Background Reading to the Strategies
Summary of Chapter 3
("Effective Literacy Strategies in Years 9-13")

1. What the research tells us
Main Ideas:
Students need to draw on their prior knowledge, establish a purpose for reading and decide where they can locate the information they need.

2. Knowing about literacy learning
Main Ideas:
Students need to learn the code of written text so they can translate written language into spoken language and vice versa, to make meaning from text and to think critically about the text.
Readers use and integrate information from various sources as they read a written text. e.g. prior knowledge, background knowledge.
Students with little background information find it hard to make meaning from the text.

Students' literacy-related knowledge is important:
  • how texts work and what different kinds of texts are used for
  • how oral language is used and the ways in which oral language and written language are structured
  • how print conventions are used
  • the forms and meanings of familiar words
  • visual language features of the texts they e.g. layout, pictures,symbols, icons
Sources of information in the text include:
  • semantic sources of information - the meanings in written words, diagrams or pictures in the text
  • syntactic sources of information - the structure or syntax and grammar of the language that is used
  • visual and graphic-phonic sources of information - visual features of the printed letters, words, sentences and paragraphs
Students can use these sources of information only if they can make links between
  • their existing understandings
  • their existing knowledge of the structure of language
  • their existing understanding of phonics
The importance of motivation and engagement - important for ability to engage in reading.- when students enjoy reading and believe in their own reading abilities, they are likely to engage with their texts.

3. Knowing about features of text
Main Ideas:
Academic texts in mathematics cover a huge range - textbooks, worksheets, internet sites, statistical reports
Language used in these texts is concise, abstract, highly structured and dense compared to the language used in everyday conversation.
Academic vocabulary includes many subject-specific terms.
Visual features of the text, such as labelled diagrams or graphs, may also require interpretation skills.

4. Knowing how to choose appropriate texts
Main Ideas:
Visual Features of academic texts e.g. subject-related diagrams, graphs etc: Sometime these can hinder a student's understanding. Need to find out what kinds of visual features actually aid students' understanding.
Features of electronic texts e.g. webpages, scanned documents, recorded interviews, simulations and models, loading raw data onto spreadsheets etc: written text and images can fly across the screen or rotate or flash. Can be challenging for some readers.
Considerations for teachers:
"The appropriate difficulty level of a text depends on many factors, including:
  • the students' prior knowledge of and interest in the context;
  • the range and complexity of the vocabulary, the students' sigh vocabulary and their current decoding competence;
  • the layout of the text, including the length and word spacing
  • the support given by illustrations;
  • the length of the text
  • the syntax of the text and the complexity and length of the sentences;
  • the number and nature of new ideas or concepts presented in the text."
In particular, secondary teachers should consider:
  • how difficult the vocabulary is and how many new, subject-specific terms there are;
  • to what extent new terms are explained in the text and how clear and coherent these explanations are;
  • how complex the concepts and ideas are and how densely they are grouped;
  • how long and complex the sentences and paragraphs are;
  • how the text is organised and structured (for example, headings, paragraphs, italics and bold)
  • how user-friendly the physical layout and typography are;
  • how clear the visuals are e.g. graphs, pictures and diagrams.

5. What the challenges are
Main Ideas:
Teachers who understand the processes and strategies that readers use and the characteristics of the academic texts in their subject area can help their students to develop the literacy strategies needed.

6. Knowing the students
Main Ideas:
All classes in New Zealand secondary schools include students with diverse experiences, knowledge, understandings, skills, and strategies for literacy learning.
Teachers can read their students' asttle (or other tests) results, observe the students as they read or carry out a simple test on the text they will be using:
The "rule of thumb" is to select a chunk of text (about 100 words) and have the students read it silently. Whenever a student encounters a word they do not know, they raise a finger on one hand. If all five fingers are raised the text is beyond their independent reading level.
If another text is not available, then the text should be read using an instructional approach such as guided or shared reading. See resources below for more detail:

7. Knowing what the teachers can do
Main Ideas:
Teachers can make a difference by focused instruction to meet the needs of all their students. See chart below

How students learn.jpg

8. Developing independent learners
Main Ideas:
Students can use their maths learning journals and ask the following questions of themselves:
  • What do I already know about the subject?
  • What do I already know about the structure and visual features of this type of text?
  • Why am I reading this text?
  • What do I need to find out?
  • What will I do with the information?
  • How will I find this information in the text?

