Collaborative Literacies

Our school started the year strongly with our ESL teachers leading an entire morning of strategies to help EAL learners, but many of their tools were helpful to foster collaborative literacies in the classroom. This is the 3rd part in a 5 part series of “Academic Literacies”. So what is collaborative literacy?

Collaborative Literacy Defined

These are defined as a “joint interpretation of a text” (Coiro, Castek, & Guzniczak). The key point of collaboration is making meaning through interaction. This can be deceptive from the lens of a classroom teacher, as, if a group is asked to share their thoughts, one alpha student may be only sharing their point of view and be dismissive of others at their table.

This literacy is made richer from the multitude of perspectives and opinions, and being able to practice and discuss these in a non-threatening way is a good way to foster argumentative literacies which are essential to becoming an active and informed citizen. Unfortunately, mainstream collaborative literacies are often limited to individually orientated literacy activities such as graphic organizers.

Pedagogical Approaches

  • Think Pair Share – This is a very easy and informal way to each share ideas and come to a consensus on an issue. The teacher poses a question or statement and asks students to:
    • Think about it for 10-20 seconds
    • Share their thoughts in pairs for about 1 minute
    • Share their pairs thought’s on the matter to the whole class
  • Tell a Friend – In this activity, the teacher provides a passage with 1 or 2 underlined parts and students “translate” from academic language to social language by replacing the underlined words with everyday words that are easy to understand.
  • Expert Groups – This is a summarizing activity done in three parts:
    • Summarizing – “Basically, the article says..” or “The main points are…” and “The authors point is…”
    • Analyzing – “Given the evidence, some conclusions we can make are…” and “After examination, this suggests…”
    • Interpreting – “This article teaches us that…” or “One way to interpret this is…” and “This part means that…”
  • Respond to Another’s Idea – I use this quite often and ask students to “Acknowledge and build on a class-mates comment to extend the discussion. Some prompts are:
    • I’ve had an experience (similar to or differing from) ___________’s because…
    • ________’s idea made me think about/wonder…..
    • In response to __________, I think…..
  • Credit Another’s Idea – Students are usually asked to share what they think, but with this activity, they share a classmates point of view. Some stems/prompt to help them with the process are:
    • _______________ feels that….
    • According to _________________, ….
    • One (idea/opinion/experience) that ______________ shared is….
  • Restating Ideas – In this activity, students listen carefully and repeat a classmates point of view in their own words. Some stems/prompt to help them with the process are:
    • So if I understand you correctly….
    • In other words, you (feel/believe/think)….
    • So what you’re (saying/suggesting) is ….
  • Meta cognitive Coaching – This is a great activity wherein a statement, problem or issue is posed and then one student plays the role of the “student” who walks the other student through their mental processes, verbalizing their thinking. The other student, the “teacher” coaches them through their thinking asking them reflective questions.

Technology Integration

  • Today’s Meet – This online discussion tool is free and a room is created where pairs can share their thoughts and post a strand to the rest of the other participants in the room. Today’s Meet is a great back channel to learning in the classroom.
  • Quotes from Google Research – This is a great tool for finding a quote relevant to your subject matter and then amending it to any of the activities above. I use this for “tell a friend” and “think pair share” very often. Here is an example for a short 15 minute warm up with my sixth graders.
  • Online Bulletin Boards – Padlet is great for this.



Coiro, J., Castek, J., & Guzniczak, L. (2011) Uncovering online reading comprehension process: Two adolescents reading independently and collaboratively on the Internet. 60th yearbook of the Literacy Research Association 354-369

Related Posts

Academic Literacy-Part 1: Disciplinary Literacy

Academic Literacy-Part 2: Argumentative Literacy


Feature image courtesy of Flickr, hackNY.

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