants to complete the evaluation.

On slide 24, Introduce (or remind) participants that more instructional strategies may be found at no cost in the LEARN website repository.

Research Rationale

Content-specific literacy is the ability for students to 1) read and understand complex content-specific text, 2) listen and learn from others, 3) speak and elaborate about content topics or ideas, 4) write critically about content-related topics (Chauvin & Theodore, 2015). Content-specific teachers are not expected to become reading and writing teachers nor replace their ELA colleagues in the classroom. Rather, all disciplines can and should emphasize the reading and writing practices that are specific to their disciplines (Urquhart & Frazee, 2012). When educators teach content-specific literacy skills, they merge foundational literacy practices with content-rich resources and academic vocabulary (Wendt, 2013).