5 Activities That Pack a Super-Literacy Punch!

For librarians, supporting 21st century learning means supporting the multiple literacies that go with it: digital literacy, information literacy, visual literacy, media literacy, technology literacy, and so on. I like to refer to these as the ‘literacies of information’ since they all have roots in information technology. Often, I find that these literacies are treated and discussed as separate entities.

They shouldn’t be. Why? Because even when you are teaching, say, information literacy skills, you’re typically touching on other literacies as well (e.g. digital literacy, media literacy). That being said, some learning activities are more literacy-rich than others.

Here are 5 activities that pack a super-literacy punch:


Not blogs, blogging. And not writing a single blog post for an assignment (that’s not blogging, blogging suggests multiple blog posts). Blogging as a literacy-rich activity is an ongoing effort over a period of time — semester, trimester, curricular unit, you get the picture. It even makes for a good library programming activity, such as a YA lit blog hosted by the library, but run by student authors.

What makes it a super-literacy activity?

Reading and writing. Crafting a media message. Finding or creating audiovisual objects. Researching and synthesizing information. Learning how to use a digital tool. Commenting.That’s critical, media, visual, information, digital and technology literacy learning.

Blogging tools

You already know the big ones, but here are some classroom blogging tools you may be unfamiliar with:


While learning to code is a great skill, it’s not the coding per se that makes it a literacy-rich activity in classrooms and libraries. Coding teaches design thinking, which is a creative problem solving process.

Design thinking in a nutshell:

What makes it a super-literacy activity?

I see information literacy in the design thinking process (above image), with critical literacy being a function of information literacy. Add in coding to teach design thinking, and you’ll also promote digital, media, technology, and visual literacies.

Coding tools

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is typically seen by librarians as a strategy that assists students in the planning stages of the research process. It’s so much more than that! Concept mapping can be an entire research activity in and of itself, and a great alternative to the annotated bibliography (you can still annotate within the concept map). A well-developed concept map resembles a bowl of spaghetti or a spider web:


What makes it a super-literacy activity?

Researching, analyzing, and organizing information. Identifying relationships between concepts. Creating a visual display of information. Learning to use a digital tool. That’s critical, information, visual, digital, and technology literacy learning.

Concept Mapping Tools

These concept mapping tools include linking words, which are essential to the concept mapping process (otherwise it’s really mind mapping).

Digital Storytelling

Digital storytelling is an activity that runs the gamut from simple (images and text) to complex (including movie elements). And digital storytelling fits anywhere within the curriculum, from fictional stories in a language arts or English class to memoirs in a History class to heavily researched documentary-like projects in a Science or Social Studies class.

What makes it a super-literacy activity?

Gathering information. Finding, developing, and synthesizing multiple media elements. Arranging visual information. Writing. Storyboarding. Learning to use digital tools. That’s critical, information, media, visual, digital, and technology literacy learning.

Digital Storytelling Tools


Yes, gaming. And especially virtual worlds, roleplaying games (RPGs) and puzzlers. The cognitive benefits of gaming is a growing area of research, as is game-based learning. Though, most of what you see developed for classrooms today is the use of gaming elements to increase engagement and motivation. Games themselves, the ones designed by honest to goodness game designers, the kinds of games that are difficult to master, those are the games that make for literacy-rich experiences. And libraries are the perfect avenue for promoting gameplay to support multiple literacies.

What makes it a super-literacy activity?

Exploring environments to find clues and information. Using information to solve problems or mysteries. Learning how to build virtual worlds. ‘Reading’ the actions of game characters or other players. That’s critical, information, digital, technology, media and visual literacy learning. Also spatial literacy learning.

Literacy-Rich Games

I wrote about these games and more in a previous post.

Promoting Multiple Literacies (Principles of New Librarianship)

In my last post, I outlined 5 principles that I believe new librarianship encompasses. Today, I’m going to delve into the first principle a little further: promoting multiple literacies. Which literacies should new librarianship promote? How are the literacies inter-related? And how can they be promoted? I will attempt to answer those questions.

Which literacies should new librarianship promote?


There are 6 foundational literacies that I see as the root of all (or at least most) other literacies:

  • Critical literacy views readers as active participants in the reading process and invites them to move beyond passively accepting the text’s message to question, examine, or dispute the power relations that exist between readers and authors. It focuses on issues of power and promotes reflection, transformation, and action (Freire, 1970).” 
  • Information literacy is a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” (ALA)
  • Visual literacy has been defined as the “ability to understand, interpret and evaluate visual messages (Bristor & Drake, 1994).”
  • Media literacy is “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and communicate information in a variety of forms-is interdisciplinary by nature.” (NAMLE)
  • Digital literacy is “the ability to find, evaluate, utilize, share, and create content using information technologies and the Internet.” (also referred to as digital literacies)
  • Multimodal literacy is the ability to “interpret the intertextuality of communication events that include combinations of print, speech, images, sounds, movement, music, and animation”… and “the integration of multiple modes of communication and expression.” (NCTE)

How are the literacies inter-related?

The diagram above establishes the relationships between these foundational literacies (in my view).

Critical literacy is at the core of all the other literacies. The concept of critical literacy is tied to traditional literacy, but has evolved along with technology. It’s essential for participating in a digital culture. All the other literacies in the diagram are dependent upon critical literacy.

I see information literacy as being the most closely tied to critical literacy. Both are firmly rooted in critical thinking and both are applicable to traditional modes of literacy (i.e. print) as well as technology driven literacies.

Visual literacy is dependent upon critical and information literacy, but not necessarily digital or media literacy. Why? Visual literacy can be either print-dependent or technology-dependent.

Media literacy is dependent upon critical, information and visual literacy. It can also be print-dependent or technology-dependent, but is more commonly a combination of both.

Digital literacy is the only fully technology-dependent literacy on the diagram. Critical, information, visual and media literacy are all essential components of digital literacy. Often, people will refer to digital literacy when speaking of technology skills. But that’s like referring to reading as the ability to decode words and string sentences together. Those skill-sets are a prerequisite to the literacy, not the literacy itself.

Multimodal literacy is the combination of all the other literacies.

How can they be promoted in the library?

In many ways!

  • Maker activities: coding, digital storytelling, mashing and hacking. Mozilla Webmaker is one of my favorite tools for this.
  • Gaming: gaming collections, gaming events, gaming space. If you’re okay with users reading in the library, you should be okay with them gaming in the library. Both support literacy, and the latter supports multiple literacies.
  • Social media. Yes, using Twitter and Facebook and Google+ support visual, digital and media literacy. And sometimes critical and information literacy (e.g. trying to decipher the validity of the crazy stuff that your Facebook friends post).
  • Web browsing and database searching. Of course.
  • Ebooks.
  • Access to iPads and other mobile devices.
  • Workshops.
    • Workshops for teachers about technology-rich assignments (e.g. digital storytelling, wikis, blogs, content curation).
    • Workshops for students (e.g. Zotero or Mendeley, Google Scholar, e-portfolios).
    • Workshops for the general public on just about anything that requires digital navigation and creation.