All KLA's have a literacy component. Teachers must be aware of the literacy levels of students in their classes so that they are able to support those students who struggle with reading, comprehension and writing. Often the reason that some students do poorly in science and other subjects, is that they struggle with their literacy skills, not the subject. Teachers need to use strategies in their subject areas, which enable all students to take part in the lesson, despite their literacy competencies. The following strategies can be used in all KLA's and deal with comprehension, reading, subject specific vocabulary and writing.

Margaret Murnane, the Literacy Coach at Hawkesdale College has contributed these strategies for improving scientific literacy:


Alphabet find

This strategy helps students to focus on what they know already about a new topic and learn from each other.
As a unit starter, ask students to list words from A to Z that relate to the topic. Share their answers with the class, so that all students can benefit from the ideas of each other. This strategy assists students to think about what they already know about a topic.
Example 1 "List the objects in space that start with each letter of the alphabet"
Example 2 "List living organisms that start with each letter of the alphabet, then categorise them into the five kingdoms - Animals, Plants, Bacteria, Fungi and Protists".

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Cornell Notes

This strategy is used for taking notes during direct instruction, video presentations or revision of text.
Any time you have ruled a line down the middle of a page and compared two things by listing pros and cons, you have used a double entry journal. A version of double entry journals, is CORNELL NOTES.
This structure allows students to record the main ideas / key words on the left hand side, and to reflect, wonder and respond to the information as they go. At the bottom of the page, students can then re read their notes, and make a summary of the information.
“Double entry journals are very flexible. Within a unit, double-entry journals can be used to deepen text understanding, show the thinking behind problem solving, or compare ideas, information, characters and so on.”
This online example of Cornell note taking, is specific to science.

Exit Slips

A strategy for gaining feedback and informal summative assessment.
An exit slip is a really easy way to gain immediate feedback, at the end of a lesson. Students write a quick reflection of the topic either on a sticky note which they stick into a large scrapbook which the teacher takes up, or in their books. In a digital classroom, students could us wallwisher, edistorm or any other tool fits the bill. How the students record their thinking is not the main focus of the strategy.
The main focus is to have the students' thinking made explicit so that the teacher can gain immediate feedback on how well the success criteria have been met, what areas need revision and which students can work together for extension, consolidation or intervention.
Teachers may wish to direct the feedback by using prompts such as "today I learnt........", "I'm still wondering........."., "a question for my teacher would be.....", "New vocabulary we learnt today......" "Gravity means......." etc Teachers may wish to glean general feedback and not provide a prompt - once again, that is up to the individual teacher.


A strategy for remembering definitions.
Flashcards db is a site where students can create digital flashcards with terms and definitions to print out or play online. Students create an account and then make a set of cards about the topic, using key words and a description. They could use a glossary from a textbook or you could give them a list of words that they need to find out the meanings of. Braineos is a simiar site (in beta) where you can create flashcards and games, without registering, simply using an email address.
Example 1 Quizlet about Population Dynamics for Unit 2 Biology. At Quizlet, you can use the flashcards to play a matching game, dragging the word over the definition.

Placemat activity

This strategy is excellent for summaries or interpretations of chapters and ideas.
  • Use an A3 or A2 sized piece of paper.
  • Using a texta or pencil, divide the page into 4 or 5
  • Draw a cloud or rectangle in the middle of the page and write the topic or title in this space.
  • Place the paper in the middle of the work space and have the group of 4 - 5 students, sitting around the table. Each child is responsible for one square/rectangle/space
  • Select the focus for the activity.
  • Each child in the group is now responsible for filling their space with facts, diagrams, drawings etc which will represent their nominated topic.
  • The placemat will have to be turned / rotated when it comes to sharing.
Example 1: If your topic is "Nutrients" rule the page into five sections and write Carbohydrates, Proteins, Lipids, Vitamins and Minerals in each section. Students draw examples of foods rich in these nutrients and what they are good for. So, the carbohydrates section might have drawings of bread, pasta, rice and sweet foods.
Example 2: Shown at left, for Classification of Living Organisms.

