Wednesday / July 24

A Family Literacy Lesson for Engaging Students

It’s the first weeks of a new school year! I become anxious each fall as I prepare for family literacy classes that may challenge the motivation of students and their families. Here are questions that I ask myself as I prepare my lessons: 

  1. What are five big ideas that I want to convey in a lesson on literacy? 
  2. How can I best convey these ideas to students and their families? 
  3. How can I deliver a lesson that is relevant and applicable to their daily lives? 
  4. What activities can I use to engage families that demonstrate key concepts? 
  5. What assessments can be used to check for knowledge? 
  6. How can these activities be replicated at home to reinforce learning? 
  7. How will future lessons expand knowledge gained from a lesson? 

As I review this list, I feel overwhelmed with the incredible responsibility I have in supporting students and their parents. How can I deliver a lesson on family literacy effectively? Some best practices highlighted in teaching manuals (i.e. The Will to Lead, the Skill to Teach by Anthony Muhamad and How Do We Know They’re Getting Better by John Barell) are: 

  1. Consider cultural relevancy, acquired knowledge, and the literacy levels of students and their families. Academic terminology must be simplified and relevant to the students’ learning level. When talking with parents, I must consider their abilities to process academic language and respectfully simplify my explanations and demonstrated examples. 
  2. Use a variety of learning strategies to convey ideas, check for knowledge, and apply to prior learning and future lessons. Students and their families can reflect in small groups and volunteer information by raising their hands. Additionally, I can whip around the group and have all give feedback. Finally, students and their parents can return to small groups, train each other in the concepts, and provide feedback to the larger group in a debriefing session. 
  3. Consider the questions that I ask to achieve results. Asking questions that generates critical thinking can reinforce literacy and learning. When working with families from diverse cultures, I must consider a relevant question that can be understood and applied by all. 
  4. The activities that I create to reinforce learning must be engaging, stimulating, and easy to replicate at home. I love to use art activities that integrate literacy activities to generate ideas and reinforce learning.  
  5. Teach parents how to verify that learning has occurred when helping their children at home. Beyond children reading to parents and creating family art projects, parents can ask their children to reflect on what they have read. Through loving discussions, they can compare, contrast, predict, and apply key concepts to prior learning and simulated situations. 
  6. Finally, I must consider my tone of voice, my pacing, and how I present myself to the students and their families. Am I terrified and ill prepared or am I passionate about the learning experience? Sometimes I speak softly and other times I speak louder. I also speak slowly and reflectively to convey important ideas. Other times, I speak passionately to generate enthusiasm and motivation. I typically work with families from many different cultures and may have several interpreters working with me. These classes require that I slow down enough for translators and at the same time keep everyone excited about the next steps in the presentation. 

Below is a sample family literacy lesson plan for students and their parents. The anticipated outcome is that parents will understand the importance of contributing to their children’s learning regardless of their cultural and academic background. The lesson targets primary grade students and their parents who may have limited resources to support their children’s learning at home. 

Family Literacy Lesson Plan for Primary Students and Their Parents 

(See for parenting blogs and free handouts.) 

Learning Objective: Parents will be able to contribute to their children’s learning through reflective activities and art projects. 
Class Work 
  1. Review five strategies parents can use as their children’s first teachers that include communication, listening, guiding their children to ask critical questions, quality time with children, advocacy for learning, and setting behavior boundaries. Check for learning with reflective discussions though pair and share activities. 
  2. Demonstrate how families can create family value art collages that can be posted in a prominent place in their homes. Examples of family values can include supporting all family members, respecting others, giving back to their community through service, and pursing academics. 
  3. Demonstrate how parents can play with their children using academic content though the following projects: 
  • Create art activities that relate to stories children have read to their parents. 
  • Develop journals with pictures of family outings that include details of the planning process. 
  • Research family history and geographical locations of relatives. Record in a journal or by drawing the relevant facts found for social studies. 
  • Plan for simple meals by comparison shopping at the store using basic arithmetic. 
  • Apply scientific research by creating and growing a family vegetable garden and compare the size of the plants to the number of days of watering. 
Homework  Parents can report their success using these strategies during each class. Parents can bring samples of artwork and reflective activities to share with the class. The samples can be compiled in a workbook that will be reproduced for families to refer to for future activities. 

Enjoy these incredible learning opportunities to engage and motivate your students as well as their parents in the art of learning. The results can inspire families to share with others as they become competent first teachers in their children’s development. 

Written by

Mary Ann Burke has served as a credentialed parent educator and adjunct professor for over thirty years in California’s schools. Dr. Burke has presented effective parenting and school engagement strategies at numerous state and national parent engagement events. She recently authored a twin book series that includes Yikes! Brandon Has Twin Sisters, Yikes! Brandon and His Sisters Play at the Park, and Yikes Brandon and His Twin Sisters Go to School. Mary Ann is the co-author of Effective Parenting! Capable Kids! She is also the author of four Corwin Press books on parent and community engagement in schools. Mary Ann Burke previously led the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Parent Engagement Initiative that serves as a state model for best practices in parent engagement for culturally diverse families. She creates Common Core State Standards kits for parents to use at home and in their child’s classroom to support children’s literacy and academic readiness skills. Mary Ann is an active grandmother of five grandchildren. She shares this expertise with educators and school leaders as a trainer, author, and curriculum developer.

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