ELA Teaching Strategies: Re-Defining Reading in 21st Century Classrooms

If we are living in the 21st century, then we should teach like it. Well, easier said than done. Whenever anyone is asked to shift, to improve, to grow and try new teaching strategies, change introduces itself. And…not everyone likes to embrace change. Some of us are shy, some of us may think we already have it going on, and some might be to busy to notice change just standing there in front of them.

It’s easier to drag students through a novel the traditional way than it is to shake up their learning with new teaching strategies and digital apps and interactive technologies like Kahoot. We already have materials from past years, lessons which worked okay but lacked sparkle, and we might not have the time to, as many of my colleagues say, “re-create the wheel.”  Or, we just might not be aware of the “best” way to make sure students are gaining literacy skills in the 21st century.

Interesting Statistics about Reading

Consider the following statistics:

  • 94%  of teens ages 16-17 listen to music, talk radio, or podcasts every day or almost every day [1].
  • 45% of 17 year olds read for pleasure once or twice a year [3].
  • 91% of teens ages 16-17 have a cell phone or Smartphone and 91% use social media [1].
  • Teens ages 13-17 are active on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Vine, Pinterest, and Reddit where they post and interact with others daily.
  • 71% of teens ages 13-17 are active on more than one social media site.
  • Girls are more likely to engage with visually-oriented social media while boys are more likely to engage in online gaming [2].

If I am a teacher, I’m wondering how I can harness the power of social media and multimedia texts to build literacy skills.  Meet them where they are.  To twist a quote from  “Field of Dreams,” they are building it…we must come to them.  

We can come to them by creating excitement and engaging readers as I talked about in my last post.  To build on this excitement and magic, however, and keep the momentum going, I think that we need to be creating blended learning opportunities.  When I say this, I mean that I am going to look for ways to help students connect to the print text via online, digital, and multimedia texts.  I am going to also make the output or product involve digital literacy, multimedia, or group-based discussion.

Teaching with Technology: An Example

Back to a text I will teach next year.  Instead of dragging readers through pages 1-369 of The Power of One in the traditional way, I could use the following teaching strategies and ideas:

  1. Ask my students to read an online article about leadership or listen to a portion of a podcast and then have a pop-up panel discussion about the main character with a focus question about leadership.
  2. Ask students to view Angela Duckworth’s TED talk on grit and ask them to create an infographic that highlights the role grit plays in Peekay’s power and success.
  3. Ask students to participate in the marshmallow challenge and view Tom Wujec’s TED talk in order to find and create a Padlet post their best quote from the novel that connects to the power of team vs. individual.
  4. Pair scenes from Million Dollar Baby with excerpts from the novel and ask students to discuss in an online chat or vlog format.
  5. Ask students to reflect on their own life journeys by creating a “second every day” digital collage or mini-film. Then, students could create a “second every day” collage for a character from the novel.
  6. Ask students to read a chapter from the novel and create a Vine-like video to capture the most important moment from the chapter.
  7. Record myself reading or, rather, “performing” the chapter and use Zaption to integrate questions for students to respond to as they listen.
  8. Have students record themselves reading a chapter and then create a Kahoot.it. quiz or question to give to the class.
  9. Have students find a way to re-write the lyrics of their favorite song to fit a particular character, chapter, or theme from the novel.
  10. Pattern the reading – read, listen, discuss, blog.  As students blog about their reading and discussion, they would be asked to integrate and discuss another online text that they have researched and read/viewed.

I hope this post has you thinking of ways to spice up traditional reading and introduce yourself to change.  You don’t have to transform 100% of your teaching at once.  If you begin slowly, step-by-step and lesson-by-lesson with the end goals for student learning in mind, then you will get there and students will surely appreciate your efforts to meet them where they are the most engaged.


[1] Younger American’s Reading Habits

[2] Teens, Social Media, & Technology

[3] The Number of Teens Reading for Fun Keeps Declining

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