What Are Essential Literacy Strategies and How Can I Use Them to Help My Students?

0Did you know that based on NAEP testing data from 2017, 32% of fourth-graders and 24% of eighth-graders weren’t even reading at a basic level? As educators, it is our responsibility to help our students become proficient readers. However, this can certainly be a big challenge at times.

Reading and Reading Comprehension Go Hand-in-Hand

Reading and reading comprehension go hand-in-hand and can play a huge role in determining a student’s success not only in school but in their future. Finding the right strategies to help our students overcome the hurdles that are standing in the way of them improving their reading fluency and comprehension is difficult, but not impossible.

While working as a classroom teacher over the years, I’ve learned more about some essential literacy strategies, and I’d like to share them with you. I’ve had some great success using these strategies with my students, and I hope they’re able to have the same impact on your students.

In the next few sections, I’ll share more about what essential literacy strategies are and outline some of the top strategies I’ve discovered over the year.

What are Essential Literacy Strategies

You may be able to infer the definition of essential literacy strategies based on their name. These are different strategies that are very important for students to learn to help them either comprehend a text they are reading or compose their own written text.

These strategies need to be explicitly taught and modeled repeatedly to help students not only understand what they are, but how each strategy can help them make sense of what they read or compose stronger writing pieces.

18 Essential Literacy Strategies

Essential literacy strategies can make a huge difference in a language arts classroom, but they can be especially effective in a standards-based classroom. If you’re interested in learning more about what a standards-based classroom is, you can read this article.

1. Predicting

Making predictions about what will happen next in a text is one essential literacy strategy. When students make predictions, they need to make connections about what has already happened in the text and what could happen next. They will need to use their background knowledge from reading other texts and things that have happened in their own lives to make these predictions.

Ask Your Students to Guess What the Book Will Be About

2. Questioning

Questioning is another very important literacy strategy to help children develop. It is having students ask questions about what they are reading. Asking questions can help students stay focused on a text and can also help them develop stronger skills to find the answers to their own questions, as well as the questions a peer or teacher may ask.

Questioning Is Just What It Sounds Like

3. Brainstorming

Brainstorming involves thinking of possible solutions to a problem or answers to a question. When students brainstorm possible ideas for writing, it can help them expand on their thinking and develop new ideas. Brainstorming can also build reading comprehension when students think of possible answers for a question about their book, such as how the main character might solve their problem.

Children Mostly Like This Strategy

4. Visualization

Visualization refers to forming a mental image to accompany a story you are reading. It can be extremely beneficial for helping students understand what is actually happening in a story.

They are more likely to be able to make connections with a book and answer higher-order thinking questions if they can visualize the events in the story to gain a deeper understanding of what the story is about. To help students develop this skill, ask students to share what they see after reading a portion of a text. You can start by choosing excerpts that include a lot of descriptive adjectives.

Ask Students to Share What They See After Reading a Portion of a Text

5. Drawing

Just as visualizing can help students with reading comprehension, drawing what they are visualizing can also help. Drawing can also be an effective strategy to use before having students write about something.

When they are able to get their thoughts on the paper in the form of artwork first, they may be better able to articulate them using words next. Plus, many students love getting the chance to draw during school, so this can also be a good way to keep students engaged.

Drawing Develops Students's Creativity

6. Rhythm, Rhyme, and Music

Tapping into music and rhythm can also help student increase their understanding of a topic. You can have students create a song or a rhyme about a book they are reading to share with the class. You may also consider presenting new information to students using a rhyme to help them remember important concepts.

Add Some Music to Your Lesson to Make IT Funnier

7. Movement

Children also love to move, so anytime you can incorporate movement, do it. Many children are also more likely to learn new information and retain that information if they learn it while moving. To incorporate movement into a reading lesson, you could ask students to sit down/stand up to show their answer to a question, move between different locations when answering questions, or work together with others to create a living timeline to show the order events happened in a text.

Ask Students to Sit Down/Stand Up to Show Their Answer to a Question

8. Drama and Role Play

Students can also gain a deeper understanding of a text when they have the opportunity to act it out. Assign each student a character from the text and have them work together to put on a short play. You can also have students act out an important event that occurred before writing a personal narrative about it.

Make Your Students Fell Like Actors of a Movie

9. Cooperative Learning

There are a lot of benefits associated with cooperative learning. Improving reading and writing skills are two of these benefits. When students work with others in the class, they can learn new ways of thinking and responding to problems. Sometimes peers can be the best teachers.

Together We Can Cope With Anything

10. Manipulatives

Whenever possible giving students the opportunity to use manipulatives can also be helpful. We offer think of manipulatives as a tool for math, but they can also help students make connections with texts. For example, you can bring in some real artifacts to help students understand the meaning of vocabulary words in a book.

