The Role of the Content Area Teachers in Developing Literacy Skills in Students

What is the role of Content Area teachers in this District’s literacy initiative? Vital to meeting the district’s literacy goals is the involvement of all Secondary teachers in the process. “Because content instruction comprises the heart of a secondary school curriculum, content literacy instruction must be the cornerstone of any movement to build high-quality secondary school” (Heller & Greenleaf, 2007). As a result, the district employs a Disciplinary Literacy approach to embedding literacy skills into content area classes.

A Disciplinary Literacy approach encourages teachers and students to understand how (as students move into high school) their literacy needs differ and become more specialized. For students to be college and career ready, even students who have demonstrated proficiency in literacy must be further engaged and challenged to meet those specialized literacy needs.

Through the Disciplinary Literacy approach educators must understand that different disciplines require different instructional and learning practices. Therefore, approaches to reading texts may vary according to discipline; and, writing tasks should be content-based.

What are some disciplinary differences in literacy?

How can teachers across disciplines build students’ disciplinary literacy skills necessary for post-secondary success? Effective comprehension tools across disciplines are structured note-taking, or structured, content-specific summarization to aide students with understanding specific content. Explicit teaching of academic language, extensive modeling, use of Think-Alouds and Scaffolding Instruction help engage students and allow them to produce authentic learning products that connect to ‘real-world’ learning. Incorporating texts beyond the course textbook also builds students’ disciplinary literacy. Providing time and support for students to collaborate and develop skills with accountable talk help them to master the content, meet state standards and prepare them for the demands of college and careers. In 2008, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) published the practice guide Improving Adolescent Literacy: Effective Classroom and Intervention Practices (Kamil et al., 2008), which recommends that content area teachers provide explicit vocabulary instruction, direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction and opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation.

Social Studies



Career, Technical, Adult, Community Education

  • Readers look for for causal relationships between ideas
  • Readers critically consider primary and secondary sources and author
  • Readers evaluate arguments based on evidence from text sources
  • Narrative texts must be seen as more than simply ‘facts’
  • Considers both author and reader biases
  • Readers employ Historical Thinking Skills
  • Readers utilize historical analysis skills such as sourcing, contextualization and corroboration to make inferences, draw conclusions, and make claims about historical events
  • Readers search for ‘truth’ rather than interpretation
  • “Function” words important, i.e ‘the’ has a very different meaning than ‘a’
  • Requires a precision of meaning, and each word must be understood specifically in service to that particular meaning
  • Readers need concrete understanding of abstract mathematical concepts, going beyond simply understanding concrete examples of problems
  • Readers often interested in the transformation of information from one form to another
    Use visualization and write down formulas that help them make connections between text and graphical information
  • Look for clarity on how experiments and processes are developed and use this information to make predictions of how this experiment could be replicated
  • Make predictions of how the world works based on knowledge acquired from text
  • Corroboration and transformation of information are key reading strategies
  • Address literacy skills to earn Industry Certification and learn College/Career Ready skills.
  • Comprehension strategies for complex information texts
  • Project-based learning
  • Research Skills
  • Collaboration Skills
  • Communication and Presentation Skills
  • Literacy skills specific to needs of industry
  • Technical Writing
  • Soft skills
  • Digital Career Literacy skills
  • Social, Ethical and Human issues