Teaching Literacy Skills through Assignment Creation

The best way to demonstrate that you understand something is to explain it to someone else.  Allow students the opportunity to demonstrate that they understand a concept by flipping expectations and allow them to create assignments rather than complete them.



This lesson focuses on having students READ A SHORT STORY and then break into small groups (I suggest four as a manageable number).  Each group will be assigned one of the TEN KEY LITERACY SKILLS and work to create an assignment that will allow other students to demonstrate their mastery of that skill.

Required Foundation

Students must have already been introduced to the ten literacy skills.  I recommend using a one or two page short story before spending two days quickly running through each of the ten skills.  For more information on teaching the skills please refer to the LITERACY SKILLS – AN INTRODUCTION series.

Students will need to have read a SHORT STORY and be prepared to apply their Literacy Skill knowledge to the piece.

Required Materials

At least one student per group will require access to a device capable of using GOOGLE DOCs or MICROSOFT WORD.  While Microsoft Word is an effective tool, it is more beneficial if students use Google Docs.  That way they can SHARE their working assignment with each other, using multiple devices to co-author their piece at the same time.


Girl Reading - PIXABAY.jpg


Assignment Creation Assignment:

Lesson Plan

This lesson plan will reinforce student knowledge of the ten key literacy skills, while also strengthening their knowledge of their group’s assigned skill.  By creating an assignment they will learn how to use digital HEADINGS to format and chunk their work, creating a framework of expectations for assignments their teachers create for them.  Students will also engage in METACOGNITIVE reflection, exploring why their choices were most effective.



Desks must be arranged into groups of four.  A copy of Ten Key Literacy Skills.PDF  must be printed out and cut into ten slips (one per literacy skill).


Minds On

Desks will be prepared in groups of four when students walk into the classroom.  Each desk group will have one Literacy Skill slip (see preparation) on it.  One of the following images will be made available for students to see.


Students will be tasked with applying their specific skill to the image.  Each group should write a brief P.E.E. PARAGRAPH that supports their use of the group’s skill.

Students should then present their paragraph to the class, while explaining the importance of their assigned literacy skill.



Once students have a strong understanding of their specific skill, and have applied it to a visual image, they will be ready to begin the focus of this lesson.

This lesson can be run completely in the computer lab, or it can be split into two days – the first day for IDEATION and the second day for typing up and formatting their assignment.

Students will be instructed to take out their SHORT STORY from a previous class and consider how they could apply their Literacy Skill to that story.  They will have five minutes to plan and take brief notes as a group.

After some time has been given to consider the application of their skills, students will be handed a copy of Assignment Creation Assignment – Literacy Skills (No Example).PDF

Using that handout, students will see that rather than answering questions, and creating a traditional assignment, as they are used to, they will – instead – be the ones responsible for creating the assignment.

The various sections of a strong assignment are laid out of the sheet, and the specific headings that each title needs to be typed in are recorded.

Students will notice that they are creating an assignment in the same style and format as the one they have been handed.  The assignment itself is an exemplar.

Should you wish to offer an additional exemplar, student can be given the Strength through Synthesis – Working Through the Short Story.PDF assignment.

At this point, students are free to work on their creation.



Just before the end of class, each group will be asked to write down ONE question, concern, or problem that is hindering them in the completion of their assignment.  This will be handed to the teacher before they leave the classroom.

The teacher will then read through those slips, noting any difficulties students are having with this new style of task, and work to create resources or instructions for tomorrow’s class that will help students find success.


What’s Next?

Continue to learn about the best ways to TEACH THE KEY LITERACY SKILLS, or choose to focus on one of the following: Summarizing, Determining Importance, Inferring, Predicting, Connecting, Visualizing, Comparing, Questioning, Annotating, or Synthesizing.



Ten Key Literacy Skills.PDF

Assignment Creation Assignment – Literacy Skills (No Example).PDF

Strength through Synthesis – Working Through the Short Story.PDF

X: A Fabulous Child’s Story – Literacy Skills Review

Whether you’ve arrived here as part of the larger Gender Representation Unit, or while searching for a strong short story to use with your students, X: A Fabulous Child’s Story by Lois Gould is perfect for your classroom.  A copy of the story can be purchased online or downloaded from The Gender Centre (currently the fourth link from the top at the time of posting).


