Critical Literacy empowers all students. It creates more equitable spaces in society and encourages people to take a critical stance on the world around them.

There are several critical literacy theories:
  1. The analysis of canoncial and contemporary works that extend beyond common sense interpretations to reveal the multiple ways that texts create meaning and shape human identities.
  2. Call authority into question
  3. Position the reader in a different relation to the text, not as a subordinate passive reader to divine an ultimate meaning, rather as an agent empowered to read upon and against text.
  4. Inform critical literacies in that they enable students to discuss relations between literature texts and ideals and values in the dominant society while coming to a better understanding of their own humanity.
  5. Is important to understand that the process of using critical literacy to deconstruct text is an act of critical textual production in and of itself.

Educators must be mindful of the various contexts in which language and literacies of power operate. To implement a meaningful critical literacy praxis requires the development and use of conceptual and technical tools. (The mode may not be universal, but the end goal is fixed). As educators, we evoke a revolutionary pedagogical task of fostering skills with and attitudes toward language and texts that are essential to develop critical citizens.


Critical Literacy, as proposed by Freebody and Luke, suggests that “critical readers must take part in the following four practices when reading (found on page 42-43 of Making Media Matter, Larson and Marsh):

  1. Break the code of texts: recognizing and using the fundamental features and architecture of written texts, including alphabet, sounds in words, spelling, conventions and patterns of sentence structure in text.
  2. Participate in the meanings of text: understanding and composing meaningful written, visual and spoken texts from within the meaning systems of particular cultures, institutions, families, communities, nation-states and so forth.
  3. Use texts functionally: traversing the social relations around texts; knowing about and acting on the different cultural and social functions that various texts perform both inside and outside school and knowing that these functions shape the way texts are structured, their tone, their degree of formality and their sequence of components.
  4. Critically analyze and transform texts: understanding and acting on the knowledge that texts are not neutral, that they represent particular views and silence other points of view, influence people’s ideas, and that their designs and discourses can be critiqued and redesigned, in novel and hybrid ways (Luke and Freebody, 1999:np).

While this is only one theory applied to critical literacy, the group activities that we will have the class participate in for this workshop will cover these concise areas that must be explored in order to engage in a critically literate state of mind. These concepts also link directly to the ELA curriculum documents as will be demonstrated below.

ELA Curriculum Document Links to Critical Literacy:
Each strand of the ELA curriculum documents for grades eleven and twelve, contains a critical literacy component. At the senior level, students are expected to critically analyze a text in a number of different ways. This skill engages in a higher level of learning and is described in the curriculum document as follows:

Grade Eleven:

ENG3U – Critical Literacy – identify and analyze the perspectives and or biases evident in oral, complex or difficult texts, how their own beliefs, values and experiences are revealed in their writing and in media texts.
ENG3C – Critical Literacy – identify and analyze perspectives and or biases evident in oral texts and media texts including increasingly complex texts and comment on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity and power Explain how their own beliefs, values and experiences are revealed in their writing.
ENG3E - Critical Literacy – identify the perspectives and or/biases evident in both simple and complex oral and texts and comment on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity and power. Explain how their own beliefs, values and experiences are revealed in their writing.
ENG4U – Critical Literacy – identify and analyze in detail the perspectives and/or biases evident in oral texts, including complex and challenging texts, commenting with understanding and increasing insight on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity and power. Explain, with increasing insight, how their own beliefs, values and experiences are revealed in their writing.
ENG4C – Critical Literacy – identify and analyze the perspectives and/or biases evident in oral and media texts, including increasingly complex or difficult texts, and comment with growing understanding on any questions they may raise about beliefs, values, identity, and power. Explain how their own beliefs, values, and experiences are revealed in their writing.

These examples from the ELA curriculum documents show you that the language for what constitutes critical literacy is relatively similar across the senior grades in English education. The curriculum documents also offer examples of what constitutes a critically literate perspective:

*Critical literacy asks students to constantly analyze, evaluate and question the information that they are given. Students do this by thinking metacognitively about their writing, their own personal insights and values that they bring to the table in the language arts context and the socio-cultural environment/community in which they live.

