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Lesson Plan

Defining Literacy in a Digital World

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Defining Literacy in a Digital World

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Three 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Traci Gardner

Traci Gardner

Blacksburg, Virginia


National Council of Teachers of English



From Theory to Practice



While students interact with a range of print, visual, and sound texts, they do not always recognize that these many documents are texts. By creating an inventory of personal texts, students begin to consciously recognize the many literacy demands in contemporary society. Students begin by brainstorming a list of items that combine different ways of expressing ideas—such as a poster or DVD. After the lists are shared, list items are identified as texts (audio texts, video texts, etc.) Students then create an inventory of significant texts that they have engaged with over a specified period of time, and discuss why it is important to interact with a variety of different types of texts. With this start, they create a working definition of literacy that they refine and explore as they continue their investigation of the texts that they interact with at home, at school, and in other settings.

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The literacy demands that students face today have changed greatly from those which students met even five or ten years ago. NCTE’s Topical Resource Kit, Professional Communities at Work: Engaging Media-Savvy Students: Exploring Multimodal Literacies through Popular Culture and Technology explains:

Classrooms are rapidly moving beyond traditional notions of text. For years, teachers relied almost completely on books and other print texts—especially in terms of the texts that students were asked to compose. Because of the changes in technologies available to us today however, texts in the classroom frequently include a much wider range of modalities—systems that people use to make meaning. In fact, a single text often engages more than one way of making meaning.

Today’s media-savvy students compose and read texts that include alphabetic- and character-based print, still images, video, and sound. They listen to podcasts, watch animations on the Internet, film their own videos, and compose visual arguments on paper and online. Reading and composing for these students includes such features as visual design, nonlinear organizational structures, and oral storytelling techniques. (“Framing Text” 3)

Students interact with this wide range of texts using ever-expanding strategies for making meaning; yet they do not always recognize these many resources as legitimate texts. By exploring the ways that they read and write in this lesson, students extend their understanding of what it means to be literate in the digital age.

Further Reading
National Council of Teachers of English. 2005. Professional Communities at Work: Engaging Media-Savvy Students: Exploring Multimodal Literacies through Popular Culture and Technology. Topical Resource Kit. Urbana, IL: NCTE.

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