How to Help Children Understand Critical Literacy When Reading

Critical Literacy Overview.

Critical literacy involves readers in actively analysing texts in such a way as to discover underlying, as well as obvious, messages. This requires a critical and questioning approach when reading. It is much more than simply decoding the words and having a basic understanding of what they mean. Being critically literate enables a person to discuss with other people the different meanings a text might have and encourages readers to be flexible in their thinking about what a text is actually saying to them as well as other readers.

How To Help Children To Understand Critical Literacy When Reading


Critical Literacy Skill Development

Critical literacy skills can begin to be developed from the time children are very young, even in the analysis of their first simple stories and fairytales.

eg The story of The Three Little Pigs

A child demonstrates skill in reading and analysing a text when he/she is able to:

  • talk about the author’s purpose in writing the text
    • Why do you think the author wrote this story?
  • identify who the author’s audience might be
    • For whom do you think the author wrote this story?
  • identify the author’s opinion on a particular topic
    • What is the author’s opinion about wolves?
  • identify any bias in the author’s opinion
    • Do you think the author prefers pigs or wolves?
  • talk about the author’s point of view
    • From whose point of view is the story written?
  • identify whose voices are being heard and whose voices are silent in a text
    • Who does not get to have a say, or give their opinion, in this story?
  • talk about whether he/she agrees or disagrees with the author’s opinion or the information and ideas contained in the text
    • Do you agree or disagree that pigs are nicer than wolves? Why?
  • create a different position or point of view to the one the author has taken in the text
    • The child might identify how the story might be written if it was told from the wolf’s point of view.
  • identify how the author has portrayed various social groups
    • How has the author portrayed pigs?
    • How has the author portrayed the wolf?
  • explain why people might interpret differently what the author has to say
    • How would a farmer / a butcher / a hunter view this story?
  • read and compare a range of texts on the same topic and identify a variety of viewpoints
    • Read the traditional tale of The Three Little Pigs
    • Read The True Story of the Three Little Pigs By A. Wolf as told by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
    • Read Piggybook by Anthony Browne
    • Compare how pigs are portrayed in these three books
  • explain the impact of the illustrations, author’s choice of words and grammatical structures in the text
    • What words does the author use to make the wolf seem scary?
    • Which parts of the illustrations make the wolf seem scary?

While the above is a simple example of the application of critical literacy skills and questions, these same skills and types of questions can be applied to any text and are particularly applicable to the study of novels for older students, newspaper and magazine articles, and for factual texts, especially those presenting an exposition or a discussion dealing with contentious topics and issues:

eg the culling of sharks, keeping animals in zoos, the benefits and dangers of nuclear science, preservation of the environment, fishing and hunting, issues being considered in current debates in parliament etc

When considering reading, becoming critically literate citizens is not about children being able to read and understand only printed books that have been given to them or borrowed from a library. There are many different forms of text that are a part of our everyday lives and each day our mailboxes are filled with everyday texts and ‘junk mail’. All of these can be used in the home and social environment to support children’s critical literacy development. It is very important that children are able to access how these texts are formed, for what purpose, and how to read and understand the messages their producers wish to convey to the reader.

Access to a range of these will broaden a child’s view of the various purposes for reading – for enjoyment, to obtain information, to find directions, to learn how to do something, to make decisions and choices for daily living (eg what to buy, which telephone company to use, where to go for a holiday, which bank to use, what to eat at a restaurant etc), to learn about warnings and aspects of safety (eg from labels and signs), to stay in touch with family and friends.

To further develop critical literacy skills children can explore how the printed and visual aspects of the text are manipulated for a particular purpose eg to convince people to buy a product, to present a point of view on the topic of the text, to draw attention to something the producer of the text feels is important. The object is to explore and uncover ideas and help your children become aware of the implicit messages that can be contained in these types of text, especially in relation to advertising.


View our Guide for Parents to help you increase your learners' literacy skills.

Learning to Love Literacy -  A Practcial Guide for Parents


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Shirley Fuller PSM

Shirley Fuller is passionate about improving the learning outcomes of students from preschool to Year 12 and beyond. Her experience includes secondary mathematics, science and physical education teaching, primary teaching in all subjects, librarianship and resource centre coordination, tutoring students in mathematics at secondary level and in preparation for some university courses.

She holds a Public Service Medal for her contributions to education.

Shirley has written a comprehensive Guide for Parents to help support children’s literacy in the home and social environment.

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