Assessment For Learning

Pre-assessment is an important part of the teaching process. Before a teacher can truly engage with their classroom, they must be aware of the students who populate that classroom. This is particularly important when tackling critical literacy, which demands a high level of student engagement. One way to gain the attention of students is to relate their learning to their own experiences and interests. These pre-assessment tools – a survey, a poster and a presentation – will enable a teacher to learn the interests of their students as well as their awareness of broader social issues.

A survey of the class will help determine students’ interests, concerns and relationships with their greater social context. Questions can be asked as part of class discussions or delivered as a written survey.
  1. What forms of news do you seek out (print newspaper, Internet sources, television broadcasts, news magazines, etc)?
  2. Do you read or view news content (television, Internet, print newspapers) regularly? How many hours a week do you read or view news?
  3. What types of news stories do you read or view more often – arts and entertainment, politics, business, sports?
  4. Are you or would you be more interested in news that is local, national or international? Why? What news would you be least interested in? Why?
  5. Do you look for stories about people or issues you are already familiar with, or do you seek out new knowledge?
  6. What social issues concern you? What drives your concern? Have you ever put your concern into action?
  7. What social issue would you like to know more about?
  8. What is power, who has it and how do you get it? Who has power over you? Who do you have power over?
  9. What television/movie/book character(s) do you identify with? In what ways do you relate to him/her/them?
  10. How is your gender represented in the media? Does this portrayal raise any concerns for you and, if so, what are they?

Students will create a poster depicting what they believe their role to be in the world. Their “world” can be as large or small as the student deems necessary (familial, educational, local, national, or international). A variety of materials may be used. Posters will be presented in one-on-one student-teacher conferences.

Students will present a news story of their choice to their peers. They may share a video of broadcast news or an article from a newspaper or magazine. Stories should reflect the students’ own interests. In a brief presentation, students will:
  1. Summarize the story being presented and identify it as local, national or international;
  2. Present the story – view the video or read the article (as a class);
  3. Explain why this story is important to them;
  4. Explain the way(s) in which the information presented will affect the students in the class.


Activity 1
In a group students are given a letter from the "school administration" and the following scenario to consider:

You are a eleventh grade student. This year, your school is planning to launch a pilot project that eliminates your summer break. The plan is to extend the school year from 10 months to a full 12 months. The objective is to increase student performance by covering more of the curriculum. The final decision will consider opinion on the matter. Your goal is therefore to create a persuasive argument either for or against this potential pilot project in order to convince your fellow peers of why they should do the same. After reading the letter from administration, you will write a short letter that explores your position either for/against the pilot project. You will then exchange your letter with a partner and analyze his/her text identifying key elements that make the text effectively persuasive or not.

  1. Read aloud the letter provided
  2. Decide whether you are for or against the pilot project
  3. Write a letter to your fellow students aiming to convince them of why or why not this pilot project is a good idea
  4. Exchange letters with a peer and identify the elements that your peer used to make his/her argument persuasive (keep in mind choice of words, punctuation, emphasis, etc.).

Activity 2

The class is divided into groups of 6-10 people. Divide students within those groups in half and assign one half as "Group A" and the other half as "group B". (Each initial group should have an A side and a B side within them)

Articles are distributed. Side "A" gets article A and Side "B" gets article B. These articles are written from differen perspectives on one topic.

Students complete the following tasks:
Students, on their own, analyse and assess their given article.
  1. What is your article’s argument?
  2. What are some of the key supporting arguments your article uses?

Come Together (Group Learning)
Students come together to form their inital, larger group and discuss the following:
  1. Which one looks more credible? (They are from the same day.)
  2. Who is the author of article A. Who is the author of article B?
  3. Why is the time posted on the National Post article?
  4. Both articles were ironically found on the Internets… do you think it’s possible to be edited easily?
  5. Why would a newspaper want to be able to edit its articles?
  6. Compare the main and supporting arguments of both articles.
  7. What do you as a group believe after having read 2 contrasting viewpoints?

