Context-Integrated Learning: Teaching Literacy Beyond the English Classroom

Teaching Literacy Goes Beyond English Class

Context-integrated learning, content-based instruction, content-centered learning. No matter what phrase you’re using, all of these concepts emphasize the advantages of teaching literacy skills in a broader context of what is being learned, such as during a social studies lesson, for example, rather than in isolation. Integrated literacy instruction means emphasizing literacy in every subject, to help students to enhance and relate literacy skills and knowledge, and understand the “why” of their work. 

For example, one history instructor in Oklahoma introduced Animal Farm into her Russian history unit to teach literacy and history together, while another from Mississippi used questioning and summarizing to improve her students’ literacy skills while reading historical text. She noted that: “improving students’ literacy skills is a great way to enhance their depth of knowledge.” 

One kindergarten class in Pennsylvania combined STEM learning with the classic story “The Three Little Pigs.” Students designed and built their own houses based on their understanding of the story, requiring literacy comprehension. In each of these examples, the students need to be able to decode, read fluently, and comprehend the literature, demonstrating the importance of literacy in everyday usage. 

Helping students see literacy in a broader context doesn’t always require baked goods and building (even though that’s great).No matter what subject or subjects you teach, improving literacy improves students’ abilities in all areas, not only in language arts courses. Students must read–and comprehend what they’re reading–in every class. Learn the five literacy skills to integrate in your content-area and see student comprehension and engagement soar. 

What Skills are Being Integrated in Context-based Learning?

Research suggests that teaching comprehension within subject areas can help increase students’ proficiency as well as content-area knowledge. According to the National Institute for Literacy, the most important skills for literacy to include are decoding, morphology, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Each of these builds upon and works with the others to help students understand and apply the knowledge of every subject they’re learning. 

This applies whether they’re learning an entirely new language, or academic language. Academic language is discipline-specific vocabulary that is important for students’ success in school, and is usually more complex than everyday language. The components of academic language are the vocabulary used regarding concepts within a specific subject (e.g. allusion in English, or abiotic in Biology) as well as the vocabulary used across various disciplines to express ideas and information (e.g. analyze and predict).

By providing context, teachers create a more meaningful understanding for students, which allows them to not only apply the words they’re learning in a broader scope, but also better understand the importance of these words as they learn them.

The 5 Necessary Skills to Include in Context-Integrated Instruction

1. Decoding

Decoding is students’ phonic and phonemic awareness, or their ability to apply their knowledge of letter sound-relationships, patterns, and pronunciation. When teaching decoding, instruction should use an integrated approach to develop comprehension, as well as a use of academic language. Make sure to only focus on one or two strategies at a time, so students can gradually build up their understanding.

2. Morphology

Morphology is the study of the words, how they’re formed, and their relationship to other words. It includes prefixes, suffixes, roots, stems, parts of speech, intonation, and of course, context! It’s important to focus on a new word’s internal structure and meaning within the context of sentences. This includes not just the spelling of the word, but how the morpheme has changed the meaning.

3. Fluency

Fluency is the ability to read quickly, accurately, and with the correct expression. To be fluent (aloud and in one’s head), one must understand what they’re reading and be able to add appropriate intonation. 

To improve fluency in readers, teachers can use guided oral reading with individually struggling students. Guided oral reading is essentially reading aloud with an instructor or other guide, and it’s considered the best method of teaching fluency in reading, according to a study done by the U.S. National Institute for Literacy

Students who read and reread text aloud with an instructor become better readers, since they receive both practice and feedback. Audiotapes, tutors, and peer guidance are also helpful. Note: fluency doesn’t mean readers can read everything perfectly; it changes depending on the level of the text, the familiarity of it for the reader, and the amount of practice.

4. Vocabulary

Learning vocabulary (particularly academic vocabulary) is key for students’ success in literacy. One of the best ways to do that is pre-teaching difficult vocabulary. Pre-teaching vocabulary helps the reader approach new text by giving them meanings of words before encountering them in context. It reduces the number of unfamiliar words, as well as improves vocabulary acquisition and comprehension.

5. Text Comprehension

Text comprehension is also one of the most important strategies to be integrated into every-day instruction. Text comprehension is the process of extracting or constructing meaning (that is, building new meanings and integrating new and old information) from words once they have been identified. Text comprehension requires an understanding of decoding, morphemes, and vocabulary in order to make sense of both what words they’re reading, and what they text is trying to convey. 

Like fluency, text comprehension varies for readers depending on the specific text, and its content, style, and syntactic structures. At any age, reading a poem from an unfamiliar poet may give a reader pause. Therefore, no matter what subject you’re teaching, making sure students comprehend the text (beyond reading fluency) is important!

Integrating Literacy into all Subject Areas and Context is Important for Students’ Success

Context-integrated learning, content-based instruction, content-centered learning. However you put it, teaching literacy skills in a broader context (rather than isolation), is one of the best strategies teachers can employ for their students’ education. By integrating learning, students’ literacy will improve faster, as will their understanding of all subjects, creating a deeper engagement with their education. 

Want an easy way to include all five of these skills in your teaching? Try out LessonWriter right now to quickly make lessons—in any subject, from any online text—that will enhance your students’ literacy comprehension.

Calling All Writers! 

LessonWriter is currently accepting blog post submissions from educators and school administrators. Head to our “Write for LessonWriter” page for more details.

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