International Literacy Day 2016

The theme of this year’s International Literacy Day is ‘Reading the Past, Writing the Future’, urging us to look back and forward at the same time, reminding us that our past provides context and background for our present place. The motto also suggest that if we are able to read, that is to understand the past, we are more likely to be active participants of our future.

Think about reading about the past of other nations or people. The more you know, the more you understand their actions, communication, traditions and behaviour. History books and literary texts do not only entertain us, they also inform and teach us. How about writing the future? When you discuss this question with your students, it’s enough to talk about the empowering role of knowing different languages. It is worth mentioning that the level of language proficiency also matters. Are you able to read between the lines? Can you read and write complex texts? Can you use formal language? What about visual language?

Special days like International Literacy Day do not simply mark one important day that we talk about in one lesson, but they are great opportunities to start projects in your classes. We have collected some resources and activity ideas for this day to help you learn about literary in the world and get your students to think about its significance in their own lives.


Infographic ILD 2016

UNESCO eAtlas of Literacy

‘Literacy rates are on the rise but millions remain illiterate’ 

‘Demand your right to read says UNESCO Special Envoy Forest Whitaker’

Effective Literacy Practices


Reading about the past is usually more engaging and entertaining if we do it through literary texts, films or documentaries. A literary text will bring the events closer to the reader, and it will also set the context for us to understand the various relationships and impact of events on the people in the novels. Let’s see some novels which can be starting points for cultural and historical journeys and explorations.

Reading North America

Little Women by Louise May Alcott

  • American Civil War, 1861-65

The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London

  • 1890 Klondike Gold Rush

The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper

  • French and Indian War, 1757

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

  • Abolition of slavery
  • American Civil War, 1861-65

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott. Fitzgerald

  • The Roaring Twenties

Reading the United Kingdom and Ireland

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

  • Tory and Whig Parties, 18th century British History

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

  • Workhouses

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

  • 19th century British History, social classes

Emma by Jane Austen

  • Regency Era, Napoleonic Wars

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

  • Colonisation in the late 19th century, Europeans in Africa, Belgian Congo, Ivory Trade

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Activity 1: Writing the past

Writing our personal histories or the history of our family, school or town can also lead us to a better understanding of who we are and where we come from. Set writing projects which encourage your students to research a topic in their past and write a story or a narrative account about it.

Another way to approach it is to ask students to focus on a special event, year, decade or period in history  and do some research about it.

Activity 2: Writing the future

Having understood a certain aspect of the past, how do you see your future and the future of your family, school or town?

If you did research about a different age and place, think about how past events affected their present and how they might influence the future.


In our resource books, Writing Stories written by Andrew Wright and David A. Hill and Creative Writing written by Mario Rinvolucri and Christine Frank, you will find a lot more writing projects.

Check out our web-based lesson plans which focus on the historical context of novels.


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