Technical Literacy Project

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Activities, Opportunities, Resources

Welcome to EBSTC's Technical Literacy Project. Improving the literacy of underperforming students in urban high schools is one of today's great educational challenges. Our pro bono service project responds to this challenge by making the time and talent of willing technical communicators from STC's East Bay Chapter available to Bay Area (middle and high) school teachers (and online, to anyone) interested in building technical writing skills in their classrooms.

For Writers:

The techniques and principles of effective nonfiction communication that we routinely apply at work, to help scientists share research or to explain technology to its users, also have an important outreach role for middle and high schools. Language arts lessons and exercises based on empirically grounded technical communication techniques offer an innovative, world-relevant way to help struggling students read and write better.

The East Bay STC chapter launched its Technical Literacy Project in 1998 under the leadership of senior member Lenore Weiss. STC had long encouraged local and regional writing contests to promote technical writing among precollege students. Lenore and other chapter members with teaching and community-service backgrounds soon realized, however, that contests only encourage writers who are already good, but they do nothing to teach basic text design and revision skills to students who lack them. Thus began a series of adventures with teachers, media specialists, and curriculum planners in several East Bay schools to bring specific technical writing techniques into the classroom in teachable, learnable ways. The project has evolved opportunistically. Visits to local classes led incrementally to multi-year collaborations with a science teacher at Montera Middle School and an English teacher at Fremont High School (both in urban Oakland, CA). Since then, EBSTC members have worked in classrooms in several California school districts directly helping hundreds of students build their literacy skills through technical writing. In recognition of its continuing quality, this project received a Pacesetter Award from the STC Board of Directors in June, 2005.

How to Volunteer.
Interested EBSTC members are always encouraged to join in this continuing literacy outreach effort. The possibilities for participation are diverse and change with time. Contact the current project coordinator, T. R. Girill ( to explore how to mesh your strengths with project needs in satisfying ways.

How to Borrow.
Exercises developed for and used by the EBSTC literacy project are freely available for nonprofit educational reuse from this web site. See the "Resources Available" column at the right for a summary of material that you can borrow, with interactive links (or contact T. R. Girill,, about getting paper copies). Writers, teachers, and students from anywhere are encouraged to read, try, and adapt the resources on this site.

Lenore Weiss

Project Founder Lenore Weiss

For Teachers:

Why would you want to teach your English or science students how to write good instructions or descriptions? Here are three important reasons:

(1) Standards.
The Common Core State Standards for literacy that California adopted in 2012 clearly expect all students to develop basic reading and writing facility with nonfiction prose during middle school, to be able to draft useful instructions and descriptions by high school, and to cultivate solid, complex technical writing skills during their high-school years. Likewise, casual review of language-arts questions on the California High-School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) shows that at least three quarters involve carefully analyzing, thoughtfully reparing, or even drafting nonfiction descriptions or technical instructions.

(2) Authenticity.
In the 21st century, effectively reading and writing technical (nonliterary) text is not just a prerequisite for success in college, but for survivial in many diverse real-world jobs. Besides careers (engineer or editor, for example) in which writing nonfiction for others is crucial, many technician, trade, and service jobs now demand surprisingly high literacy levels to work adequately, to interact safely with colleagues, to stay up to date, or to obtain needed certification. Even fast food restaurants often have detailed operations manuals as large as phone books, which employees are expected to master on their own.

(3) Cognitive Maturity.
Perhaps the best reason for technical communication in the school classroom is that it helps students become better citizens, not just better employees. Overtly studying and practicing technical writing reveals the linguistic and rhetorical machinery by which language works, reinforces basic analytic skills, and vividly shows how responsible writers can help their readers solve problems. Exposure to the psychological and engineering principles of text usability is a new and positive experience for most students, especially for those writing far below grade level or for whom English is a second language.

Resources Available:

Linked to this page is a cluster of resources to help working school teachers (and interested technical communicators) improve student literacy:

  • Classroom tested middle-school exercises (for grades 7 or 8).
  • Classroom tested high-school exercises, separately covering technical instructions and technical descriptions (each with plain and thoroughly annotated versions to help you adapt the material for your own students).
  • An online handbook for teacher professional development (self-education) about technical writing in science class. Handbook sections explain the link between good technical writing and text usability, introduce the cognitive apprenticeship teaching strategy that our exercises promote, and connect technical writing lessons with content standards, support for ESL learners, and even the glamor of CSI.
  • Three additional topical indexes help you find specific exercises by looking under the task or content standard that you want to address.
  • Background papers on literacy outreach, which explain the social, psychological, and linguistic underpinnings of our exercises as well as the specific problems that our project tries to address.

T.R. Girill

T. R. Girill
East Bay STC
Literacy Outreach Coordinator

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Last updated: Friday, May 2, 2014 9:10 AM