9. What can make a difference: the deliberate use of literacy strategies
Main Ideas:

10. Strategies for drawing on prior knowledge

Strategies: Brainstorming, Reciprocal Interviewing, Postbox Activity
The purpose of these three strategies: These strategies will remind students of what they already know so that, when they read, they can build on this knowledge to learn relevant new information.
What the teacher does (Brainstorming)
  • Brainstorm ideas about a subject-related concept or topic with the whole class
  • Ask students to draw their mental images of aspects of the concept or the topic
  • Discuss the topic with the students and write up key vocabulary on the board
What the teacher does (Reciprocal interviewing)
  • Ask the students to write down what they know about a topic and then have them develop two or three questions to use to interview another student about the topic

A strategy to generate effective questions:
Question Dice are a useful and enjoyable way of developing students questioning skills. Students have a pair of dice.
One has a question starter on each
What…? Where…? When…? How…? Who…? Why…?
The second dice has verbs such as: is/are would, can, could, will, might, should
Students shake dice and use combinations as a starter (E.g. How could…? Why might…? When would…?)
What the teacher does (Postbox activity)
  • Set up a postbox where the students can post questions about a new topic
  • Question the students about what they already know about the topic and encourage then to use the postbox for their own questions. These questions may be the unanswered ones from the Reciprocal interviewing activity.
  • Discuss the students’ questions and responses with them, as a class, and talk about the links between similar responses.

Strategy: Anticipatory Reading Guide
  • An anticipatory guide helps the student to start thinking about a topic and so activates their background knowledge.
  • Prediction engages the reader with the text.
  • Checking the accuracy of predictions after reading and having to supply evidence from the text helps with deep processing.

What the teacher does
  • Write about six statements to catch the reader's interest that focus on the main messages of the reading text. Using the reading levels of the three level reading guide works well:
Level one (literal) - the student reads the lines to work out the writer says;
Level two (interpretative) - the student reads between the lines and infers what the writer means;
Level three (applied) - the student reads beyond the lines and relates the knowledge to other contexts.
  • Before reading direct students to think about the title, sub-titles, visuals etc. then get the students to work independently agreeing or disagreeing with the statements in the guide and then share their choices with a partner.
  • The students read the text independently or the teacher reads the text to the students.
  • After reading, the students revisit the guide with their findings and write in the evidence from the text. The teacher and students discuss their choices.

Read the following statements and decide whether you agree with them or not.
Record your response using Y, N or NN.

Before Reading
After Reading

Y=Yes, N=No, NN=Not necessarily
Evidence: Explain in your own words

11. Establishing a purpose for reading
Main Ideas:
Students need a clear purpose of why they are reading, what information they need to find, where in the text they will find this information and what they will do with it when they find it.

Strategy: Previewing and predicting text content
Purpose: encourages and motivates students in their reading
What the teacher does: present an outline of the text, using its headings and major visual features and ask students what the text will be ablout
Ask students to read one section and then to predict the information that will be presented next.

Asking Questions e.g. The KWLH strategy
Purpose: For the teacher to activate students’ prior knowledge of a given topic and for the students to identify their own prior knowledge and to monitor their learning during the activity. This strategy expands on the KWL strategy (What we know, What we want to learn, What we have learned) by adding the category “How we know”.
What the teacher does
  • Brainstorm aspect of the topic
  • Get the students to fill in a KWL sheet with a new column for H – How we know

What we Know
What we want to learn
What we have learned
How we Know

  • Ask students to jot down what they know and what they want to know about a topic and then share these with a partner or in a group.
  • Work through the task and have the students add to their chart at certain points, e.g. if the task stretches over two days, ask the students to record their ideas on the chart at the end of day one and at the end of day two.

12. Strategies for locating information

Strategy: Skimming and scanning
Purpose: Skim read to get general information about a whole text quickly. Scan through the text slowly looking for looking for particular pieces of information.
What the teacher does: select a piece of text that has headings and sub-headings, explain skimming and scanning to the students, give the students 60 seconds to skim-read headings, sub-headings and some of the words they judge to be "key" or "signal" words. Then give the students 3 minutes to scan for 3 key points that elaborate on the headings.Have them jot down their notes as they go. In pairs have them compare their findings.

Strategy: Treasure hunt
To look at the text features that will help them to find information - contents page, home page of a web-site, the index, the glossary and hierarchies of headings. Select a whole book or chapter. Prepare a list of questions that the students can answer by using the text features in the book. Are students becoming aware of the different structural supports?
Strategy: Surveying text structure
Knowing how a particular piece of text is organised helps students to find information and understand it.