Reciprocal Reading

This strategy supports differentiation and inclusiveness. It ensures that all students can enter the text and be part of a rich discussion where understandings can be established and deepened.
Reciprocal reading is a group reading strategy with 4 key components - Predicting, Clarifying, Questioning and Summarizing. I usually add another 2 strategies as well - those of Visualising and Making connections.
  • Predictioncan occur at any stage of the reading - using the heading, sub headings, pictures, captions, diagrams etc.
  • Clarifying- students select words from the text, to have clarified
  • Questioning- students ask questions of their peers / teachers about the text. Higher order thinking is encouraged so that students ask questions that go more deeply than simply reading a sentence and finding the answer written on the line. I often call them "teacher questions" and challenge the students to ask questions which might trick their classmates.
  • Summarising - students summarise the chapter / text. I like to use the following structure for a really simple summary:
This chapter about begins with adds detail about _ and ends with
Of course you can support students in writing far more detailed summaries by using CORNELL NOTES or other note taking strategies - suited to whichever age level you have.
  • Visualising -(not considered to be part of the standard 4 strategies) Draw some sort of representation of the concept
  • Making links - (not considered to be part of the standard 4 strategies) Make links between what you have learnt and every day life - eg yourself, the world, an event etc.
Reciprocal reading is a powerful strategy which supports a differentiated curriculum. Some teachers use this strategy in small groups and some on a whole class level. If you are going to use this as a small group strategy, then you are best to model this extensively, at the whole class level first, and then assign a group leader who will keep the process moving.
Some teachers like to allocate each child with one of the 4 main roles - prediction, clarifying, questioning and summarising. I prefer to have the 6 roles listed on the smart board, on a poster or on a handout in their books, so that when we read the text as a whole class, each of the students take responsibility for taking an active role in the whole group discussion. The individual roles can be used as a prompt for the type of input they need to be making to the discussion.

Possible Questions

This strategy focuses on content and content vocabulary.
  • Prior to the students beginning a new unit of work, provide them with a context for the topic via youtube, DVD, photos, posters etc which will build their prior knowledge.
  • Teachers select key words from the chapter or text, which are significant in terms of understanding the text or unit.
  • Group these words into clusters of 2 or 3, that would logically go together in terms of information, relating to the topic.
  • Ask the students to work in groups, to generate possible questions using the clustered words.
Example 1: Viruses and Bacteria
  1. salmonella, E.coli, legionella (Which bacteria contaminate and are transmitted in water?)
  2. rodlike, spiral, spherical (Bacteria come in three different shapes - what are they?)
  3. cell wall, cytoplasm, ribosomes (What are three components of cells?)
  4. strep throat, diarrhea, food poisoning
During and after reading the text, students use their questions to monitor and check for understanding.
  • If their questions were accurate, they will have been answered by the reading.
  • If their questions were inaccurate, the modify them during reading and then answer them.
  • Students then use the target words, to draw and label a diagram.
Students may wish to use google forms for this activity.

Focused Cloze

This activity focuses on key content words / vocabulary
  • The focused cloze instructional activity means that the teacher provides an informational piece of text for the students, with significant/key content words or terms omitted. Words are not omitted in a regular pattern; rather words are chosen so that students will encounter and learn content information.
  • The omitted words/terms are provided at the end of the text, in a word bank, so that students can select the correct word, to fill the blank and create meaning.
Example 1: Essential Intake
Did you realise that about two thirds of your body is_ ? Many of the reactions that take place inside you, use water. Your _ is 90% water. The _ , the fluid part is mostly water. Blood helps carry _ around your body and _ away from it.
nutrients, water, chemical, plasma, wastes, blood
In a digital classroom, there are programs for interactive whiteboards that you can use to create cloze passages.

Word Web

This strategy focuses on vocabulary.
Students select one word from the text, to create a word web.
  • Divide a page into 4 - similar to the placemat format.
  • Write the selected word or term, from the new science topic/unit
  • In one corner, write the dictionary / glossary meaning
  • In one corner, use this word in a sentence, which demonstrates the meaning.
  • In one corner, draw a diagram or labelled picture about the word.
  • In one corner, make a connection between the selected word and something else.
Example 1: Bioaccumulation
Example 2: Transpiration

Stick Debate

This strategy encourages all students to have an equal input to a discussion. It means that a dominant child has to allow others to speak, and the reluctant child to take a turn.
  • Students are allocated 3? icy pole sticks (or as many as you deem appropriate)
  • 2 icy pole sticks are of one colour and 1 of another colour
  • The students are told which colour is for a comment and which colour is for a question.
  • As students make a comment or ask a question, they put one of the corresponding coloured sticks forward. Once 2 comments have been made and 1 question asked, they have run out of "turns".