Manipulatives Make Kids Remember Things Better

11. Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are such an important tool to use with students. During a reading lesson, they can be used to help students make connections with the text, sequence events, identify cause and effect relationships, compare and contrast different aspects of the text, and so much more. They can also be invaluable during writing to help students get their ideas organized into different sections before they start writing.

Orginizer Help Students Complete the Task Effectively

12. Summarizing

In order to effectively summarize a text, students need to fully understand what they read. A summary is when one restates the main idea and plot of a text using their own words. This is a skill you will need to help students develop, as it can be challenging for some students, especially those who are younger.

Students Need to Fully Understand What They Read Before Summarizing

13. Determining Importance

Determining importance also ties in with summarizing, since when you are summarizing a text, you should only include the important details, not every event from the text. To help students determine importance, you can ask questions such as, “would leaving X out of the story changed the outcome?”

Ask Questions to Determinie Importance

14. Similes, Metaphors, and Analogies

Learning how to use and write similes, metaphors, and analogies involves the use of higher-level thinking skills. Students first need to identify some similar aspects of two items and think of a way to compare them using a similar or metaphor. You can also help students make connections to a text by using similes or metaphors around some of the most important concepts or ideas.

Use of Higher-Level Thinking Skills at the Lesson

15. Inferring

Inferring is another higher-level thinking skill that can be quite challenging for many students. To infer, you need to be able to make connections using some information from a text as well as your own reasoning. The answers to inferring questions will not be explicitly stated in a text, so you’ll need to practice these types of students and walk through the reasoning with students.

Make Connections Using Some Information From a Text

16. Writing

Engaging students in writing throughout the language arts block is important. In addition to answering oral questions about texts they read, they should also be writing their answers. This can help improve their comprehension of a text and will also have the added benefit of improving their writing skills.

Writing Improvies Writing Skills

17. Games

Games can be another fun way to engage students and help solidify learning. You can use games to review concepts or major events in a book. You can also consider incorporating a game of catch into your lessons by tossing a small ball to students when it is their turn to answer a question or read aloud a portion of a book.

Create Games for Each Chapter of a Book

18. Field Trips

Giving students the opportunity to experience something related to what they are learning in person can be very valuable. When students interact with real people and places, it can help solidify their learning and allow them to make deeper connections within a topic.

If Your Students Are Reading a Historical Novel, Visit a Museum

For example, if your students are reading a historical novel, visiting a museum with a display from the time period could help students deepen their understanding. If an in-person field trip isn’t possible due to costs, location, or other factors, you could consider planning a virtual field trip where students could still ‘explore’ a historic site or another location.

Activities that Promote Writing-Reading Connection

Helping students make the connection between writing and reading can help them improve in both areas. If you’re looking for some activities that will promote the writing-reading connection, here are a few ideas to try:

  • Researching and taking notes
  • Writing book reviews
  • Composing a story from the perspective of one of the character’s
  • Responding to persuasive essays in writing
  • Mimicking another author’s writing style
  • Journal writing in response to reading (making connections or predictions about a text)

Reading fair boards can also be useful in helping students see how reading and writing can go along hand-in-hand. You can read more about reading fair boards and setting up a reading fair board here.

Related Skills

As students learn to effectively and efficiently use the essential literacy strategies shared above, they’ll simultaneously be learning and developing other related skills. This means that helping your students use these strategies can deliver a huge bang for your buck in helping them become more proficient readers and writers.

Related Skills Can Increase the Efficiency of ELS

Some of these related skills include:

Reading Skills

  • Reading comprehension
  • Phonics
  • Word recognition
  • Concepts of print
  • Fluency
  • Word analysis
  • Language conventions
  • Meaning of vocabulary in context
  • Text features

Writing Skills

  • Composition
  • How to apply text features
  • Sentence fluency
  • Organization
  • Language conventions
  • How to use descriptive language
  • Word choice

Useful Resources

Closing Words

As you can see, the essential literacy strategies described above aren’t called ‘essential’ for nothing. These are skills we need to teach, model, and practice with our students over and over again to help make them second nature. Doing so can help our students make significant gains in their reading and writing levels.

Simona Johnes
  1. Wow! This is so helpful. I’m really focusing on the rhythm, rhyme, and music strategy you have listed. What are your thoughts on partnering up with the music teacher to have my students create a song about a book we read?

    • I love that idea! I think it would be a great way to engage in cross-curricular instruction. I’d definitely reach out to your music teacher and get his or her thoughts on it. Your students will definitely enjoy this activity!


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