The Four Literacies in Education

Thembi Duncan – November 1, 2023

Theatre, with its focus on spoken word and dramatic expression, serves as a powerful catalyst for the development of oracy and writing skills. This is what inspires so much joy in my work as a teaching artist. I get to use theatre as a tool for teaching a broad range of content to learners of many different backgrounds.

Research shows that learners who experience theater arts perform better in school, are more confident, listen better, read better, write better, and show up in the world more fully. While theater is an important additive to the learning process, literacy is its foundation.

Educators who have ever worked with the Common Core Standards or any variety of state standards in the United States, would be familiar with the English Language Arts Standards of Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening. These are The four literacies in education, also called language literacies and traditional literacies. Studies reflect that mastering these four literacies enhances a learner’s success in life.

In our increasingly fast-paced digital world it’s time to start thinking deeply about the ways that the four literacies apply to online learning and digital presence.

The Four Literacies


The ability to comprehend and interpret written text in a particular language.


The ability to convey thoughts and ideas by using the symbols and rules of a particular language.


The ability to express oneself verbally using words, sounds, and rules of a particular language.


The ability to process and understand a spoken language.

Now let’s build on that…

Reading in Education
  • Necessary to progress through primary and secondary school
  • Critical to the acquisition of knowledge from written sources
  • Can be done strategically (e.g. skimming)
Writing in Education
  • Facilitates communication and self-expression
  • Essential for creating resources that will be shared widely
  • Important tool to demonstrate understanding of content
Speaking in Education
  • Fosters engagement in meaningful conversations
  • Critical to class presentations
  • Builds interpersonal skills and self-confidence
Listening in Education
  • Necessary for comprehending verbal instructions from educators
  • Promotes empathy and effective intercommunication


But what about the digital world? What about distance education?

Reading in Distance Education
  • Needed to navigate online resources
  • Requires digital literacy, which is the skill of distinguishing credible sources from non-credible information
Writing in Distance Education
  • Allows a student to compose blogs and emails
  • Facilitates the ability to collaborate on documents with others, regardless of geographical location
Speaking in Distance Education
  • Essential to podcasting or presenting to a digital audience
  • Important for discussions over digital platforms
Listening in Distance Education
  • Critical for absorbing webinars, recorded lectures, and podcasts
  • Crucial for online discussions and interactions in virtual classrooms

The traditional literacies of reading, writing, speaking, and listening are both essential to traditional education and to the digital world. Educators can use these building blocks to transition learners from a solid foundation in the classroom to a thriving online presence.

Theatre arts require these traditional literacies in many ways, and I strive to identify and codify key connections between the literacies, distance learning, and theatre.


Britannica. (n.d.). Literacy: The uses of writing.

Need Kaminske, A. (2021, August 19). Reading strategies for college students. The Learning Scientists.

Patterson, L. (2021). Why you should bring podcasts into your classroom. [Audio Podcast Episode]. Cult of Pedagogy.

Thaine, C. (2021, January 18). The aims of speaking activities. Cambridge University Press.