Embedding academic literacy support when designing curriculum

Supporting skills or academic skills focus on generic educational abilities such as reading, writing, citation skills, academic integrity, critical thinking, problem-solving, digital literacy technology skills, time management, communication, working with others, and numeracy.


Curriculum design and development (policy and procedures)

First, it is important to recognise that based on SCU’s Curriculum design and development procedures (16) explicit mapping and development of academic skills within the curriculum is mandated.

  • Course learning outcomes will, as demonstrated by detailed mapping, address the development of threshold academic knowledge and skills including literacy, numeracy and academic integrity.

Best practice for developing these skills is through an embedded approach in a disciplinary context within the curriculum. This facilitates access by all students to the strategy, alignment with assessments, and opportunity for scaffolded, regular and ongoing skill-building. Importantly, it is not seen as 'additional work' for the student, supplementary to content.

In a 6x6 academic model, things will move very quickly. The learning of skills that are contextualised is ‘just in time’ and is not an added extra and will help students to succeed. Placing them within the discipline will help connect the importance of such skills beyond ways of the ‘academy’ to something that has professional relevance as well.


This article steps through an approach for identifying and embedding supporting skills into the curriculum. It assumes that academic skills have been mapped within the curriculum at a course level and at a unit level inclusive of assessments. 

Step 1: Analysis

You will already have completed an analysis considering who are your students, assumed knowledge/skills, and supporting skills needed in the Unit Overview.

It is important to keep in mind:

  • your student demographics (particularly first-year undergraduate programs)
  • the level of study
  • to limit assumptions about prior learnings and skills coming into SCU study (not all students will have the same level of academic preparedness)
  • if applicable, how students have done in past assessments and if there are certain skills that need to be followed up
  • if students have had feedback opportunities on similar tasks requiring similar supporting skills in other units in the course.

Step 2: Mapping support strategies in the curriculum

What supporting skills (beyond content knowledge/understanding) will your students need to successfully complete assessments and this unit?

The process of identifying these skills and where support needs to occur in the curriculum will have started when you populated the Unit Overview. Here are some points to follow to support the embedding process:

  • Look at each assessment and rubric and unpack what skills are required.
  • Identify when the student will need to be able to demonstrate the skill/s, i.e. when is the assessment due?
  • Think about ways that you may be able to support skill development in your curriculum, e.g. targeted learning activities, scaffold difficult tasks, provide examples/modelling etc.
  • Ideally, the sequencing of the assessments should allow students to draw on feedback from one task and apply this to subsequent tasks.
  • Another critical element is to ensure that expectations in the assessment are very clear and reasonable for the students’ level of learning. Where possible, ask a colleague to look over your assessment brief and rubric, preferably one who is not teaching in your unit (or even discipline!), to see if expectations are clear.

An example is provided at the end of this article.

Step 3: Developing strategies to support skill development

The CTL team can provide consultation around developing these types of support strategies.

i) Learning activities as part of the unit's content

  • Provide students with the opportunity to learn and practise required skills, and preferably receive feedback.
  • Layer the skill development into the content you are already delivering. It doesn’t have to be a matter of 'I don’t have time to include this in my content'.

ii) Scaffold tasks

  • Break down tasks into smaller components and provide a framework or steps for completing the individual components while showing the connection to the entire task.
  • Make overt the connection to the assessment task - explain the relationship.

iii) Provide templates

  • Templates that are directly linked to the assessment that help to organise ideas and draft their assessment will help students to achieve what you are hoping them to (and will often make marking a lot easier too!).

iv) Provide examples/exemplars

  • Model to students how the assessment should be done.
  • It is also helpful to provide annotations that explain to the students the elements you are looking for - what makes it a good example, or how it might be improved.

v) Build, in sequence, from one assessment task to the next

  • This is taking a small component of a larger assessment and having students submit and receive feedback on the first task (A), then complete a second task (B), which builds from A (e.g. Task A - Essay outline, Task B - Essay; Task A - Analysis of data/results for a report, Task B - Report submission).
  • These would be identified as separate assessments in the UIG.  

vi) Utilise assessment feedback as an opportunity for students to learn

  • Feedback around supporting skills can be added to the student's assessments easily and quickly (e.g. Use Turnitin QuickMarks and Blackboard Annotate).
  • The CTL team has a bank of readymade responses around general academic writing and academic integrity skills, with links to relevant support resources you can use and modify.
  • Ensure you build in class/learning activities for students to engage with this feedback.

A note on linking to additional support resources: Rather than just providing a link in your unit sites to helpful resources, try to provide some guiding instructions on the purpose of the resources - why they should use it and when in the unit this is important.

Mapping support strategies in the curriculum example

Task - What do students need to do?

Key supporting skills

Ideas for support/skill development (when and how)

Where possible, use the content and learning activities that students would typically be doing but layered with the skill that you are trying to develop

Additional support resources

Library services, Student Learning Zone

Essay - Critically evaluate and form an argument (week 4). MyReadings contains relevant sources for students to use in this assessment.

  • critical thinking
  • essay structure
  • forming and communicating a written argument
  • paraphrasing
  • referencing

  • Each online tutorial uses a critical thinking framework for class discussion - show students how this process connects to what they need to do in their essay.
  • Provide a template for structuring an essay with an annotated example of an essay (responding to a similar question). Spend time talking to this in class (week 2).
  • Week 1 - For one of the MyReadings, set up a paraphrasing exercise within the structured learning activity. Provide tips/how-to for students to scaffold the process.
  • Week 2 - Use a discussion forum (based on weekly content) with the student having to argue a perspective and counter-argue as a response, using paraphrasing from at least one reference (and show in-text referencing). Tutors to actively participate and provide feedback - a model post and response to be provided.
  • Week 3 - Learning activity referencing online quiz. Bibliography and in-text citations using key readings that students need to use for assessment.
  • LibGuide APA referencing
  • Quick guides (paraphrasing)
  • How to use Turnitin for originality checking video
  • Q&A discussion forum in Blackboard site for assessment questions
  • As part of the assessment submission requirements, completion certificate for the SCU Practising Academic Integrity module