The Task
Now create a 3-5min skit for your classmates to explain both viewpoints what your group believes. Remember they all read different articles!!!

Activity 3
Divide class in groups.

1. As a group, students will watch the Old Spice Body Wash Commercial

They will then discuss:
    • Who do you think the targeted market for this product is?
    • Is the advertisement effective? Why or why not?
    • What strategies were used to promote the product?

2. As a group, students will watch the Dove Body Wash Commercial

They will then discuss:
    • Who do you think the targeted market for this product is?
    • Is the advertisement effective? Why or why not?
    • What strategies were used to promote the product?
    • What similarities or differences do you see in both of these advertisements for body wash?

3. As a group, students will watch the Pantene Pro V Commcercial

They will the discuss:
    • How does this advertisement differ from the two previous commercials?
    • Which advertisement appealed to you the most? Why?
    • How did each advertisement make you feel?

4. As a group, students will design their own body wash commercial and present it to the class. Keep in mind the following:
  • Choose a name for your body wash
  • Choose an intended market for your product. (ie. Body wash for females?males?both?)

Activity 4
Students are put into groups and read over a poem (this can also be done with a text from a novel, song, short story, or play, etc.)

Students are then asked to read the poem and highlight or underline words that stand out to them - words that give off certain emotions or images…

Students are then asked to examine what themes, images, and messages they gathered after reading the poem.

After discussing these questions in their groups, students are given scaffolding paper and are asked to draw out the poem, however they choose. For example, students can draw out a story line or even draw out random images surrounded by words and pictures à students are given choice. If students wish to incorporate images from media (ie: magazines) or markers, they can use these materials as well.

Two students from each group are chosen as group leader. Group leaders discuss their drawings with the class à each group discusses their “findings” and what themes and words stuck out for them and WHY.

As a concluding step, students are to look at the poem (after the class discussion) and see if there is a line, word, phrase, etc. they would delete or alter to make the poem sound different or perhaps more ‘logical’ with their findings. In addition, students are also given the choice to add lines or words or switch around sentences in order to change the sequence or theme of the poem as a whole. Each group’s results are shared with the class àthey must explain (beside each change) what changes were made, and why these changes were made. Students must ALSO add a title to the song (which they invent as a group)…the title of the poem will be given after each group comes up with a title. A mini write-up is to be done by each group.



Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Assessment Of Learning

Summative Assignment

Student will choose one of the following fairytales:
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Cinderella
  • Sleeping Beauty

Student will be given two different versions of the story to read and analyse.

Once the student has read both stories, the student must provide the following:

1) Create a title page for each story (2 in
total). The title page should reflect the central idea of the story by taking into consideration the story’s theme/message/character portrayal, etc. The title page should be able to tell the reader the narrator’s stance on the story. (For example, who is a good or bad character, what is the important message, etc).

2) Re-write the fairytale to take on a different spin on the same story. Think about how words are used to describe places, characters, etc, and what your main idea or message will be to the readers. Who are your readers?

3) A reflection on your fairytale. After you have written your fairytale, reflect on the methods you used (ex. discourse, world view, character positioning, etc) and why you chose them as well as if you think you were successful in representing the fairytale differently. Be sure to take specific examples from your story as reference. (2-4 pages, double spaced)


Student must demonstrate understanding of critical literacy by being able to read and respond to the text and see all the possible angles.

Drawing: Teacher will look for demonstration of understand of the text through the drawing by considering the student’s choice of: character positioning, theme portrayal, world view, character power balance, intertextuality, etc.

Story: Teacher will look at the choices the student made to change the text. Focus should not be on how “good” the story is, but if it provides a different perspective on the story than the original story provided.

Reflection: Teacher will look at the student’s reflection to see if the student’s can articulate why they chose the tactics they did (character positioning, theme portrayal, world view, character power balance, intertextuality, etc.). Correct terminology should be encourage, but the concepts are more important.

Note: Depending on the unit, the teacher might find it more useful/appropriate to narrow down the elements of understanding to one or two aspects (ie. character positioning and intertextuality).


Works Cited