Opening a book can transport readers to many worlds—real or fabricated. Literacy skills can also build a solid foundation for success in many areas of life. Plus, the ability to communicate orally and through writing can help us forge connections with others and open a world of opportunities.
There’s no doubting the power literacy has to transform the lives of billions worldwide. That’s why UNESCO established September 8 as International Literacy Day to remind the public of the importance of literacy.
International Literacy Day 2023 Theme
Every year, UNESCO selects a theme for International Literacy Day. This year's theme is “Promoting literacy for a world in transition: building the foundation for sustainable and peaceful societies.” Last year, the theme was “Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces” to help inform people of the importance of literacy learning spaces to build inclusive education for all.
The Benefits of Reading
More than anything, reading is just awesome! What can’t we accomplish through reading? We learn new information, discover new ideas, and see ourselves in both real and fictional characters. Here are some other benefits of reading:
- Boosts Imagination: When reading, we conjure images in our minds to build worlds and characters based on what we read, which takes our imagination to the next level. Plus, when reading about characters from diverse backgrounds, we can envision lives that differ from ours.
- Develops Writing: Through reading, we encounter various writing styles, ways to structure sentences, and descriptive words and phrases. Studying the written word can help improve writing—whether it’s short social media posts, long works of fiction, or anything in between.
- Exercises Brain: Exercising our “brain muscles” is, of course, only a metaphor used to describe steps we can take to remain mentally sharp. Reading can help keep our brain “in shape,” which makes sense due to all the characters, plot lines, and more we must remember while reading. In fact, according to researchers at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, reading might be able to slow cognitive decline.
- Expands Vocabulary: According to the National Reading Panel, reading can improve children’s fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Even adults continue to encounter new words through reading, and building a rich vocabulary can help improve communication.
- Increases Knowledge: Reading exposes us to information about a range of topics, from cultural and historical events to scientific topics. The more we read, the more knowledge we can gain.
- Improves Concentration: Reading forces us to focus on the information we’re receiving, which helps with our concentration.
- Reduces Stress: According to studies conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr. David Lewis, “reading for just 6 minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by up to 68%.” Focusing on a single task of reading can help to ease tension.
7 World Literacy Day 2023 Activities
Celebrate literacy in your classroom using our activities. Hopefully, they’ll empower your students to become lifelong readers and writers.
Activity 1: Give Your Community the Gift of Literacy
Volunteering is a common Literacy Day activity. There are plenty of ways you and your students can give back. One idea is to have students provide reading or writing tutoring, especially older students or those who currently read above grade level. Check with your school or library for volunteer opportunities.
Activity 2: Have a Book Swap
Sharing books via a book exchange is a great way to spread the love of reading. Consider having a school-wide book swap or just a small one within your classroom. If you’re expecting many books, think of ways to organize them, such as using signs to categorize them based on genre. Every student should obtain at least one book they haven’t read, and if there are books left over, donate your extras. Introduce your students to organizations that provide free books to anyone looking for a new read, including Little Free Library or Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. That way, everyone can discover books to swap out with their classmates.
Activity 3: Use the Lessons from Our Literacy at Work Series
Did you know that HMH has an entire video series dedicated to engaging and real-world literacy lessons? These videos feature professional writers, creators, and educators who offer valuable insights into their fields. Plus, there are lesson plans to go with each video! Watch the below video, where Glenis Redmond provides helpful tips for writing a self-portrait poem.
Catch the entire web series.
Activity 4: Visit Your Local Library
Use this time of celebrating literacy as an excuse to have kids apply for a library card—and use it. Have them explore their local libraries, including different sections and reading stations. You could also introduce them to a librarian, stressing the importance of that role. Also, teach how students can use libraries for schoolwork, such as finding support for homework or writing projects.
Consider an engaging activity that'll really allow students to become familiar with the library's layout. One activity you can try is working with your librarian to develop a scavenger hunt that includes:
- Different types of books
- Various types of multimedia
- Parts of the library
- Books in a foreign language
Alternatively, students can explore their school or an online library. School libraries are much smaller than your average local library; however, they might be more accessible. Online libraries, such as the Libby app, provide free eBooks and audiobooks for reading on devices.
Activity 5: Do Writing Activities
On International Literacy Day, you can, of course, do a writing activity. We provide a range of blogs covering how to write in certain styles, such as persuasive, reflective, and expository. Use these tips to teach students how to improve writing for different purposes.
Additionally, our blog on independent reading discusses creating a character profile to help students form a deeper understanding of a book’s characters. Here are the steps they can take to analyze their characters:
- Create a list of adjectives that describe a particular character.
- Illustrate a character based on the character’s description from a book.
- Answer questions about their character. For example: What do you think this character’s occupation would be as an adult (for child characters)? Do you think other kids (your classmates, siblings, and friends) would like this character?
- Have them write how the character makes them feel at any time during the book.
Activity 6: Connect Literacy to Various Subjects
Strong reading and writing skills are of use in every discipline. For example, if any of your students prefer science, scientists and engineers need to read scientific journals and know how to write scientific articles. Some of our lesson plans touch on ways you can integrate reading and writing into your non-ELA classroom. We provide plenty of hands-on activities and readers that allow students to develop a deeper understanding of science while developing ELA skills. Additionally, if you teach social studies to students in Grades 9 and up, our Mayan pyramids vs. Egyptian pyramids activity encourages students to compare these two structures through a compare and contrast essay.
Activity 7: Transform Your Literacy Learning Space
Think of ways to transform your classroom or school’s learning spaces to create more positive learning experiences.
- Transform your classroom library using tips from teachers like Lisa Sims.
- Consider digital learning environments, too, such as the tech students might use to read and learn. Programs like Writable promote writing growth. Additionally, explore high-quality digital books to engage students in independent reading.
- Think of ways you can foster a sense of belonging to build a welcoming learning space for all students.
Share Your International Literacy Day Activities with Us!
There are other literacy types beyond the ability to read and write, such as media and financial literacy. Into Reading and Into Literature Program Consultant Erik Palmer provided Shaped with tips on teaching media literacy. Additionally, these lesson plans and activities teach students financial literacy.
Try Writable to support your ELA curriculum, district benchmarks, and state standards with more than 600 fully customizable writing assignments and rubrics for students in Grades 3–12. Learn more. Happy International Literacy Day!
Download our FREE calendar of activities!