All About Adolescent Literacy

All about adolescent literacy. Resources for parents and educators of kids in grades 4-12.
AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Text Size: A A A  
Hot Topics in Adolescent Literacy

Content-Area Literacy

Students will need advanced literacy skills — the ability to understand and analyze a variety of texts and to write and communicate persuasively — to succeed in life after high school. The articles in this section will help teachers in the academic subject areas integrate literacy instruction into their practice.


Sort by: Date Title

Academic Language: Everyone's "Second" Language

Being able to speak English fluently does not guarantee that a student will be able to use language effectively in academic settings. Fluency must be combined with higher order thinking skills to create an "academic language," which allows students to effectively present their ideas in a way that others will take seriously. The author, an ELL teacher, describes her use of "protocols" (a cheat sheet of sentence starters) to build students' cognitive academic language proficiency.

Academic Literacy Instruction for Adolescents

Torgesen, J. K., Houston, D. D., Rissman, L. M., Decker, S. M., Roberts, G., Vaughn, S., Wexler, J. Francis, D. J, Rivera, M. O., Lesaux, N. (2007). Academic literacy instruction for adolescents: A guidance document from the Center on Instruction. Portsmouth, NH: RMC Research Corporation, Center on Instruction.

Created by the Center on Instruction to assist literacy specialists in their work, this report makes research-based recommendations for improving academic literacy instruction in 1) content areas, 2) for English language learners, and 3) in classes with struggling readers. The report also includes advice and comments from eight literacy experts.

America's Perfect Storm: Three Forces Changing Our Nation's Future

Kirsch, I., Braun, H., Yamamoto, K., and Sum, A. Copyright ©2007 by Educational Testing Service.

According to America's Perfect Storm, current labor market trends, demographics, and student achievement data are combining to create a "perfect storm" that could inflict lasting damage upon the nation's economy and upon its social fabric, as well. Simply put, if the middle and high schools continue to churn out large numbers of students who lack the ability to read critically, write persuasively, and communicate effectively, then the labor market will soon be flooded with young people who have nothing to offer, and who cannot handle the jobs that are available. "[T]here will be tens of millions more adults," the ETS report concludes, "who lack the education and skills they will need to thrive in the new economy," raising the specter of joblessness and despair on a scale not seen since the Great Depression. If that future is to be avoided, the authors argue, the nation's secondary schools will have to begin immediately to help many more students to reach much higher levels of literacy than ever before.

Analytical Writing in the Content Areas

Because writing is thinking, the organization of students' writing reflects both the structure of their thinking and the depth of their understanding. Students should be writing in all their classes, explaining what they know and how they know it. Thus, it's essential for content-area teachers to give students meaningful analytical writing assignments. Read An Introduction to Analytical Text Structures for more information and graphic organizers to help with writing instruction.

Content-Area Literacy: History

The ability to read historical documents including contemporary explications about societal, economic and political issues provides a direct link to literacy as preparation for citizenship. As in the other disciplines, schools are unique sites for youth across class and ethnic boundaries to learn to read such documents and to develop the skills to engage in such reading for college and career success.

Content-Area Literacy: Literature

Reading complex literary texts offers unique opportunities for students to wrestle with some of the core ethical dilemmas that we face as human beings. The growth of ethical reasoning is one of the most compelling reasons for schools to develop students' capacities to read complex works of literature. Students who enter high school as struggling readers are quite capable of engaging with such texts, in part because these same students are often wrestling with complex challenges in their own lives.

Content-Area Literacy: Mathematics

Of all the academic disciplines taught in middle and high school, the one we least expect to entail reading extended texts is in mathematics, but math texts present special literacy problems and challenges for young readers.

Content-Area Literacy: Science

The demands of comprehending scientific text are discipline specific and are best learned by supporting students in learning how to read a wide range of scientific genres. Besides text structures emphasizing cause and effect, sequencing and extended definitions, as well as the use of scientific registers, evaluating scientific arguments requires additional skill sets for readers.

Curricular Connections: Holocaust Remembrance

The Holocaust is often a difficult topic to discuss with students. This guide offers tips for approaching the subject, as well as cross-curricular connections for a more meaningful reading experience.

Develop Fluency Using Content-Based Texts

Fluency is the missing piece of the reading puzzle for many older students. They can decode, but they cannot do it automatically and accurately enough to comprehend text. Here are some fluency-building activities to complement content delivery. See also Teach Students How to Fluently Read Multisyllabic Content Vocabulary.

