Instructional Strategies to Promote a Culture of Literacy in the Content Area Classroom 

Introduction: The following informal instructional strategies are mentioned in some of the content area lesson plans on this Web site. Each of the strategies is simple to implement, but can have a powerful impact on student understanding and engagement with reading and writing tasks. Specifically, these instructional strategies promote students’ interaction with one another and with text, support reflection about content area reading and writing, and provide teachers with formative assessment information that is useful when planning subsequent literacy-rich learning experiences.

Chalk Talk


Chalk Talk is a silent, thinking strategy to generate ideas, check learning, solve problems, reflect, or capture collective thought processes of students. The strategy allows students to interact visibly and directly with ideas or concepts, while interacting silently with one another. Chalk Talk may be used by teachers to:

  • Generate ideas
  • Develop projects
  • Check on comprehension or learning
  • Generate ideas for solving problems
  • Reflect on an idea, concept, or issue

 Source: Coalition of Essential Schools


  1. The teacher explains that Chalk Talk is a silent activity to encourage and integrate everyone’s thinking. Students will be asked to come forward and add ideas in writing. Students connect with other students’ thinking by drawing lines to comments.
  2. The teacher writes a question, word, or topic in a circle on the board.
  3. The teacher provides chalk or markers for student use. Class size will determine if everyone has a marker. To manage large groups and limit confusion, the teacher needs to develop a process for students to hand-off the chalk/marker to another student.
  4. Students take turns writing thoughts or feelings connected to the topic.
  5. The teacher serves as a facilitator and may add to the idea sharing as appropriate to expand student thinking and encourage additional interaction by:
  • Writing questions about a comment
  • Noting emerging themes
  • Adding his/her reflections or ideas
  • Connecting two interesting ideas or thoughts

6.   The teacher and the students summarize the results of the Chalk Talk and identify significant themes, connections, or additional questions.


Science class: Students are studying about the loss of sections of America’s coastline to over-development. The teacher begins the Chalk Talk with the stem: How can our class communicate our concern to developers that the loss of coastline and barrier islands is a major environmental concern?

Social studies class: Students read an article connected with voter apathy. Some students were quite concerned after reading the article; others did not see low voter turnout as a problem. The teacher wrote a Chalk Talk stem to begin the thinking and interaction: Voting is at the very foundation of the American philosophy of freedom for all. Why do you believe that the privilege to vote is important or just a privilege to be ignored?

Exit Slip


Exit Slips are reflective written responses to the day’s discussion or reading. Exit Slips can be used to engage students with summarizing their learning, or synthesizing learned information, skills, and processes. An Exit Slip can also be used to answer a review question; to pose a question related to the topic studied; to make a short list of facts learned; to connect learning to their own lives or world; or to set a learning goal for the next day. Exit Slips can be completed individually, in pairs, or in small groups.


  1. Share the purpose of the Exit Slip with the students (e.g., to provide an opportunity for student reflection on the use of a learning strategy; to make connections to the day’s reading or lecture).
  2. Ask students to take a moment for silent reflection before writing a brief response, ranging from one sentence to a half page.
  3. Collect the Exit Slips as the students exit the classroom.
  4. Use the information from the Exit Slips to determine students’ understanding of the topic or reading and to inform instruction in subsequent lessons.

Source: Adapted from Admit Slip (Gere, 1985)

Gallery Walk


Gallery Walk provides students with the opportunity to actively engage with topics currently being studied. Students synthesize important concepts by rotating around the classroom in teams to respond to open-ended questions or thought-provoking statements posted on charts. Students work in a team to add comments or responses to the original question or statement posted on each piece of chart paper. The teams of students develop an oral presentation, or ‘report out,’ to the class that synthesizes the main points and ideas from their Gallery Walk discussions. The Gallery Walk encourages cooperation, listening skills, team building, higher order thinking, oral presentation skills, and collaborative construction of knowledge.


  1. In the Gallery Walk the teacher may post several different posters, or create stations with a question and other resources, to prompt a response or reaction from the student teams.
  2. Each student team rotates to each station. The team spends three to five minutes responding to the posted question, statement, concept, issue, or problem. The team works together to develop a team response.
  3. Student teams interact or respond to the original posting, as well as to the responses of other student teams.
  4. At the end of the Gallery Walk, student teams should be provided time to synthesize the information from each of the stations before reporting on findings or responses to the original postings.

The Gallery Walk may be organized as a before reading, during reading, or after reading activity depending on the purpose of the lesson.


English language arts class: The teacher uses a Gallery Walk as a before reading activity to stimulate students to respond to thought-provoking quotes from the novel they are about to read. The teacher carefully selects the quotes to generate interest and discussion among the student groups.