What’s the Story About?

This is the story of a baby named X.  The game is raised Gender Neutral; the parents refuse to tell anyone the sex of the child.  While this causes problems for X when X goes to school, other children soon see the benefit in being more like X.  As, is often the case, it is the parents who worry.

While this story is a work of fiction, it connects to many real-life examples, some of which were inspired by this piece.


A Focus on Literacy Skills

This story will refresh student’s knowledge when it comes to writing Point Evidence Evaluation paragraphs.  It will also focus on the following Literacy Skills:


Students will be asked to make and support inferences about the parents in the story, as well as the other community members.  They will be challenged to use the information presented to them in the text, as well as their own person knowledge, to make a strong educated guess about motivation.


Students will identify question types, focusing on both Literal and Evaluative.  They will then have to write a response in P.E.E. format, explaining if they would want to raise a baby X of their own.


Students are offered limited room to summarize a large amount of information.  This will help demonstrate the need to only add specific details while avoiding all unnecessary information.


Students are asked to recreate a part of the story, paying attention to how all five senses are activated during that moment.  Students will create a stronger understanding of the characters when considering what taste they might be experiencing, and what sounds would stand out to them.


Students will be asked to make Text to Text, Text to World, and Text to Self-connections with the story.  By doing so, they will work to create meaning, and develop a strong foundation for future discussions.



Related Articles

Parent’s Keep Child’s Gender Secret – Toronto Star, May 21, 2011

Baby Storm Five Years Later – Toronto Star, July 11, 2016




X – A Fabulous Child’s Story – Literacy Skills – 2018.pdf

X: A Fabulous Child’s Story (from The Gender Centre) – Direct Link

Alligator River: Point Evidence Explanation Paragraphs

Point Evidence Explanation paragraphs have all three requirements for supporting an opinion.  The point is what the writer believes, the evidence is what the writer is using to prove their belief is true, and the explanation is an explanation of how the evidence supports the point.

I use the following activity as a diagnostic to assess Reading and Writing knowledge.  It is also a great icebreaker to get students interacting with and challenging their peers.


Point Evidence Explanation Examples

For Example:

Point: Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River”
Proof: He refuses to help Abigail even though they are friends.
Alternate Proof using Quotations: “Ivan did not want to be involved at all in the situation.”
Explanation: Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.

PEE Paragraph (without embedded quotation):

Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River” because he refuses to help Abigail even though they are friends.  Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.

PEE Paragraph (with embedded quotation):

Ivan is the worst person in “Alligator River” because he refuses to help Abigail.   Even though they are friends, Ivan “did not want to be involved … in the situation” (Alligator River).  Friends are supposed to stand up for one another and help each other in times of trouble.  As Abigail’s friend, Ivan is the only person who should have supported her throughout the entire ordeal.  That he refused to help his friend shows that he is the worst person in the story.


Introducing Point Evidence Explanation Paragraphs

Note: I don’t normally include stories that I don’t have the license to here, but I have tried to discover the author of Alligator River for some time, coming up short with each attempt.  It appears on countless websites, each time unattributed.  If anyone knows the author please inform me in the comments.

Read the story Alligator River aloud to your class.

Alligator River

Once upon a time there was a woman named Abigail who was in love with a man named Gregory. Gregory lived on the shore of a river. Abigail lived on the opposite shore of the river. The river that separated the two lovers was teeming with man-eating alligators. Abigail wanted to cross the river to be with Gregory. Unfortunately, the bridge had been washed away by a heavy storm the previous evening.

So she went to ask Sinbad, a riverboat captain, to take her across. He said he would be glad to if she would consent to go to bed with him before he takes her across. She promptly refused and went to a friend named Ivan to explain her plight. Ivan did not want to be involved at all in the situation.

