Easy ways to embed literacy and numeracy – Part 1


There are lots of easy ways to embed literacy and numeracy into your training or education programme. All of these approaches require some basic assumptions first though. In a nutshell these are:

  1. Knowing the demands: This means that you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to your training context. And this includes knowing what you mean when you are talking about literacy, why there is a problem with low levels of literacy, and the impact of this on your learners’ study or work environments. Knowing the demands also means that you know what some good approaches to teaching and training are, and that you’ve analysed your training materials, tasks, and texts and worked out exactly what you expect of your learners with regards to things like the context specific vocabulary and reading comprehension requirements.
  2. Knowing your learner: This means that you have diagnostic processes and tools in place. These can be your own teacher made diagnostic tools or externally mandated assessment tools. Ideally, you want a combination of tools and processes that give you both a “broad brush strokes” analysis as well as very specific insights into very specific aspects of your training. You also need to know how to understand the results and do something with them, such as creating literacy and numeracy focused individual or group learning plans with SMART goals. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
  3. Knowing what to do: This is where people want to jump to straight away. However, it’s better if you’ve worked through steps 1 and 2 above first. Knowing what to do is about doing the actual embedded delivery, assessing or measuring learner progress, and then evaluating your effectiveness. Having some cool resources or fun activities is part of this, but it’s also important to make sure you have the whole process sorted out. This means that your activities and resources are informed by what you know about the training demands and your learners. In other words, you should be targeting the gap between the training demands and your learners’ actual abilities. And then don’t forget to test-teach-test. If you don’t measure what you’re doing you have no way of proving to yourself or others whether you are being effective or not.

That said: Here’s one easy way to embed literacy, more specifically vocabulary:

  • First of all, find a text that you use with your learners, preferably something that you know causes difficulties because of the technical jargon or complicated specialised language of your trade.
  • Copy the text electronically and paste it into the Vocab Profiler and hit submit. It’s an ugly website but it’s really useful.
  • Scroll down the results and look at the different word frequency lists. You will see words from the first thousand (1K) list, second thousand (2K) list, academic word list (AWL), and then a list of all the words that are Off List. You could chose to focus on any of these lists depending on the level of your learners, but chances are if you are teaching adults in a trades or vocational training course the Off List words will be the words that your learners struggle with.
  • You should be able to print or copy a print friendly version of these words that you can then do things with.

What to do with the words:

  1. Front loading: If you pick about 10 of the Off List words (or any that you’ve identified as problematic) you can teach them to your learners right at the beginning of the training session. Tell them that they will need these words to makes sense of the trades-related text or task that is about to follow.
  2. Create a word bank: Either by yourself or together with your learners, create a poster or other visual word bank of the key technical or trades-focused words that your learners need to learn. Refer to your word bank often and add new words as they arise.
  3. Start a glossary: Start a class glossary of terms contextualised to a specific aspect of your trade or vocational training. Again, you could do this or get your learners to do it. Write your own plain English explanations and collect examples of the words use in context. Once you have a contextualised glossary with a decent number of words, explanations, and example sentences you can then use this as a further resource to generate activities such as term and definition matching, sentence completion, cloze, and plain old spelling lists.

Any other ideas? Let me know in the comments or on the ALEC Embedding Literacy and Numeracy Facebook page.

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