The answer is...........

This strategy supports comprehension and understanding of concepts and terms.
  • Select a word
  • Students have to write a question or questions, which can only be answered by the given word.
Example 1: (Protein) "Which nutrient builds muscle?"
Example 2: (Metals) "Which elements are on the left hand side of the periodic table? Which elements are usually hard, shiny, malleable, ductile and conduct heat and electricity?

Survival of the Fittest

This strategy supports knowledge of content and specific vocabulary. Students have to work together in a group, to decide which word is the odd one out - which word won't survive.
  • This activity can be either teacher or student generated. It can be something the students complete, or something the students set up. Either way, students need to understand technical terms and be able to argue why this group of words belong together.
  • Either the teacher or the students, select a cluster of words - 4-6, from the text, unit, topic.
  • The words must all fit together for some reason - except for one of the words.
  • Eliminate that word, and then come up with a label that will be appropriate for the remaining cluster.
  • For a challenge, generate a new word that would replace the eliminated word and fit in with the rest.
  • This is a useful activity for reviewing technical vocabulary, relating to a particular topic or theme.
For example:
  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Botulism
  • Shigella
  • measles

Word Sort

This strategy can be done either pre or post a new unit of work. If done prior to a unit starting, it can be used as an assessment of prior knowledge. If completed during or after a unit, it can be an an assessment of how well the students met the success criteria of your topic or lesson.
  • The word sort can be closed or open. A closed word sort is where the teacher sets the headings into which they want the students to sort the list of words. eg nutrients, foods, muscle groups
  • If the word sort is open, the students are given a large list of words from the topic/unit and are asked to sort them into like groups/ classifications and label their own columns.
For example
  • motion
  • distance
  • unit
  • time
  • speed and velocity
  • speedometer
  • distance time graph
  • slope
  • stationary etc
Cacoo is a very flexible online tool that can be used to create a word sort, as well as many other flow charts and diagrams. You can create shapes with words and drag and drop them into a table or venn diagram, for example.

Jigsaw activity

This is a great activity for collaborative reading. It is most effective when you want to read a longish chapter. It is also a fabulous way of allocating responsibility to students, for reading and reporting back to the class. For a short time, they become the expert on that particular section of text as they share it back to the group.
  • Students get into small groups
  • Each student takes responsibility for reading a certain section of the chapter or reading.
  • Students are given time to read their section - this can be done in class or at home - but it is their responsibility to read it.
  • When the group gets back together, each student reports back to the group, explaining what their section was about.
  • The group uses the Reciprocal Reading strategies of prediction, clarifying, questioning and summarising, to discuss the whole reading.
  • Come back together and discuss as a whole group.
  • Students might use CORNELL notes or sticky note reading, as they read their chapter

Sticky Note Reading

All students love using sticky notes. This is a gimmicky way to have students read with more focus.
  • Each student is allocated some small sticky notes - the smaller the better. The little, coloured rectangular sticky notes are best.
  • As the students read, they attach a sticky note at the side of the text, to keep "tracks" of their reading.
  • Prior to using this strategy, teachers and students will have decided upon the sorts of things that should be highlighted or marked.
  • Prior to using this strategy, the class will have come up with some icons which they will use, to speed the process of leaving tracks. eg question mark for a question or query, exclamation mark or a word like WOW for something interesting etc
  • The sorts of things they may wish to highlight are:
  • new or unusual words, or words which are spelt oddly
  • words they might not know - this can be indicated by putting a question mark on the sticky note
  • theme words
  • root words
  • questions they may have about some part of the text - this can be indicated by putting a question mark on the sticky note
  • something amazing - indicated by some sort of word like "WOW"
  • something that they can relate to - in their own lives
  • something that is puzzling, curious, provocative or surprising.