Math class: The teacher posts several problems or real life math application scenarios for students to solve after initial demonstration and modeling by the teacher. As each team visits each station, the students discuss possible solutions and how to best solve the problem. Students post their solution and move to the next station. At the last station, the students work as a team to discuss the solutions provided by each team, determining if there is general agreement or if further resolutions for solving the problems must be addressed. Each team summarizes and reports out on the strategies used to solve the problems and any differences in approaches taken by the teams at the last station.



3-2-1 is a strategy often used to help students self-monitor comprehension; identify important details in the text; make connections to text or learning; or identify areas in the text or lesson where understanding is uncertain. The students are asked to identify 3 important details, 2 connections, and 1 question they may have after reading or learning.

Source: Zygouris-Coe, Wiggins, & Smith (2004).


1. As a during reading strategy, guide students to ‘chunk’ or divide the text into smaller chunks or sections of text.

  • Students working alone, with a partner, or in small groups fill out a 3-2-1 chart (see below) that includes:
  • 3 important details
  • 2 connections
  • 1 question
  • Students repeat the procedure until the entire text has been read
  • Students can use the important details from their 3-2-1 charts to summarize the entire text

2. As an after reading strategy, ask students to complete a 3-2-1 chart to summarize a reading selection or the most important points of a lecture. The chart can serve as an Exit Slip for final thoughts or reflections that will be turned in to the teacher as the students leave the classroom.


Science class: The teacher chooses the 3-2-1 strategy to help students as they read dense text connected with photosynthesis. Using a 3-2-1 chart, such as the one below, students have the opportunity to connect their thinking as they read.


3 important facts I have learned about photosynthesis: 
2 connections I made with other science processes: 
1 question I have after reading the text: 

Turn and Talk


Turn and Talk is a during or after reading strategy that provides the opportunity for students to stop, reflect, and discuss with a partner the concepts and ideas of a lecture, narrative, or expository text. Students have an opportunity to summarize and articulate understandings and confusions.


  1. Prepare for the use of the strategy by examining the text or lecture to design appropriate breaks for students to stop, reflect, and discuss.
  2. Assign partners or ask students to select a partner.
  3. Depending on the density of the text, allocate three to four minutes for student discussion.
  4. Use Turn and Talk at the end of class to allow students time to synthesize their thinking and discussion for the entire text or lecture.


English language arts class: The teacher uses Turn and Talk to provide students with the opportunity to discuss character traits of short story characters as they read. During the reading, the teacher poses questions or probes to focus student thinking and identification of specific character traits. The students reflect and Turn and Talk to discuss what each reader understands to be true of the character s/he is tracking through the story.

Word Splash


A Word Splash is a collection of words or concepts from a text selection. A Word Splash provides a framework for eliciting students’ prior knowledge before reading and helps to set a purpose for reading. It can also be used as an after reading strategy to guide students in making connections with vocabulary critical to understanding concepts and ideas of the day’s lesson. A Word Splash can be used to:

  • Encourage and develop prediction skills
  • Introduce new vocabulary
  • Focus attention on a topic or issue
  • Serve as a useful tool for group/pair sharing

Source: Adapted from Dorsey Hammond’s Key Word strategy.


  1. Read through the text to select key words, phrases, and concepts in the text that will provide insight or clarification to support student understanding.
  2. Type or write these words on a sheet of paper or use WordArt for a PowerPoint display. The Word Splash should then be copied or projected so all students can view it.
  3. Provide time for students to reflect or think about the projected words or concepts. Ask students to generate statements about the terms, working in pairs or small groups. For example, the students may use the words to begin initial connections with the vocabulary or make predictions about the text to be read.
  4. Present the text selection to the students and have them read it, pausing to check their statements against the information that is presented in the text.
  5. Once students are familiar with using the Word Splash, they can create their own Word Splash as a before reading preview strategy or as an after reading summary.


History class: The teacher projects words connected with the study of ancient Egypt on the wall: papyrus, Isis, Osiris, pyramid, mummification, and Nile. The teacher begins the discussion by pronouncing the words and asking if there are words the students recognize. The class discusses the words and the connections students have to them. The teacher asks students to scan the text to find the words and to make a prediction about the social studies text to be read.



The content for this component of CCSSO’s Adolescent Literacy Toolkit was provided by Public Consulting Group’s Center for Resource Management, in partnership with the Council of Chief State School Officers (August 2007). The content was informed by feedback from CCSSO partners and state education officials who participate in CCSSO’s Secondary School Redesign Project.

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