Online Professional Learning and
Technical Assistance for
21st Century Community Learning Centers


Afterschool is the perfect time to integrate speaking, listening, reading, and writing—building students' competence in all four literacy skills. Students can choose lively, interactive, and fun activities that engage all facets of language communication.

Why Is Literacy Important?

Literacy includes speaking, listening, reading, and writing—the essential communication skills students need to succeed, both in school and the world beyond. Students gain confidence as they build competence in communication and critical thinking.

Early elementary students engage in speaking, listening, and writing activities to build fundamental reading skills. Upper elementary students use their literacy skills to learn. They solve math problems, conduct science projects, and explore the social sciences. Without fundamental literacy skills, students will struggle throughout their school years.

This toolkit provides innovative and research-based activities that will increase student motivation in language-based subjects. Sharing stories aloud, discussing favorite books, writing to pen pals, and acting out stories will engage students in academically enriching literacy activities.

Key Elements for Afterschool Literacy Planning

Research indicates that afterschool literacy activities benefit students most when staff:

  • target texts and integrate skills;
  • identify standards, assess needs, and define goals;
  • incorporate real-world activities;
  • consider student choice, grade, age, and skills;
  • assess student progress; and
  • provide ongoing staff training.

Target Texts, Integrate Skills

Create an engaging environment of texts—magazines, picture books, fiction, and non-fiction—that speaks to student interests and culture. The National Reading Panel identifies five early literacy skills: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension. A balance of listening, speaking, reading, and writing about rich and intriguing texts will provide students with opportunities to practice these specific skills.

Identify Standards, Assess Needs, Define Goals

Each state establishes standards for literacy instruction at various grade levels, targeting skills and content to improve academic outcomes. Observing student needs and consulting with school-day teachers will help you understand state standards and identify appropriate learning goals for your student population. To find your state's standards for English Language Arts, go to your state department of education website.

Incorporate Real-World Activities

Explore the world beyond the classroom with literacy activities. Engage reluctant readers with directions for cooking, carpentry, or games. Talk and write about their experiences after field trips or during science experiments. Interview community members about themes like work, family traditions, or history, and create books that tell their stories. Afterschool programs can help literacy feel less like a requirement and more connected to ideas and experiences that are useful in real life.

Consider Student Choice, Grade, Age, and Skills

Ask students about their favorite books and topics, and what interests them and why. Consult with classroom teachers and librarians to identify texts that correspond to grade, age, and skill levels appropriately. Use this research to plan fun and engaging activities that will reinforce school-day curriculum and goals.

Assess Student Progress

Frequent informal assessment—when staff and students share feedback about progress—will lead to growth in literacy skills. Establish learning goals that address student needs. Use journals, rubrics, displays, performances, and informal notes to frame positive discussions about how students use different learning strategies; how instructors can encourage positive risk-taking; what skills and strengths students are developing; and in which areas they can improve.

Afterschool evaluation plans also identify outcomes for formal assessment, requiring periodic data collection and annual reports; they may specify school attendance, student motivation, self-esteem, or behavior improvements without identifying achievement in academic subjects. Nevertheless, research indicates that positive literacy experiences will contribute to improvements in academic outcomes. If improved literacy is a targeted evaluation outcome, recurring formal assessments from the school or district can often provide relevant and informative data for reports.

Provide Ongoing Staff Training

Afterschool staff bring a wide range of backgrounds, training, and experience. Initial and ongoing training will get your staff on the same page about children's literacy development. Engage a district reading specialist, school-day teacher, or your most qualified staff member to provide training in basic literacy strategies, grade-level development, enrichment activities, and tutoring strategies for struggling readers.

Evidence: What Works in Afterschool

Literacy in Afterschool Programs: Literature Review (PDF) discusses evidence from studies that identify successful literacy practices and outcomes in afterschool programs.

English Language Learners: Literature Review (PDF) discusses evidence from studies that identify promising practices for improving the English literacy of children with other home languages.

The You for Youth (Y4Y) Portal is operated by Synergy Enterprises, Inc. under Contract No. ED-ESE-14-D-0008 awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education. All materials created or disseminated by the Y4Y Portal, including the contents of this Website, do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the U.S. Department of Education. No official endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any product, commodity, service, methodology, technique or enterprise mentioned herein is intended or should be inferred.

The documents posted on this server contain links or pointers to information created and maintained by other public and private organizations. These links and pointers are provided for the user’s convenience. The U.S. Department of Education does not control or guarantee the accuracy, relevance, timeliness or completeness of this outside information. Further, the inclusion of links or pointers to particular items is not intended to reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any views expressed, or products or services offered, on these outside sites, or the organizations sponsoring the sites.