How to Teach Literacy as an Online Tutor

Teaching literacy online can be tough, but it’s possible with a little help!

At LessonWriter, our mission is to advance literacy to all students in every subject, whether they are native English speakers or ESLs. 

One of the most important parts of learning literacy is having teachers and literacy tutors to support students. This is especially important when a lot of learning is being done online, so there may be less one-on-one time to work on literacy in person. 

This is why it’s vital that literacy tutors—and all online tutors—know how to support literacy instruction online. 

Why is Literacy so Important to Teach in All Subjects? 

As a beginning teacher, after listening to students read aloud, it was apparent that most of the reading in class was far too difficult for some of them. Even though some of those students were excelling in computation, mathematics, and conceptual understanding. 

These were the same students who were scoring extremely low on tests, failing to finish—or even start—writing assignments, and sometimes refusing to take notes. 

Each of these students had their own story, but for all of them, literacy challenges played a role in their inability to perform well at school.

Unfortunately, just realizing that literacy is an essential issue doesn’t mean that we are equipped to tackle the problem. For some teachers, providing literacy instruction specific to, or in support of their field of study can be daunting. 

For example, a math teacher just may not be as comfortable teaching literacy than an English teacher, but all content area teachers should. But this takes time, which is why literacy tutors—online or in person—are very helpful in advancing literacy. 

Providing specific literacy-supported lessons, and receiving literacy instruction from tutors can help students advance their comprehension and abilities in all content areas, without putting more strain on teachers. And in today’s world, literacy tutors need to know how to best teach literacy to their online students.  

What is the importance of literacy in student instruction? 

Teaching literacy skills in a broader context of what is being learned, such as during a social studies lesson rather than in isolation, is very helpful. 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. 

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. 

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.

What is a literacy tutor?

LessonWriter’s homepage…can you tell what our passion is?!

A literacy tutor can have several different jobs or positions. Literacy tutors can: 

  1. Teach literacy to ELL students and ESL students
  2. Teach literacy to native english speakers
  3. Teach literacy to adults 

No matter what position you have as a literacy tutor (or all three), it’s all incredibly important to advance literacy.  And no matter what, you’re going to focus on the same skills for all of these learners (albeit in slightly different ways). 

The 5 Skills to Know When Teaching as a Literacy Tutor 

If you’re just starting as an online literacy tutor or have experience for years, here are the top five skills to teach to support literacy

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, tutors should use an integrated approach to develop comprehension.

By integrating skills with context, online tutors can 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. 

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 content.

It’s important to focus on a new word’s internal structure, its meaning within the context of sentences, and how the morpheme specifically has changed its 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. 

Students who read and reread text aloud with instructors become better readers, since they receive both practice and feedback. Audiotapes can also be helpful here, especially when providing tutoring online or via live streaming. Check out some more research-based strategies to improve fluency here

4. Vocabulary 

A few great ways to introduce multiple exposures of vocabulary to your students. Make your own or…just have LessonWriter do it!

Learning vocabulary (particularly academic vocabulary) is key for students’ success in literacy. The National Institute for Literacy has highlighted the importance of repeated exposures to teach vocabulary: “Once vocabulary words have been selected, teachers should consider how to make repeated exposures to the word or concept productive and enjoyable.”

5. Text Comprehension 

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 all the above skills, so one can make sense of both the words they’re reading and what they text is trying to convey. 

Online Literacy Tutors: Want Some Help? 

So, now you know the skills your literacy students need to learn when tutoring them online. 

If you want some help focusing on all of this during your lessons (or just make your life a little easier) you should give LessonWriter a try.

Our free option makes it easy for you to make literacy-support lessons, because that’s what we do! With other subscriptions you can also send and grade all your students work online, right through our platform. 

Any other questions or comments? Add a note below! 

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