20 Literacy Strategies for Engaging the Middle Level Brain

Effective ways to enhance reading and writing experiences.

Recently, I was teaching a language arts class in Logan, West Virginia. The objective of the lesson was to analyze the impact of tradition on human behavior using narrative text. Sounds really dull, doesn’t it? It could have been, had I not used engaging strategies to facilitate the lesson. The vehicle for accomplishing the objective was The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. If you have not read it, you should!

Even though it was considered a short story, The Lottery contained a great deal of text, so I had to devise ways to help students. I placed students in pairs to facilitate discussion and divided the short story into sections. Before reading each section, I provided discussion questions to give students a purpose for reading the chunk. I read the first section aloud while students tracked the print in their books. Then a whole class discussion ensued that would provide answers for the designated questions.

For the second section, I continued to read aloud but paused periodically so that students could chorally provide the next word in the sentence. Section three needed some movement so we stood and chorally read this section with expression.

Section four involved partner reading where a student could elect to read a page, a paragraph, or pass his or her turn. It was during the reading of this section that many students realized that this lottery was not going to be

a good thing. By the time the lesson was finished, we had purposely used five brain-compatible strategies.

Whether you examine any of the research on how the brain acquires information, you will find there are 20 ways to deliver instruction. These instructional strategies increase academic achievement for all students regardless of grade level or content area, decrease behavior problems and make teaching and learning engaging.

Brainstorming and Discussion

Engaging students in a spirited discussion is a useful way to enhance comprehension. Teachers often ask recitation questions where the answer choice is either right or wrong. Discussion questions, on the other hand, can challenge students’ thinking since there can be more than one appropriate response. As a teacher, focus on facilitating discussions between and amongst students.

Drawing and Artwork

Many students have a natural affinity for drawing. Use it! I could have stopped periodically and had students draw a scene from The Lottery. A picture of the box in which the lottery slips were kept would have been a good way to ascertain students’ attention to detail.

Field Trips

The brain remembers what it experiences when it travels to places in the real world. Having students make written predictions regarding what they will see on the trip and then write about what was seen are good literary activities to incorporate. Virtual field trips enable students to travel to places that would otherwise be inaccessible or cost prohibitive.


Nothing facilitates a good review better than playing a game. Dividing students into three heterogeneous teams and competing in a spirited game of Jeopardy is a good way to review major concepts prior to a test. Tossing a Nerf ball for students to catch is a great way to call on students to respond.

Graphic Organizers, Semantic Maps, and Word Webs

I would be hard pressed to teach any comprehension skill without the use of graphic organizers. This strategy appeals to both hemispheres of the brain. Create mind maps for teaching main idea and details, sequence of events, cause and effect, compare and contrast, and many other comprehension skills.


The job of the “class clown” is to research an approved joke and tell it at a designated time during the period. This role rotates among all students who choose to fulfill it. Jim Carey related the story of how one of his high school teachers made a deal with him that if he participated in class and completed all homework, he could have the last minute of class to tell a joke. The rest is history.

Manipulatives, Experiments, Labs, and Models

Having students read and follow the directions for an experiment or for building a model is a way to integrate literacy across the curriculum.

Metaphors, Analogies, and Similes

One of the highest level thinking strategies is the use of metaphors. When a student can find ways to compare two or more dissimilar things, they are really using their brains. For example, when teaching main idea and supporting details, I compare it to a table and legs.

Mnemonic Devices

Every content area contains acronyms and acrostics, shortened ways of helping students retain content. While these may not foster higher levels of thought, they go a long way toward increasing the amount of content students can remember.


Movement is my favorite strategy, since anything students learn while in motion has a better chance of being remembered. Having students form a living timeline is an effective way to teach and learn sequence of events.

Music, Rhythm, Rhyme, and Rap

Have students create a song, rhyme, or rap that depicts students’ understanding of a concept previously taught. While completing this assignment, they must employ one of the highest levels of thinking—synthesis—or the ability to take information and put it into a different form.

Project-Based and Problem-Based Learning

Take 10 or 15 literary objectives and incorporate them into a real-life project or give them a relevant problem to solve. These objectives will be mastered so much easier if students encounter them within the context of real life.

Reciprocal Teaching and Cooperative Learning

Having students sometimes work in pairs or teams to accomplish curricular objectives is a good way to ensure that they are career and “life” ready since the ability to work together is a major workplace and community competency.

Role Plays, Drama, Pantomimes, and Charades

When students act out the steps in a math word problem, pantomime a content-area vocabulary word as classmates guess it, or dramatize a scene from history, it goes a long way toward enabling them to remember the information prior to and after a test.


While invaluable in social studies, storytelling is a cross curricular strategy. Stories have a beginning, middle, and end and connect content together. These connections facilitate memory. Tell stories as you deliver content and then have students create their own and watch recall improve.


The use of technology is another workplace competency that every student should acquire prior to graduation. It is essential since so much literacy today involves computer literacy. However, I would like to add a word of caution. I have observed students who are so engrossed in technology that they have little time for anything else such as developing the social skills necessary for successful teamwork or the movement so essential for good health and long life.

Visualization and Guided Imagery

When authors do not provide visuals in a story, novel, or textbook, good readers are able to create their own visuals of what they are reading. Many students find this strategy difficult to implement since so many of the technological devices they interface with today have visuals provided. Pausing during read alouds and having students develop pictures in their brains of what they are seeing as they read is a good way is a good way to help them perfect their visualization skills.


We live in an extremely visual world. So visual, in fact, that at least 50% of students who walk into any classroom today will be predominantly visual learners. Comprehension is facilitated when students have visuals (pictures, captions, bold and subheadings, charts, and graphs) to assist them.

Work Study and Apprenticeships

Work study refers to apprenticeships, internships, and externships. In other words, it is on-the-job training. Can you begin to imagine how much informational text reading and comprehension would occur when students are learning to repair an engine, become a dental hygienist, or prepare culinary delights?

Writing and Journals

I have known good readers who were not necessarily good writers, but I have not known the opposite. Those who write well usually have a good command of the language which they use expertly to communicate their message. Even stopping periodically for quick writes facilitates memory and understanding.

The object of a learning experience is not to see how many learning strategies can be incorporated but to determine which ones are best for students and the content being explored.