Teaching literacy across the curriculum

Children begin their education by learning how to read. As they get older, they read to learn.

By the time they are in the sixth grade, the average child has a receptive vocabulary of 50,000 words. They’ve read millions of words in fiction, online, and in textbooks.

Because literacy is essential for success in any subject, students need additional literacy instruction and support from all of their teachers, not just their Language Arts or reading teachers.

Who bears the responsibility for teaching reading?

“But I’m not a reading teacher!” the science and math teachers say. “That’s for the Language Arts teacher!”

Author Richard Vaca disagrees.

Every teacher must teach reading skills. Vaca has identified the need for teaching literacy across the curriculum as an “every century skill” rather than one essential only for modern times.

Literacy is a communication skill. Every teacher teaches content. They also have a responsibility to make sure their students understand that content. Students must learn to analyze evidence and evaluate claims. They must make inferences and generate hypotheses. They develop comprehension skills by speaking, listening, reading, and writing about the content in classes outside the reading classroom.

Teach literacy skills in every content area

It’s possible to teach literacy skills in any subject, including PE. Literacy is about speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Think about the ways in which you can get your students talking about and listening to the content you teach. Include reading assignments, and ask questions about the reading afterward. By requiring writing, you are asking your students to think more deeply about they are learning.


Teach your students the academic vocabulary required for understanding math. By learning math-related vocabulary, students develop the skills needed for academic success in math. Ask your students to use the words in their math-related conversations and in their writing.

Writing is a way of communicating knowledge. When your students can explain in writing how they solve math problems, they have a better understanding of what you are teaching.


Science has more content-specific vocabulary than any other subject. Your students will learn the content better if they understand the vocabulary. When direct-teaching vocabulary, create word walls containing the words and their pictures. Group the vocabulary words by concept when possible.

Require your students to write up lab reports using correct grammar and accurate spelling.

Social Studies

Conducting research requires reading and writing skills, so social studies is a natural vehicle for teaching summarization, reporting, and comprehension skills.


Ask your students to explain processes by putting them in writing. Processes include the steps to take in making a rim shot in basketball or how to use gouache in painting.

If you’d like more ideas for teaching literacy across the curriculum, ask the English Language Arts teacher on your campus. Explain what you’re teaching and what you’d like your students to get out of the lesson.

The chances are good that you’ll have a strong ally in your corner, ready to help you with more strategies to use for teaching literacy across the curriculum.

Choose your Reaction!