Brianne Gidcumb | May 2014

Show Your Smarts!: Strategies for Hands-On Literacy

I was recently engaged in a conversation with colleagues strategies for hands-on literacy and engaging for students. Our very own problem-based learning!

The Problem: Students are highly engaged in STEAM content areas through a variety of hands-on, inquiry based experiences, and much of the students’ hands-on literacy experience is writing based. Does this really reflect students’ individual learning styles? How can we give students more possibilities for creative expression and for demonstrating understanding? How can we make hands-on literacy more “hands-on”?

My Proposed Solution: Arts integration strategies!

Why?:  A 3rd grade teacher administered a learning styles quiz to her class, aimed at helping each student identify their own personal learning style based on Gardner’s multiple intelligences. (How We Are Smart by W. Nikola-Lisa s a great kid-friendly resource- a biography highlighting how twelve famous people embody the eight intelligences).  Her students showed a variety of strengths and learning styles, with many falling into the kinesthetic, musical, and visual categories.  Are we giving children in these categories a chance to show their smarts?  Arts integration strategies provide alternatives to the traditional “pen-and-paper” approach by giving students an engagement experience, allowing students to express themselves through a variety of learning styles, accessing students’ various areas of intelligence, and fostering those 21st century learning skills of creativity, collaboration, critical-thinking, and communication.

How?: I compiled a chart of general arts integration strategies (some from my friends at Education Closet, some from other great resources) that could be easily used in the hands-on literacy classroom to reinforce concepts and demonstrate understanding, while giving students a chance at hands-on literacy.

Strategies for Hands-On Literacy, Education Closet


Tableau: Students create a frozen picture using their bodies. When creating a tableau, students explore various levels (sitting, standing, kneeling), use different body parts, and collaborate with classmates to create a scene. This technique might be used to assess students’ comprehension of major plot points in a story and differing perspectives.

Tapping In: Students create a tableau based on a piece of literature. The teacher taps the shoulder of a student in the tableau to prompt them to share their character’s perspective. This can be used to allow the teacher to assess a student’s comprehension of character and plot.

Define Through Doing: This strategy provides the learner with an opportunity to explore a key question through the use of a chosen artform as a pathway to defining their own meaning.

Magazine Covers: Students to create magazine covers to demonstrate their understanding of concepts.

See, Think, Wonder: This routine encourages students to make careful observations and thoughtful interpretations. It helps stimulate curiosity and sets the stage for inquiry.

Plot Circle: Students demonstrate the basics of dramatic action and are introduced to the vocabulary of: character (protagonist), objective, tactic, conflict (antagonist) and resolution, and embodying these elements.

Character Line-up: This strategy can be used to integrate learning around understanding character trait and archetypal characters.

What have other arts integration strategies you used for hands-on literacy? I’d love to hear your success stories!

Make sure to check out many more amazing arts integration strategies under EdCloset’s “Strategies” tab!

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: