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Critical Literacy

Written by Chelsea Geier
May 10, 2013

This method of teaching comes from Paulo Friere, a Brazilian educator and theorist we have been reading in our E401 Teaching Reading class are Colorado State University. Now, we will not be going into extraneous detail about Critical Literacy (Here’s a paper Nick Bonnet wrote if you want to get more information on it: Critical Literacy.docx). We will simply outline some of the core beliefs, and give one example lesson idea you might consider using in your own classroom.


1. Originated from Freire’s ideas on social justice.

2. Used as a method to question issues of power

3. Has students deconstruct texts.

This approach is effective, in that it covers many of the different types of literacies listed above. Many activities using this pedagogical structure can be used which will cover both the standard curriculum requirements, and the necessary elements needed to teach kids all the forms of literacy. Heather Coffey, PhD in Curriculum and Change,  explains it quite elegantly when she says-

“Within the frame of critical literacy, it is important to look at texts, like novels, magazine articles, short stories, films, etc., through a lens that challenges societal norms. Students can evaluate whose knowledge is being privileged in texts and de-construct the message of those meanings. As readers, students must also evaluate the social construction of a text and question the factors that may have influenced the author to create the text in a specific manner. Moreover, using critical literacy, teachers encourage students to look at texts from other perspectives and re-create them from the standpoint of marginalized groups in order to analyze the power relations and social inequities promoted by the texts.”

One example lesson plan you might use is the examination of advertisements. Have your students think about which voices are present or missing. For instance, if it’s an ad on laundry detergent, have your students ask these (or similar) questions: where are the men? What are the moms doing? What does the environment look like? What ideas or beliefs are this ad trying to portray? etc.

Just through this one activity, you are covering the visual, informational, digital, technological, computer, media, and the multicultural/cultural (depending on the ad) aspects of literacy.

We would encourage all of you to read-up on it to see if it’s something you might consider using in your own classes. We’re positive it will be worth your time.

Hopefully that this little bit of text has helped expand your perception of literacy. As future or present educators, you all have the power to change student lives for the better by preparing them to think critically and by teaching them how to become fully realized members in their society . Please help them on their way to achieving this aim. Please give them more than a drum beat to march to- give them a voice.