Literacy Beyond Reading & Writing

photo-1440439307159-c3afc8a8e4ffThis post was originally published on The Writing Project.

When we hear the word “literacy” immediately some of the things that come to mind are: books, reading, writing, libraries, and maybe even magazines, newspapers. But we all know that’s not what encompasses literacy. Literacy moves beyond reading and writing. It includes the process of deciphering symbols, patterns, images to understand and come to meaningful conclusions about complex contexts, cultural understanding, and communication.

Do our students know that “literacy” moves beyond reading and writing?

Most importantly, how do we begin to break our traditional understanding of literacy to include wider meaning and contexts?

It has to start in the classroom. For many of our traditional classrooms, reading and writing are the core values that are focused on when it comes to literacy. We need to show students that “Literacy” moves beyond reading and writing and can encompass: cultural literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy and much more.

According to Media Smarts, in 1987 Ontario was the first canadian province to mandate media education. The media strand still focuses on core strands such as oral communication, and reading and writing. However, it also adds an extra layer of including media mentor texts, media audiences, and media productions to strengthen students’ learning when it comes to reading, writing, and critical thinking.

When students see that literacy moves beyond reading and writing, they’ll start to see it as a way for them to understand and work with the systems around them. This makes it more meaningful and relevant for them to improve their reading and writing, as these skills will be needed to understand, decipher and communicate their interpretations of the world they live in.

Moving beyond media literacy, visual literacy and  literacy are two areas that can be leveraged in the classroom to open up different opportunities for students to engage in reading, writing and critical thinking.

Visual Literacy prompts

Visuals are a fun way to engage students in literacy.


  • Have students choose an image that they like or one that resonates with them.
  • Ask students to explain why this image resonates with them. What was so special about it? What does it make them feel?

Research shows that when students are engaged in multiple literacies, they are more inclined to be motivated and succeed in their own learning (Hinchman, K. A., & Sheridan-Thomas). As a result, it’s important to help students be exposed to a variety of ways to understand the world around them and help them develop critical thinking skills necessary for real life interactions.

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