Abigail felt her only alternative was to accept Sinbad’s terms. Sinbad fulfilled his promise to Abigail and delivered her into the arms of Gregory.

When she told Gregory about her amorous escapade in order to cross the river, Gregory cast her aside with disdain. Heartsick and dejected, Abigail turned to Slug with her tale of woe. Slug, feeling compassion for Abigail, sought out Gregory and beat him brutally. Abigail was happy to see Gregory getting his due. As the sun sets on the horizon, we hear Abigail laughing at Gregory.

Debriefing the Story

Students should be asked to consider the choices made by each of the five characters: AbigailIvanSinbadSlug, and Gregory.


I structure this by first giving students five minutes to fill out a chart that ranks each of the characters from best to worst.  This is a purely subjective ranking but it helps get thing thinking about the events of the story.

Once I establish that they will be filling out this chart I read the story again so that they are listening with intent, seeking out main and supporting details.

It is important that students work on this chart independently.  They will have the opportunity to share with their peers in the next stage.

Once students have had time to fill out their chart, I break them into groups

Pair (and then some)

Students are split into four groups.  In these new groups, all members must agree on a new list.  Often times there are disagreements and strong opinions.  Students become passionate about their choices, as well as their reasons.

Once they have their lists, you can move onto the sharing step or combine two of these groups to make a larger group before sharing as a class.


Each group will write their rankings on the board.  First they will silently compare them, or become angered by the differences.  After there has been an opportunity to read the lists, students will explain their rationale for the choices that they made.

I find that it can be helpful for teachers to write their own list on the board, after students have discussed their own.  At this point the teacher can mention that they have their own reason for the choices that they made, but they are no more correct or incorrect than any of the student lists.

Ultimately, the important thing is that everyone can support their reasons.  This leads us directly to an explanation of Point Evidence Explanation paragraphs.

Writing a P.E.E. Paragraph

Using the prior examples as exemplars students should be instructed to write  P.E.E. Paragraph explaining who they think the worst character in the story is.

Students should then swap paragraphs and highlight the Point in yellow, the Evidence in green and the Evaluation in blue.

If you do not have access to highlighters, underlining, circling, and starring the different sections is also effective.  However, I find that by highlight the entire paragraph it’s easy to visually identify problematic paragraphs.

Students should quickly see that the order of the three sections is consistent in each paragraph and that the Evaluation makes up the bulk of the writing.

Common Problems

Often times students will simply want to write their point assuming that everyone understands it.  Some might also often evidence to support their point, but without their explanation, the reader is left the infer and make the connection themselves.  Writing a P.E.E. Paragraph ensures that the writer fully communicates their ideas to the reader.

A Second Paragraph

Once students have peer edited each others’ work, and you have identified common problems, you can ask the students to write a second paragraph explaining who they think the best character in the story is.

At the end of this assignment, you will have strong evidence of their writing ability and their ability to support their opinion with textual references.


Next Steps

After discussing this story you can point out the various opinions students had about the characters and their actions.  By telling them that a large discussion occurred based on a story that is only half a page long, they will be prepared for the challenge of discussing longer texts in Literature Circles.

I also use this activity as a starting off point for encouraging students to write their own Choose Our Way tales.

Finally, I have included a handout that has questions relating to four of the ten key literacy skills: Connecting, Comparing, Predicting, Inferring.


Downloadable Resources

Alligator River – Story and Chart Handout

Alligator River – Literacy Skills Questions


Overview of the Ten Key Literacy Skills

These ten key literacy skills are used in every classroom, regardless of subject or grade area.  Using these, or slightly modified, headers on your assignment sheets will help students understand that the skills exist from one subject area to the next.  It will also help you chunking your assignments so they are easier for students to process.


When you summarize an article, you are selecting only the most important pieces of information that are needed to fully communicate the author’s ideas. By looking at the highlighted passages you and your group have constructed, you may find you have already identified Main and Supporting details, required for a successful summary.

