Functional Literacy Part 1 - A Skills List

A little more than a year ago I listened to Tom Stitch advocating for a "reading to learn" approach to literacy. He said, with some evidence, that reading levels improve more rapidly where adults learn to read as part of another, immediately practical learning goal. Since then, I have always tried to make my adult literacy groups and classes as functional as possible.

To that end, I cobbled together a list of tasks (sometimes the field calls these "lifeskills") and listed them in table form behind three other columns. The first column was titled "I can do now", the second said "Want to learn how", and the third read "Not right now". I asked my learners to make a check mark in the appropriate column beside each task or skill-set. Then I read them aloud, slowly, and fielded questions about anything people weren't sure about.

The result was mixed: like any approach it worked well with some learners, less well with others. But it was a helpful tool for me. One learner and I had a wonderful week learning about clocks, how to read a bus schedule, and how to read or write a cheque. Another learner figured out how to use a measuring tape and made sense of 5 and 15 ml. cooking spoons as well as the abbreviations tsp and Tbsp. Yet another learned how thermometers work - prompting a discussion of children's health and a plan to look at weather maps as a group next week.

I looked briefly on the web for a ready-made functional literacy check list, but had poor results. I'm sure there are lots - I just didn't see one as quick as I had hoped. The lists I drew from came from a low-level assessment tool and some bits and pieces on portfolios I've gathered over the years. I've displayed my list in a handy-dandy scroll box (thanks to Peter Chen and the 123mycodes crowd). Feel free to use it. If you've got a better one - or even a different one - let us know!

write in cursive like this
read & write address
read & write names of family members
find numbers in phone book
use yellow pages
open & close computer programs
search on-line
search job bank online
send & get email
maintain computer
read newspaper (what part?)
read magazine
write own story
write poetry
read a calendar
read old (round) clocks
read new (digital) clocks
read 24 hour clock
read bus schedule
read food labels
read menu
read road signs
read city map
write a note
type a letter
add numbers
subtract numbers
multiply numbers
divide numbers
make change
use a calculator
read sale flyers
read a receipt
read phone bill
read power bill
read cable bill
read ________ bill
read & write cheques
use an ATM machine
read a thermometer
understand weather forecast
read lease or contract
find a book at the library
read recipe
read measuring cups & spoons
read measuring tape
read charts & graphs
read to child
help child with homework (grade _______)
fill out job application
write resume & cover letter
get library card
join the YM/YWCA
join a church
be ready for driver's test
be ready for test at work

P.s. I don't want to suggest everything we do in my class is task oriented. Next week, we're beginning Dracula (the Saddleback Classic version) - reading aloud as a group just for the fun of it.

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