Fitting the Response to Intervention Framework with Mathematics Education

While there is a great deal of information on reading and RTI, there is a dearth of research on math with RTI. Thus, the development and implementation of reading and RTI has blazed a path to RTMI (Response to Math Intervention).

Five Areas of Instructional Improvement to Increase Academic Literacy

How can content-area, non-reading-specialist teachers contribute to academic literacy? They can incorporate these five techniques throughout their lessons: (1) provide explicit instruction and supported practice in effective comprehension techniques, (2) increase the amount and quality of reading content discussions, (3) maintain high standards for text, conversation, questions, and vocabulary, (4) increase student motivation and engagement with reading, and (5) provide essential content knowledge to support student mastery of critical concepts. Find out why these strategies and the literacy areas they represent are so important.

From the Lunchroom to the Classroom: Authentic Assessment and the Brown Bag Exam

A Brown Bag Exam uses found objects and images to help students activate prior knowledge and creates a framework for students to express their understanding. Students work individually and in collaboration to create concrete connections between the reading and the Brown Bag items. Unlike traditional assessment, the Brown Bag Exam is an exam filled with conversation, idea exchange, and learning.

Knowledge in the Classroom

Learning happens when we connect new information to what we already know. When children have limited knowledge about the world, they have a smaller capacity to learn more about it. Here are four ways teachers can build content knowledge that will expand the opportunity for students to forge new connections — and make them better independent readers and learners.

Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement

Heller, R. and Greenleaf, C.L. (2007, June). Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Over the last several years, a strong coalition of educators, researchers, policymakers, professional associations, and advocacy groups has worked to focus the attention of policymakers and the public on the plight of millions of America's students in grades four through twelve who are unable to read and write well enough to achieve academic success. Already, the efforts of those organizations and individuals have resulted in a wide range of local, state, and federal initiatives designed to help struggling students develop the reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills they need to move beyond the basic mechanics of literacy and move ahead in the secondary school curriculum.

But if students are to be truly prepared for college, work, and citizenship, they cannot settle for a modest level of proficiency in reading and writing. Rather, they will need to develop the advanced literacy skills that are required in order to master the academic content areas—particularly the areas of math, science, English, and history.

Inasmuch as the academic content areas comprise the heart of the secondary school curriculum, content area literacy instruction must be a cornerstone of any movement to build the high-quality secondary schools that young people deserve and on which the nation's social and economic health will depend.

In order to integrate reading and writing instruction successfully into the academic disciplines, district, state, and federal policymakers must ensure that

  • They define the roles and responsibilities of content area teachers clearly and consistently, stating explicitly that it is not those teachers' job to provide basic reading instruction.
  • Members of every academic discipline define the literacy skills that are essential to their content area and which they should be responsible for teaching.
  • All secondary school teachers receive initial and ongoing professional development in teaching the reading and writing skills that are essential to their own content areas.
  • School and district rules and regulations, education funding mechanisms, and state standards and accountability systems combine to give content area teachers positive incentives and appropriate tools with which to provide reading and writing instruction.

For policymakers, the challenge is no longer just to call attention to the nation's adolescent literacy crisis. Nor is it just to secure new resources to help middle and high school students catch up in reading, although the need for those resources remains critical. The challenge is also to connect the teaching of reading and writing to the rest of the secondary school improvement agenda, treating literacy instruction as a key part of the broader effort to ensure that all students develop the knowledge and skill they need to succeed in life after high school.

Literacy Instruction in the Content Areas: Getting to the Core of Middle and High School Improvement

Every content area, from chemistry to history, has unique literacy demands: texts, knowledge, skills. But how are these critical literacies learned, let alone taught?

Pairing Texts with Movies to Promote Comprehension and Discussion

Thematic pairings of novels/short stories with movies can help students access difficult texts and can lead to deeper comprehension and lively classroom discussion. This article suggests pairings for some commonly assigned middle and high school texts.

Previewing Texts in Content Classrooms

Textbook previewing strategies focus not only on the structure of the text — such as the table of contents, index, chapter introductions, and so forth — but on a content overview, which focuses on the concepts and questions covered in the chapter and their interrelationships.

Professional Development to Improve Adolescent Literacy

Beyond general best practices, what sorts of professional development will help teachers improve the literacy of their older students? This article by the National Council of Teachers of English advocates building professional communities among secondary school teachers, encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration, and consulting literacy coaches.

Provide Models, Examples and Nonexamples

Similar to expert craftsmen teaching their trades to apprentices, teachers can model thinking and problem-solving skills to their students. Read more about various classroom modeling techniques.

Reading (and Scaffolding) Narrative Texts

Students need to learn the purposes and methods of narration in order to understand the narrative framework and to eliminate frustration when they read. When students know the narrative elements, they can more easily follow the story line and make successful predictions about what is to occur. In addition, understanding these elements develops higher-level thinking skills.

Reading and Writing in the Academic Content Areas

This issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education looks at the role every middle and high school teacher must play to help older students become fully literate, and puts forth a four-part agenda for improving literacy in the content areas.

Teach Students How to Fluently Read Multisyllabic Content Vocabulary

Dysfluent readers are so consumed with word identification that they cannot focus on extracting or constructing meaning from the text. Here are some activities to develop students' fluency skills, so that they may move on to access content. See also Develop Fluency Using Content-Based Texts.

Teaching Content Knowledge and Reading Strategies in Tandem

Many areas of instruction can have a rippling effect for the expansion of readers' repertoire of skills, including pre-reading, predicting, testing hypotheses against the text, asking questions, summarizing, etc. Literacy-rich, content-area classrooms include a variety of instructional routines that provide guidance to students before, during, and after reading.

The Content Literacy Continuum: A Framework for Improving Adolescent Literacy

The Content Literacy Continuum (CLC) is a tool for enabling teachers and administrators to evaluate literacy instruction/services offered within a school and to formulate a plan for improving the quality of those services. This article describes the CLC's five levels of service, along with practice examples and the teacher's role at each level.

Use and Teach Content Vocabulary Daily

Copying definitions from the dictionary and memorizing words for tests is not sufficient work for students to master and retain new vocabulary. This article helps teachers choose which words are most important to teach and suggests strategies to bring those words to life for students.

Use Easy Nonfiction to Build Background Knowledge

A Texas librarian shares his strategy of using nonfiction picture books to introduce new concepts to struggling adolescent readers and to build their background knowledge. Once students have been exposed to academic content in easy reading material, they are more confident in making the transition to textbooks.

Using Multiple Texts to Teach Content

Each of us, every day, has to contend with multiple messages or texts—in the news, over the Internet, in our workplace, in books, and in conversation. Making sense of these sometimes conflicting messages is critical. But without being explicitly taught how to do so, students can have trouble synthesizing multiple texts—gathering facts without keeping an eye toward the different perspective of each. This Learning Point Associates article offers a case study and guidelines for using multiple texts in the classroom to increase the critical thinking and academic sophistication of older students.

Using Technology to Support Struggling Students: Questions, Argumentation and Use of Evidence

Knowing how to engage in signature scientific acts, such as formulating questions and using evidence in arguments is an important part of science learning. This InfoBrief from the National Center for Technology Innovation offers more information about using technology to support struggling students.

Using Technology to Support Struggling Students: Science Literacy, Vocabulary and Discourse

To be scientifically literate, students must be able to express themselves appropriately. Learn how to help struggling students master specific vocabulary and be able to use it in their science writing activities.

Using Technology to Support Struggling Students: Student Engagement and Identity with Science

In an increasingly complex world, all students need to be scientifically literate. While some students may go on to pursue advanced careers in the sciences, basic scientific literacy is critical for all students.

Using Technology to Support Struggling Students: Visualization, Representation and Modeling

Science learning often involves creating abstract representations and models of processes that we are unable to observe with the naked eye. Learn more about visualizing, representing, and modeling to aid struggling learners.

What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy

The National Institute for Literacy. (2007). What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy. Washington, DC: The National Institute for Literacy, The National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Vocational and Adult Education.

The goal of this report is so help address middle and high school educators' need for basic information on how to build adolescents' reading and writing skills. The report is divided into two main sections: the first describes the components of reading proficiency, in order to help teachers better understand why poor readers struggle; the second section introduces four additional areas critical to the attainment of reading proficiency (assessment, writing, motivation, and the needs of diverse learners).

Why Teach the Holocaust?

Teachers often find the Holocaust to be an overwhelming subject to approach with their students. While the Holocaust offers important lessons to today's students, it can be a difficult to find the appropriate amount of information to share with young learners. This article highlights the importance of the Holocaust in today's classroom, and offers suggestions for integrating historical fiction into the unit of study.

« See all Hot Topics in Adolescent Literacy