New Literacies and Project-Based Inquiry: A Winning Combination for 21st Century Teachers and Students

Presenters: Dr. Hiller Spires, Professor & Sr. Research Fellow, Friday Institute, NC State University

Tanya Watson, Doctoral Student, NC State University

“Making videos. Very cool.” ~Josh, 8th grade student

Josh’s positive sentiment is representative of a growing trend among youth who embrace video as a natural mode of communication and self-expression. The seductive nature of the video medium for students and the potential for subsequent engagement in content driven curricular outcomes, when students generate their own productions, is exponential. There is a growing need for innovative instructional practices with reading and writing that are aligned with student interests and the activities they engage in outside of the classroom (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010; Lenhart, Arafeh, Smith, & MacGill, 2008). There is also evidence that links the use of technology to improvements in curricular outcomes for learners (Kulik, 2003). Educators are familiar with the transition students go through from “learning to read and write” to “reading and writing to learn” (see Vacca & Vacca, 2010). As a result of emerging technologies prompting new avenues for teaching and learning, students are now positioned to be engaged in “creating to learn," with video and multimedia being important tools for literacy development. Connecting video production to reading and writing experiences in school taps into a student’s natural predisposition for media consumption and production. The stage is set for students to create their own content as a dynamic mode for learning in conjunction with explicit instruction provided by teachers in how to effectively locate and synthesize web-based (and print-based) information (Lawrence, McNeal, & Yildiz, 2009; Spires, Hervey, Morris, & Stelpflug, under review).

In this session, we will explore ways for students to "create to learn" through the use of project-based inquiry and video production. You will learn two different approaches to creating videos in class that have varying levels of complexity, involve high levels of student engagement, and connect to targeted academic content and student learning outcomes.

I. Introduction and Overview of Project-Based Inquiry (20 minutes)

--What is Project-Based Inquiry? What are new literacies?
--How can we connect these areas to 21st century teaching and learning?
--Here's an example.

II. Let's Try It (60 minutes)

Beginning with the End in Mind: Here are Sample Booktalks (10 minutes)

Voice is a Powertool
Silence is a Prison

To view more booktalks, click here.

What is a Metaphor? How is it Used to Advance Literary Thinking? (5 minutes)

In Groups of 3-4, Create Your Booktalk (30 minutes)

Step 1:
  • Select a book for which you would like to create a booktalk.
  • Decide on a prevailing metaphor related to the book.
  • Storymap the plan for your 1-minute video.

Step 2:
  • Use a Flip camera to video your booktalk. Your video should be 1 minute or less. Here are some Flip Camera Directions & Tips.
  • After you have made a video of your 1 minute booktalk, upload your video to your Vimeo account. If you have trouble uploading, you can give us your Flip camera and we will download your booktalk.

Publish and Share Your Booktalks (5 minutes)

Upload your booktalk to Youtube or TeacherTube.

Reflection (10 minutes)

How can you use this activity in your classroom?
What learning advantages do you see for your students?


III. Using Video to Learn Academic Content--Web 2.0 style (30 minutes)

In this segment you will work with a partner to create a content related short video using Animoto Animoto automatically produces well-orchestrated, unique pieces from your photos, video clips and music.
Step 1:
Go to Animotoand register. Click on Creat 30 second video.

Step 2:
Here is an example of a content clip.

Step 3:
With a partner(s) create a 30 second video related to academic content that you teach. You can use Flickr Commons ( to find photos with no copyright restrictions for your video. Some suggestions for content clips are:
  • Public Service Announcement
  • Literary Elements
  • Grammar Mini Lesson
  • Dramatize a poem
  • Favorite scene from a book, play, or movie
  • Story Remix
  • Other ideas?

Step 4:
Reflect with your partner on how you can use this type of exercise for students to view and/or produce academic content.

IV. Wrap-Up (10 minutes)

What will you take away from this session?



Spires, H., Hervey, L., Morris, G., & Stelpflug, C. (2012). Energizing project-based inquiry: Middle grade students read, write, and create videos. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, (55)6, 483-493.

Spires, H., Hervey, L., & Watson, T. (2013). Scaffolding the TPACK framework with literacy teachers: New literacies, new minds. In S. Kajder's and C.A. Young (Eds.), Research on English language arts and technology (pp. 33-61). Greenwich, CN: Information Age Press.


More Web 2.0 Tools Than You Can Stand:
Cool Tools for Schools

Using Wikis in the English class:

Extra Normal

Teaching Online Reading Comprehension:

1. File Organization and Software Selection
2. Image Selection and Manipulation
3. Online Search Skills
4. Critical Evaluation of Online Resources
5. Copyright and Citation for Online Resources