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Addressing Social Justice and Current Events Through Critical Literacy

By: First Grade Teachers Julie Smith and Arika White

February 12, 2018

blog_literacy-1.jpgFirst grade students spend two weeks each year learning about domestic and global poverty through a critical literacy unit. Critical literacy instruction is one way to engage students in the study of other cultures, current events and social justice in a developmentally appropriate way. The format aims to teach students how to read a text in a reflective manner, empathizing with the characters and the struggles they face.

blog_literacy-2.jpgDuring this unit, the students explore what it means to live in poverty in the US and abroad through picture books, featuring diverse characters who are affected by poverty in some manner. These books provide the students with a clear understanding of what poverty looks like. Students are able to see that not one particular age, gender, ethnicity etc. lives in poverty. Additionally, living in poverty doesn’t look the same in every country. We use class discussions to address stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding domestic and global poverty. The students practice multiple perspective taking by rewriting or acting out portions of the books from another character’s perspective. 

blog_literacy-3.jpgCritical literacy allows students to explore an endless array of topics — from bullying to the environment to racism — at any grade level. The critical literacy format provides a developmentally appropriate way to address these topics and build higher-level thinking skills that can be applied to many other areas of study. There are a plethora of resources available in school and public libraries, bookstores and online. Exploring social justice topics with your child through picture books promotes empathy and perspective taking. Children who understand the viewpoints of others will be more collaborative and cooperative students and adults.


Rossman School, nestled on a 20-acre campus in Creve Coeur, is an independent preparatory school for students in Junior Kindergarten (four years old) through Grade 6. The school’s mission is to provide a strong, well-balanced education in a nurturing school community committed to excellence. Dedicated to developing personal, nurturing relationships with each child, Rossman’s experienced educators provide a solid foundation in academics, athletics and arts while emphasizing strong character development and leadership skills.​ Request a free Rossman School brochure here

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