A lot goes into being literate. And being literate can mean many things. One can be literate in English but illiterate in math. You can be literate in art but absolutely abysmal at science. Being literate is generally defined as being able to read, write, communicate, and understand content in a given subject area. However what is understanding? What counts as communication? What level of reading and writing do you have to be at? Unfortunately, these points are rather subjective. That’s why it is our job as teachers to provide our students with more than one kind of literacy and the skills to tackle literacy in any subject area.
By teaching cross-content lessons that incorporate vocabulary, concepts, and important figures or ideas from other content areas, kids will not only have a chance to work with these ideas and words before the pressure is really on, but they will be expanding and building upon their ability to read and write and communicate in English. The same goes for students who are still learning English or who don’t speak it at all. By incorporating other elements besides English grammar and syntax into your lessons, students will be able to pick up skills and learn new vocabulary through lessons that are theoretically unrelated to the content of your classroom. If you teach an ESL student a grammar lesson through pictures, or a math student grammar through math sentences and structure, or an artist grammar through color, form, and shape, then students will be able to transfer those ideas to other content areas and lessons without having to go through the drudgery of classic grammar lessons.