Susan Riley | September 2017

3 Ways To Integrate Literacy and STEAM

One of the things that confounds teachers about STEAM is whether or not literacy is a part of the approach.  After all, STEAM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Math.  What about reading and writing?  Do we just drop them completely, or do we move to something else and call it STREAM (adding “reading” into the acronym)?  And then… aren’t we back to teaching everything?

These are all excellent questions.  And the answers come down to two deep understandings:

1. Literacy is a part of every content area – always.  You can be literate in math, art, reading, social studies, music and science.  Literacy is an action with common components that are embedded into how we consume and share information.  As such, it is naturally a part of STEAM.

2. STEAM is the intentional alignment of standards within these identified content areas and includes equitable assessment of both areas in the lesson.  It’s guided by inquiry and is focused on application, creation and evaluation.  Adding another letter isn’t the point.

With those understandings in mind, there are many ways to integrate literacy and STEAM intentionally in your classroom.  Here are some examples that you may find helpful in your planning for this year.

Visual Thinking

Utilizing visual thinking is drawing upon the foundation of literacy itself.  You can read a piece of art or music, the same way you can read a piece of traditional text.  Visual thinking strategies are a terrific way to introduce this concept to your students and to practice literacy across all content areas.

A well-known VTS is looking at a piece of text (arts, fiction, informational, etc) and asking these three questions:

  1. What’s going on in this text/image/process?
  2. What do you see/hear that makes you say that?
  3. What more can we find?

The foundation to visual thinking is in the questions that are asked and in listening to student responses.  These are also the hallmarks of STEAM, so visual thinking and literacy makes sense.

Here are some additional Visual Thinking resources to help you get started:

OpenThink: Visual Thinking Strategies

10 Visual Thinking Literacy Strategies

The Visual Thinking Strategies Website

Embodying Text

Being able to make personal meaning requires moving from the abstract to the literal.  Many of the STEM areas deal with abstract concepts which are hard to visualize or feel. This can be done quickly and easily through movement.  Using dance as a tool to explore a concept and then translate that into a literal interpretation is a form of writing.  Just because it’s done with the body doesn’t make it any less of a composition.

Here are some specific strategies that use dance composition as a medium for STEAM:

Inspiring Dance Literacy

4-Read Strategy


Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is all about using comprehension strategies to have formal conversations about text.  If the text is a piece of art, or if it’s a scientific finding, the reciprocal teaching strategy will work regardless of content.  Here’s the steps you need:

  1. Predict
  2. Question
  3. Clarify
  4. Summarize

Start by asking students to predict an outcome based on a problem, process, or artistic prompt.  Then, ask some guiding questions and encourage your students to ask each other questions about the work.  Students can then point out elements of the problem, process, or arts prompt that they don’t understand.  They can then research answers to these questions and summarize their findings.  This strategy is often used to analyze traditional text and is a core component of literacy, but can easily be applied to any content area.

STEAM and Literacy don’t have to be on opposite sides of the education fence.  They truly do work hand in hand to deepen learning for students and to encourage exploration and a creative mindset!

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan