Literacy in the creative arts

The literacy you are teaching without even knowing it.

The creative arts and literacy are linked in many and varied ways. The literacy of the creative arts video unpacks these connections through research and examples of literacy embedded in the creative arts.


Watch the creative arts video (03:09).

The creative arts have so many opportunities for students to develop literacy.


[Whimsical music plays.]

The creative arts is important in its own right when explicitly taught.

But did you know it can also contribute to developing literacy skills at the same time?

The creative arts have so many opportunities for students to develop their general skills. If only they could learn literacy skills while acting out, sketching cartoons, or singing up a storm.

The good news is they can.

Vocabulary growth occurs whenever students are exposed to new material like a story, singing a song, role playing, following dance steps, or describing an artwork.

Dance, drama, music, and visual arts give opportunities for emotion and expression. Creating meaning, enjoyment, imagination, and emotional responses.

We all know there's value in arts learning, after all, it's a full brain-and-body workout.

'A man paints with his brains, not with his hands.' [Quote by Michelangelo.]

'Every time a musician picks up their instrument, there are fireworks going off all over their brain.' [Quote by Dr Anita Collins.]

'Creative drama and dance activities provide rich verbal classroom interactions.' [Quote by Greenfader and Brouillette.]

But learning through arts is also powerful in its own right.

'Creativity will be the currency of the 21st century.' [Quote by Gerald Gordon, Ph.D, President/CEOFairfax County (Virginia) Economic Development Authority.]

The digital age has changed the way modern learners learn. For generations to thrive, our methods need to adapt amongst today's distractions and vividly engage students.

After all, creativity involves imagining, planning, and experimenting through artistic concepts and involves collaboration, communication, critical, and creative thinking. In other words, the 4 C's. These are at the core of the creative arts.

‘Given the increasing capability of technology to do almost anything that can be reduced to routines,

it may be that the greatest contributions to economic growth will in the future come from the creative arts.' [Quote by Dylan William.]

'Creativity is now as important in education as literacy.' [Quote by Sir Ken Robinson.]

You can use creative arts across the whole curriculum. Let's look at the links between literacy and the arts.

Drama: creating narratives using drama or a text as stimulus. Why not compose scripts, ads, another text types through play building and improvisation?

Music: singing songs or performing and moving to songs that relate to a selected text. How do the lyrics contribute to the meaning of the song?

Visual arts: creating artworks to reflect a text. What about when writing an artist intent statement to accompany an artwork?

Or dance: interpreting the movements of each other. Use objects, images, or ideas to inspire the creation of a dance sequence.

The arts inspire outcomes. It may just be the key to our survival.

[End of transcript.]


The literacy infographics provide clear and explicit teaching and learning activities for Stages 4 to 6.




IMAGinE this

To support the teaching and learning of the 7–10 syllabus and literacy needs of students, these units of work will provide guidance and assistance to help teachers meet the literacy demands within the drama classroom. The 'IMAGinE this' units of work, support teachers to integrate picture books, graphic novels and slam poetry to enhance their drama teaching and programming. It provides examples of learning activities in drama with suggested activities for approaching drama in English.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of intrigue, exciting battles and ‘burns’ aplenty, and yet our students struggle to connect with his twisting plots and engaging characters because of a language barrier spanning over 500 years. This unit aims to connect the two worlds in a drama classroom through the use of texts that are commonly used in the 21st century. Students will enter Shakespeare’s world through his own language, the power of performance, graphic novels, social media and film.


Students to focus on the use of ‘identity’ to tell a story. They:

  • discuss the importance of identity in developing a character in performance
  • discuss the use of identity in a selection of picture books
  • analyse the Jeannie Baker book ‘Window’, and how it portrays a changing identity through the visual metaphor of Sam’s bedroom window
  • work in groups to devise their own wordless picture story
  • explore the idea of changing identity
  • create a series of still images which are turned into a short film, to be shared and analysed by the class.

Whilst this unit was created for Stage 5 you could modify it to reflect Stage 4 outcomes.


Identity and storytelling program (DOCX 83 KB)

Identity and storytelling resources (DOCX 66 KB)

This unit of work uses the modern performance form of slam poetry to allow students to express themselves. It draws equally from the NSW Drama and English syllabus documents and could be taught in either Drama or English or in a combination of the two. This unit would ideally be taught towards the end of the school year or semester, once a sense of trust and openness has been developed in the class. Students will be asked to share candidly with their class and this will be difficult without strong connections first. Whilst this unit was created for Stage 4 you could modify it to reflect Stage 5 outcomes.


Slam poetry program (DOCX 97 KB)

Slam poetry resource (DOCX 75 KB)

This unit of work uses picture books as the stimulus for making, performing and appreciating drama. Picture books are a great resource for exploring visual and written language, imagination, values and deep contextual themes. They are a valuable stimulus for students to create drama and reflect themes and experiences.


Picture books and playbuilding unit (DOCX 73 KB)

Character comparison handout (DOCX 40 KB)

Selecting a picture book guide (DOCX 47 KB)

Visual literacy Powerpoint (PPTX 5,210 KB)

Visual literacy information sheet (DOCX 252 KB)

This unit of work allows students to explore controversial issues, presented in graphic novels and in their own dramatic works. Students are given the ability to delve into issues that are often tricky to discuss. They explore the importance of relationships with the audience in printed and dramatic work.


Playbuilding and graphic novels program (DOCX 440 KB)

Playbuilding and graphic novels resources (DOCX 61.2 KB)

Literacy (K–12)

What does literacy in music look like? (PDF 3,490 KB)

  • Reading, singing and analysing the lyrics of a song. Breaking up rhythms and syllables.
  • Discussing musical preferences and musical concepts. For example, using adjectives for tone colour - a 'majestic' sound.
  • Exploring the structure of a piece of music – relate this to the structure of a written text.
    Using quality literature as stimulus for composing or organising sound. For example, recreating a scene from a text, creating sound effects or sound stories to
    match the text. Why not include visual literacy?
  • Write a story based upon a composition you’ve heard or created eg. listen to Beethoven's 6th Symphony ‘Pastoral’.

What is the literacy in visual arts? (PDF 1.12 MB)

The literacy you are teaching without even knowing it.

  • Discussing artworks, artists, preferences,artistic forms and techniques. For example, describing the way an artist has used a particular technique to create an effect or interpretation.
  • Exploring the structure of an artwork – how has an artist constructed it and what layers were involved in this process? Planning an artwork is just like planning a writing task.
  • Using quality literature as a stimulus for creating own artworks. For example, recreating a scene from a text, creating images to reflect the text.
  • Exploring visual literacy or picture books. How does this representation tell a story? Create your own. Explore and discuss subject matter and interpretation by artists and audiences.
  • Using a series of artworks or illustrations to construct a narrative such as using a set artist or through programs such as Storybird.
  • Reading about artworks, art in advertising and media. Critically discussing meaning and intention.
  • Writing a story based upon an artwork you’ve seen. Firstly, discuss perspective and possible meanings. What could the artist have been trying to convey? What role does the title have?
  • Writing in visual arts journals or reflecting upon practice.
  • Critically reflecting upon historical studies of art and artists, representation, conceptual strength and meaning.


  • Teaching and learning

Business Unit:

  • Educational Standards
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