Determining Importance

An article can have more than one Main Idea.  The Main Idea is the focus of the article.  It is supported by Supporting Details that answer “how”, “what”, “when”, or “where”.  The Main Idea is often stated in the topic sentence of a paragraph, or group of paragraphs.  The more specific details that follow are the Supporting Details.


When you infer, you are reaching a conclusion on the basis of evidence and reasoning.  An inference is an “educated guess” that is supported by your own personal knowledge as well as specific details from the text.  You are making an assumption based on the facts you have in front of you, as well as your prior experience.  An inference can be about something that has happened, or that will happen in the future.


Predicting allows you to form expectations about what is to come.  Predicting requires that you use prior knowledge and information from the text to form an opinion about a text’s meaning, content, or intended audience.


There are three main types of connections: Text to Text, Text to World, and Text to Self. Remember, a text can be – but is not limited to – a book, an article, a song, a video game, a painting, etc.  A Text to Text connection requires you to draw specific links between the assigned text, and another text of which you are familiar. A Text to World connection requires you to draw specific links between the assigned text, and events occurring in the world around you. A Text to Self connection requires you to draw specific links between the text, and your own personal life.  Specific examples must be used from both sources when creating a textual connection.


Visualizing is the act of creating an image in a readers mind.  The image should stimulate as many of the five senses as possible: Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, and Smell.  By visualizing a reader can enhance their connection to a text, or create stronger inferences.


When you compare like, or unlike, things you are identifying details in each of them.  Those details allow for a better understanding of the compared things.  By knowing what the thing is like or what it is not like you will be able to better focus your thoughts.


There are three main types of questions – Literal, Inferential, and Evaluative. Inferential questions require you to use personal knowledge, combined with knowledge from the text to answer them. Evaluative questions ask your personal opinion, which must still be backed up with specific examples from your life. Literal questions require you to restate, in full sentences, information that is directly stated in the text.


You may annotate by writing directly on a text, or using sticky notes to arrange and re-arrange your thoughts.  Annotations force you to identify details and consider the text as an artefact.  They also allow you to return to a familiar text at a later date, with your notes already collected.


By combining ideas from your text, with ideas from additional texts, as well as your own prior knowledge you can come to a new, fuller, understanding of a topic.  Synthesizing allows you to combine knowledge from multiple sources allowing for new insights into a topic.

Stop and Think

Rank each of the key literacy skills in order of importance, from 1 to 10.  Write a brief sentence explaining why #1 is the most important, and #10 is the least important.

Consider how students use these skills in your classroom, then consider how they use them in their daily lives outside of the classroom.

Finally, question if you explicitly teach these skills, or if you assume that students should already be aware of them.  Recognizing that students need to have these skills explicitly refreshed each year, determine how you could modify existing assignments to allow for literacy skill chunking.




Literacy Skills – An Introduction

Literacy Skills are transferable skills that permeate cross-curricular lessons from kindergarten to post-secondary classrooms.

Students use these skills to process each text they encounter, be it a map, a math problem, a song, a blue print, a short story, a painting, or any number of other things.

Many students fail to recognize that they use the same skills to understand a tutorial for replacing a dishwasher as they do for identifying the author’s message in a short story.  By specifically naming the skills, students will realize the transferable nature of literacy skills and activate the same techniques when applying them.

The Ten Key Literacy Skills

The following literacy skills are those most often called upon in a classroom setting:

  1. Summarizing
  2. Determining Importance
  3. Inferring
  4. Predicting
  5. Connecting
    • Text to Self
    • Text to Text
    • Text to World
  6. Visualizing
  7. Comparing
  8. Questioning
    • Literal
    • Inferential
    • Evaluative
  9. Annotating
  10. Synthesizing

Stop and Think

Consider how you use three of those skills and how they are used in your classroom.

If you are not sure what the skills are, jot down an idea of what you think the skill means, and how you use it in your classroom.  Once you have a brief idea of how the skills work, and how they are presented in your classroom, feel free to delve a little deeper in Part 2.

PART 1: Literacy Skills – An Introduction

PART 2: Overview of the Ten Key Literacy Skills

PART 3: Lessons for Teaching Literacy Skills