Activity: Promote Cross-Curricular Literacy

Using the Journal of Student Science and Technology to Promote Cross-Curricular Literacy 

by: Joanne Bandzierz, Assistant Curriculum Leader for Library, Literacy, Professional Development, Northview Heights Secondary School, TDSB

Students often walk up to me in the Library and ask 'Have you read this? Is it good'± With fiction, I feel confident in answering 'Yes', as I studied English Literature at university, and continue to read widely.

In Natural and Applied Sciences, though I can guide a student to a reliable book or an electronic database, I sometimes reflect that the student will likely be able to read specialized scientific literature with more understanding than I. For example, after reading an article in the Journal written by a Calgary high school student, I understand that it is better to have computers perform financial calculations in decimal, but still know almost nothing about BID or DPD encoding, and what does IEEE stand for?

How then would I, a Teacher-Librarian, use the Journal as a teaching and learning tool? Answer: To teach cross-curricular literacy strategies and encourage further scientific reading and research.

Much research is being done on how good readers extract meaning from text, but it still seems that English departments are responsible for promoting literacy. Students in Science and Technology, however, need the same support in learning and applying literacy strategies.

Below are a few suggestions on how to teach students to extract meaning from an article in the Journal, or any other scientific text, by learning and applying simple literacy strategies. To use them effectively, students must learn through modelling; therefore, teachers might use a simpler text on the same topic to model a strategy before asking students to apply the strategy to a the Journal article in groups or on their own. Ask yourself what will cause students difficulty and create literacy tools to help them work through it.

  • Accessing Background Knowledge: Before they read, ask students to recall what they already know. The simplest approach is to give students a graphic organizer with 2 headings: What I Know; What I Need to Know. (You can also add other columns: What I Learned and New Questions I Have to help students add to their background knowledge.)
  • Learning Vocabulary to Support Understanding: Review the assigned article and choose words that may cause your students difficulty. Create a graphic organizer with 3 column headings: I still need help finding a meaning for this word; I think I know the meaning; I know the meaning. Type the difficult words below the columns. Ask students to read the text and then complete the organizer with a partner. Once they have completed the organizer, discuss their possible definitions from the last two columns. Words in the first column receive more in-depth study.
  • Thinking While Reading: Students need to understand that they must conduct an internal dialogue while they read, visualizing, making connections, and asking questions. Review the assigned article and choose an appropriate method to help students capture thinking while reading. Two examples:
    • Hand out sticky post-it notes to students and ask them to record their thinking as they read: Ah Ha!; Hmmmm; I wonder; I don't get it; Why does; I get a picture in my mind . . . etc. Use the sticky notes to support after-reading discussion.
    • Create a graphic organizer to help students record their thoughts as they are reading. For example, ask students to fill out a Double Entry Diary as they read: In one column, the student records a quote from the article. In a second column, the student makes a connection or reflection, or asks a question.Summarizing:Again, graphic organizers can help students to organize a summary. Choose categories that will support student efforts: Keywords; Headings; What the Author Wants Me to Learn; 5 Key Ideas to Remember; Why This Idea Matters.

This graphic organizer, for example, can be used with any article.

Use the circle to record 4 things you have learned:

Students need to know that understanding text requires a conscious effort at thinking while reading. A few simple methods for helping record this thinking are mentioned above.

Once students have read a the Journal article, the teacher may ask students to read further to add to their understanding. Teacher-Librarians can teach students to access online scholarly databases, to choose keywords for searching, to scan and sort a results list, and to apply further the literacy strategies used with the original articles.

Teachers can find many other cross-curricular literacy ideas to use and adapt by consulting educational journals and books. Just ask your TL for help.


Allen, J. (1999). Words, words, words: Teaching vocabulary in grades 4 -12. York: Stenhouse Publishers.

Allen, J. (2004). Tools for teaching content literacy. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.
Beers, K. (2003). When kids can't read what teachers can do: A guide for teachers 6-12. Portsmouth: Heinemann.

Harvey, S. and A. Goudvis. (2000). Strategies that work: Teaching comprehension to enhance understanding. Markham: PembrokePublishers.

Marzano, R.J. (2004). Building background knowledge for academic achievement: Research on what works in schools. Alexandria: ASCD.

Tovani, C. (2000). I read it, but I don't get it: Comprehension strategies for adolescent readers. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.

Tovani, C. (2004). Do I really have to teach reading? Content comprehension 6-12. Portland: Stenhouse Publishers.