Writing Break

Writing breaks are a reminder to teachers to stop talking once in a while and allow the students to think. Students recall 10 - 30% of what they read, hear and see. By incorporating writing breaks at regular intervals, about every 10 -15 minutes,
you can increase the retention rate up to the 70 -90% range. Writing and then talking about what you are learning, increases this retention.
  • Before beginning the class, plan when you are going to stop and allow the students to write. Don't have random breaks.
  • Decide on your writing prompts before class. These can be general or specific.
  • Wander around the room, reading over the students' shoulders. This can be revealing in itself
  • Do a quick pair / share activity after the writing (pairs share their writing) It is not necessary to have a whole class share of these writing breaks.

Drawing and illustrating

This strategy makes the thinking visual. Students draw to help themselves understand the concepts or topic. Teachers can quickly see where misconceptions are occurring, by wandering around and observing the drawing process.
  • Students make quick drawings, sketches or diagrams to illustrate ideas, events, experiments, math problems etc in order to help themselves and others understand something they are trying to learn.
  • These illustrations usually include words, labels or lists of ideas and terms
  • It is important to let the students know that the quality of art work is not important. Stick figures and representations are fine.
  • Teachers can quickly pick up misconceptions and misunderstandings.
Example 1: Students draw and label a water cycle, carbon cycle or other biogeochemical cycle.
Example 2: Students draw and label plant, animal and bacterial cells including organelles.
Example 3: Students draw and label the cross section of a flower, labelling the reproductive organs.
Example 4: Students draw and label the human body systems (digestive, respiratory, reproductive, excretory, circulatory, nervous).

Written Conversation

This strategy has the entire class "talking" at once, and yet the room is silent. It is a note writing tool for engaging students and unlike a conversation which vanishes into thin air, the written conversation can used or assessed later.
  • Students love to pass notes in class. This strategy gives students permission to do this in an obvious way.
  • The conversation between two students, must be around the topic being learnt.
  • The live - here and now version - sees the students "discussing" the topic and responding immediately.
  • The take away version, is when students write something and post it in a box.
  • The next lesson, they retrieve someone's dialogue and respond to that.
  • The teacher may wish to join in the conversation as they wander around the room, or by responding to the "mail"
  • Students might like to have a regular journal buddy, whom they write to once a week, explaining, discussing or asking questions about the topic.
  • Read about some more uses of this strategy

Write around

This is a small group strategy where students "ink their thinking" and respond and comment on each other's thinking. It can be used at any stage of a topic - before, during or after. This is a great activity after a read aloud or shared reading lesson, or even after small group instruction.
  • Small groups of 3-5 - but 4 is optimal
  • Students have text read to them, or are assigned a topic by the teacher. It can also be a reflective activity after a lab experiment or a homework task.
  • Students each write silently, for one minute - thoughts, reactions, questions or feelings about a topic - 1/4 of a page is expected.
  • Students hand this paper to the person beside them.
  • Each student silently reads what the others have written, adding their own comments, thus adding to the "conversation"
  • When the paper has been around all 4 students, each person reads the entire conversation on their paper.
  • A whole class sharing time will then allow students and teachers to see where the discussion took the topic and deals with any unanswered questions or issues.

Carousel Brainstorming

This strategy is a variation on the whole class brainstorming idea. It gives all students an opportunity to simultaneously share ideas and respond in writing, to 3 - 4 different prompts. It is done using butcher's paper charts on the wall.
  • Students work in groups of 3 - 5
  • Each group is allocated a different coloured marker / texta
  • Use separate sheets of chart or butcher's paper for each prompt
  • Groups visit each chart and read the prompt.
  • Groups discuss the issue/prompt while they stand there and read it.
  • The scribe in the group, will then add the group observations or ideas.
  • If an idea has already been added, it is not to be added twice.
  • Groups then move onto the next station and repeat the process.
  • Brainstorming means thinking quickly and in quantity.
  • Allow 2 minutes writing time per chart.
  • Whole class sharing further expands the rich idea gathering and sharing.

Mind Mapping

Tony Buzan's technique of mind mapping combines words and images, to cement information and enable understanding.
Tony Buzan demonstrates the importance of adding images, pictures, symbols, codes, associations and connections.
Maps allow students to represent thinking that involves multiple, simultaneous associations, rather than just linear steps. Maps helps us organise, consolidate and digest knowledge. They can enable students to recall multiple steps in a process for solving complex maths or science problems. is a free site for creating mindmaps online. Freemind (free, open-source) and Inspiration (paid) are software programs that can downloaded and used offline.