Introducing Software to Students in Literacy Lessons

By Michael Hilkemeijer


Learning literacy with ICT is about using literacy software effectively in primary school. Literacy software for primary school can also develop a student's ICT capability as it is required by the national curriculum. 

You can also apply the following strategies when introducing software in other key learning areas that will also develop student ICT capability. No matter if it is animation, generic, graphic or even subject-specific software the best practices need to be implemented in order for students to be able to make effective decisions about what software to use so to create a solution to a problem situation.



When deciding to introduce literacy software to students you need to ensure that the software that you are intending for the students to use will develop student capabilities in ICT in your Learning Area.  Using ICT as a resource to support your teaching strategies across the curriculum may provide opportunities for the development of students’ ICT capability, but this need not always be the case.

Research shows that subject-specific software will not allow students to do this as they don’t have full control over the technology. Control of learning is in the hands of the management system and the nature of them is typically highly directive.

Content-free literacy software is your best choice. Here are some questions to help you evaluate the educational potential of software (Bennett, 1997, 21 as cited in Kennewell et al., 2000):

  • What features and facilities does the software provide that might be used to extend children’s learning?
  • How easy are the features to use?
  • Will the children be instructed in their use before or during their use of the software?
  • What is the educational purpose underlying the child’s use of the software? (e.g. To develop ICT skills? To learn how to use the software? To use the software as a means to an end? To develop communication skills and knowledge?)
Student Autonomy in the Selection of ICT Tools and Resources

It is important in your role as a teacher to help students to become autonomous users of ICT tools. This can be achieved by discussing with them what the software is, where and when it is commonly used for and highlighting its features and functions that enable various tasks to be carried out. You will find that this may be a continuous process in your lessons but it helps students to develop their higher-order thinking skills and this is vital if they are to develop their capabilities efficiently.

Discussing what the software can do and how it might be achieved is a greater way of introducing new software to students than merely demonstrating a fixed sequence of techniques to achieve a single outcome.

Another method is to allow the ‘sandbox experience’ to take place. Students are given time to play and experiment with the software for a short period of time – perhaps half an hour depending on the complexity of the software!


Progressing with Software

A common misconception of teachers is to introduce new and more sophisticated software to students just because it is there. What may only occur is little more than the learning of new techniques and skills and it will not promote progression in student ICT capability. It is vital, therefore, to only do this if the task demands it and if there is increasing elaboration of curriculum contexts. Your aim should be to broaden and elaborate contexts.

Students will need to expand their vocabulary to understand increasingly complex concepts throughout their progress through school and this can be achieved using more sophisticated software and techniques to support their learning.



Your own skills and confidence

  • Read the manual, consult the teacher’s guide and check the publisher’s website for answers to frequently asked questions and practical teaching ideas.


Unique features of software

  • What can the software do that other instructional strategies cannot?
  • How can you capitalise on these features?


potential problems

  • What areas might cause difficulty for your students?
  • What questions will they have?


Your imagination

  • Think creatively and brainstorm ideas for unanticipated uses of the software.
  • Talk to other teachers.
  • Use your observation of students’ interactions with the software to spark ideas.

Table 1. Guidelines for preparing to use software with students. Adapted from Wepner & Ray, 2000 as cited in Watts Taffe & Gwinn, 2007, p68.


Introducing New Techniques

Along with new software comes the introduction of new techniques. Depending on the nature of the class, a number of different strategies can be used if it is aligned with the objectives (Kennewell et al., 2000).

  1. Demonstration: Data projectors are great for this purpose and it plays into the hands of whole-class teaching which is also good for assessing student techniques. However, the success of this technique depends on other factors: How you will place the students? What will your position be in relation to the class? Can you still face the class while using the keyboard?
  2. Step-by-step handouts: This works well with limited content or with the most able students. In this circumstance, you will need to continually reassure the students that they are doing it right. An important downside of this technique is that by giving students a set of instructions as to what to do will not help them use their higher order skills. It is using these higher order skills, in order to make decisions as to how to apply the techniques they have learned, that enable them to complete the process and in so doing demonstrate their ICT capability;
  3. Whole-class talk through: A useful strategy to quickly get a class or group to a particular point. Be mindful here of those more capable students who want to move ahead themselves. You could ask them to help the slower students;
  4. Trial and error: This is good for when your students are using graphics or artwork software. It can even be used with a more experienced class after a brief demonstration. It is also suggested that you plan carefully a plenary session so that you can discuss the terminology for the techniques and concepts and how to combine the techniques to complete the process. By doing this, you will ensure that each and every component of ICT capability is developed effectively;
  5. Cascade: In this strategy, you will show the next phase or more advanced technique to a small group. At the end, each member of the group can then show students around them. Before you allow this to occur, it is crucial that you instruct the students on the best way to show their peers. That is, by explaining the concepts involved as they go and not by doing all the work for their friends.


Teacher’s Knowledge of ICT Resources

It is significant not to forget how your own knowledge of the resources affects the introduction of new software or techniques. However, throughout my online courses, I have always made it clear that you don’t need to be an expert in ICT to teach ICT capability effectively. The ongoing changes and developments in society with ICT makes it impossible to know everything about it and so we are all lifelong learners.

To be an ICT capable teacher only involves knowing how to effectively use software for a specific purpose in your students’ learning. It is for this reason that it is more important for you as a teacher to be very knowledgeable about one particular software or program that your students will use as opposed to being acquainted with a large number. In doing so you will not limit the student’s development.

The first step would be to ensure that you have effectively defined the purpose of the task as it will improve the focus of your interventions. By becoming familiar with the software and getting to know it on an intimate level you will be able to identify the circumstances when students are ready to move on to a new feature or to use the software for a more demanding purpose (Bennett, 1997 as cited in Kennewell et al., 2000).

Know more than just knowing how to use the program for a variety of tasks. Ensure that you:

  1. Reflect on the processes it helps the user to carry out;
  2. Reflect on the techniques with which the particular effects can be achieved and;
  3. Consider how the students will be introduced to the program, what ideas need to be clear before they start, and where they might find difficulties.

Research has shown that the level of confidence that you have as a teacher in a particular software has a considerable impact on the development of student ICT capability. Become familiar with a piece of software at a time that you may use in your class.


The use of ICT across the Learning Areas of the curriculum is a fantastic way to support the subject context. Software and techniques learning forms a key part in this process for your students and for you the effective teaching of ICT capability as a requirement in the national curriculum. ICT capable students at your school should be able to meet new software with a positive attitude and have an inclination to explore. They can use the concepts they have learned and developed from their experiences with other software. These capable users need to able to explore new systems and work out what to do next as they proceed. It is a characteristic that needs to exist in all schools and among all students today.

Literacy software for schools, in particular, primary schools, can strongly enhance literacy learning along with develop student ICT capability. If your aim is to solely develop literacy, that's fine, just be mindful that the national curriculum asks that you do achieve this. Literacy software in itself does not develop ICT capability and it also does not necessarily mean effective technology integration either.


Literacy software for schools

Literacy software you didn't you already had 


While today there are many literacy software for schools, it is important to ensure that it is able to help students achieve the learning outcomes that you have set for them and which are in the curriculum goals. This should always play a big part in your planning to use ICT in teaching literacy.


Integrated Learning Systems or subject-specific software such as that for literacy in particularly would be one option. However, your choice should be based on key criteria and there are pitfalls that come with it. The first is that it is not really what I would call ICT integration as you are not really integrating ICT into the learning. You are just making use of software provided to help children learn literacy by itself.


This may just be okay for you as a teacher if that is your aim of the lesson and there are many that will do well. However, studies have found that the effectiveness depends solely on the fact on whether or not you have been properly trained in its use. Training requires time for you to learn about it, practice and trial it, reflect on it and evaluate its effectiveness.


Yet time is something that many teachers like yourself do not have. So here are a number of the best and most available literacy software for schools that you already have and can utilise well today.


They all come with the added bonus of being able to develop student ICT capability along the way.



Word Processors

The good old word processor is widespread and can be integrated well into other key learning areas to help enhance literacy throughout the curriculum. Their editing offers powerful possibilities and be structured in ways that develop both literacy and ICT capability. This means that there is explicit links between related knowledge, skills and understanding as it is closely associated with literacy and language work at all levels.


Graphics software

Drawing and painting programs are awesome in teaching visual literacy and it too can be used across the entire curriculum key learning areas. Logo drawing and creation is a popular activity supporting work on interpreting methods of communication. Images are frequently used to communicate information in newspapers and magazines.


Graphing programs

Literacy software for schools might also include graphing software. If children are to engage with information critically they need a range of opportunities through which to explore the issues of selection and presentation of data. For example, taking information presented in a local news story and reinterpreting it to support an alternative slant.


Databases and Spreadsheets

What? You say! These too can be used across the primary curriculum making explicit links between knowledge, skills and understanding. Databases provides opportunities for the teaching and reinforcement of a range of higher order thinking skills such as keyword selection and the skimming and scanning of text of text. Book reviews can be broken down into categories such as author, subject matter and reading level. Most word processors come with their own build in spreadsheets.


Presentation Programs

Literacy software for primary school such as PowePoint or Prezi can be used help develop oral skills and communication. You can facilitate the development of ICT capability by demonstrating key ICT techniques and emphasising the concepts behind them.



Other forms of literacy software for primary school may come from technology like:

  • Digital video software – self produced clips can be used to explore popular culture and emergent media literacy concepts.
  • Digital cameras – students can use photos or pictures to genuinely complement and enrich the text. You will need to talk to them about how the words and pictures interplay to give meaning.
  • Email – this can be used as an ICT tool for students to learn the language and etiquette of emails when communication electronically.



While I am not against ILS such as literacy specific software I believe that teachers’ time can be better spent by maximising the use of generic and content-free literacy software for primary schools today. It is a matter of learning goals planned by yourself as the teacher and whether or not literacy is the only 21st century skill is to be learned or both ICT capability and literacy development achieved.