Teaching Health Literacy and the Skill of Accessing Valid Health Information

As health educators, we teach health literacy skills to give our students the ability to take control of their own health. These skills allow students to make informed decisions about their health as well as the health and well-being of their families.

Health literacy is important for everyone as we all need to be able to advocate for ourselves and others, while understanding health information and services.

The SHAPE America Twitter Chat Task Force was excited to celebrate Health Literacy Month this October by looking at the National Health Education Standard #3: Accessing Valid Health Information & Health-Related Products/Services.

On our recent #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat we were fortunate to have three amazing panelists: Emily Zien, Sarah Benes and Lauren DiRenzo.

Here are some of the great ideas, tips and resources that were shared by our #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat panelists and chat participants:

Q1: October is #HealthLiteracy month! How do you define health literacy?

  • From SHAPE America: “Health literacy is the ability to access, understand, appraise, apply and advocate for health information and services in order to maintain or enhance one’s own health and the health of others.”
  • Similar to #PhysicalLiteracy, #HealthLiteracy is about feeling confident, competent, and motivated to take care of your overall well-being. This means having the knowledge and skills to navigate taking care of yourself throughout your lifetime.
  • Health literacy is the ability to understand and access valid information for one’s own health. Happy #HealthLiteracy Month!
  • #HealthLiteracy means you have the knowledge and skills to navigate health care systems, make health-enhancing decisions, and adopt and maintain health-promoting behaviors.

Q2: How can a #healthed teacher allow students to develop and demonstrate health literacy?

  • Health ed teachers can support students in developing health literacy through a skills-based framework — designing an engaging way to model the skill and providing ample, authentic ways for students to practice the skill.
  • Assessing the skills your students need most. I am finding less is more. You can use local data (YRBS or CA Healthy Kids Survey Data). Working backwards design.
  • Include health literacy skills in the curriculum, provide practice opportunities with situations relevant to doctor’s offices, clinic visits, etc., include situations that are relevant and affirming of all students.
  • Consider culturally relevant and sustaining practices especially because constructs such as health literacy can reinforce the “status quo” or norms of dominant groups. Be sure to include discussions of social determinants of health and other factors that influence people’s available choices.
  • Allow students to have access to a wide variety of resources, both local, state and national that help them gain access to tools they will carry with them for years to come. Start simple and add on over time.
  • From RMC Health @RMCHealthPD #healthSkillGuides: Progression for #HealthLiteracy in #HealthEducation: intro skill/content, practice, and have opportunities to become proficient!
Stages of Health Practice Development Infographic

Q3: What does health literacy look like in a skills-based #healthed and/or distance learning classroom? Can you share a couple of lesson ideas that specifically target health literacy?

  • STI Jigsaw, Safer Sex Trivia, and Traffic Light Consent are activities I use for decision making and communication, with students deciding/planning what to say in different scenarios.
  • Pre-Covid, I would have my students write out dialogues to demonstrate negotiation, conflict, and refusal scenarios and then perform them. I’m going to try to replicate this by having my students start their own Google Meet, record their partner groups, and submit a video to me.
  • Skill practice! Students find local resources related to a health topic of interest to them and evaluate for validity and reliability (works in person or distance). Or, students could compare and contrast articles related to COVID-19 for accuracy and usefulness.
  • Role play speaking about treatment options with provider, interview staff at a local health provider to create a guide for students who might access that resource, practice the DECIDE model based on treatment options, analyze influences that affect patient-provider relationships.

Q4: Teaching the skill of accessing valid health information is more important than ever. What current strategies/lessons do you use to help students master this skill?

  • With older students, engage in critical thinking and inquiry. It isn’t as straightforward when you start to dig in to which aspects of validity/reliability matter more (Are “.orgs” always reliable? What about resources that are reliable but aren’t written for youth?)
  • With younger students, students practice telling a trusted adult about a health concern or they discuss how they feel talking to different providers or read books about what happens at the dentist’s office or at therapy. Students need practice opportunities and feedback!
  • We’ve focused on SEL with 5th graders, especially the increase of mindfulness and discussion of stress and our brain. With SEL being a key focus, I’ve been using this unit for students to share coping, relaxing and calming strategies. We create calm down choice boards or a virtual calm down room, which allows them to have access to some of their helpful tools in calming down.
  • I like to give my students choice on what topic they are interested in learning about in health. I ask them to identify and evaluate quality health information based on their topic. I weave in mini lessons on access: information.
  • I created a Kahoot for access: information so I can assess what my students need to know. We play this game to practice our access: information skills.
  • Having students understand why sources are valid or reliable starts with the source and intent. Looking deeper into deception and following the funding and purpose of an organization is important.
  • Always model and practice the skill. For middle school students, I use a checklist inspired by @CommonSenseEd for checking reliability of web resources. @CoachMatheson shared a virtual Health Scavenger Hunt resource that looks fantastic!
October Health Checklist screenshot

Q5: When it comes to accessing products and/or services, where do you see this fitting in your curriculum best? Is there a topic that lends itself to this skill?

  • This skill fits well where there are a variety of viewpoints, where there are advertisements selling products, or where there have long been myths or misconceptions. For me, this has been #SexEd myth busting, STIs, and contraceptive methods. Fitness and nutrition are great topics for accessing products and/or services content.
  • This can be a great unit to do early in the course as it can then be practiced and applied in other units. One of the great things about a skills-based approach is that skills fit with all topics.
  • Mental health can be a great topic for developing the skill of accessing information and services but you could also let students choose a topic to use to develop the skill or take a poll and have students vote on which topics they want to explore.
  • Honestly, I put this in as many different areas as I can. Even if it’s just being able to list different resources that students have access to or products that will help keep them calm and safe.
  • Looking at who/what is around that can help in certain situations (example safety unit). Being able to know where community helpers are located in one’s school/town/community is a great foundation for younger #HealthEd learners to know.
  • Nutrition for my 7th graders. I videotaped at the local grocery store to demonstrate different methods of advertising techniques and placement of products. Why yes, the sugary cereals are place at eye level of little ones.

Q6: What ways do you try to connect your students to local information, products, or services within your community?

  • Regardless of the LMS platform I am using, I make sure to have answers to anonymous student questions (with links to more information) and links to web resources for students to explore on their own.
  • The first step is to be well-versed in what is available. I share links to resources on my class website. There have been times that I will actually show students the website, walking them exactly through where to find specific information and services.
  • This is a critical aspect of health ed. However, we want to focus on the skills they need to find resources wherever they end up. Having them engage in the process of figuring out how to locate and evaluate resources is key.
  • You can bring in local resources for a health fair that the community is also invited to. This provides a great opportunity for family and community engagement and a way to support the health and well-being of not just the students but the broader community as well.
  • In my previous school I had a great connection with the American Red Cross. They came in to do #ThePillowcaseProject, which was a wonderful unit on being prepared for emergencies. The students learned about natural disasters and how to be prepared. They also made connections to terms and units they had studied in their homeroom. So, the cross-connection was a great addition.
  • I have the school resource officer come and chat with my students. Also, allow the counselors an opportunity to meet every 5th grader. It’s important to build a foundation of communication and connections to the community outside of #HealthEd.
  • In the past, we brought in local organizations and speakers, like UCLA Rape Treatment Center, Teenline, and Planned Parenthood. Students were connected with local services and learned from them as well. This has been more challenging to organize this year.
  • Handouts and flyers from local services are all over my classroom. I created a page for students while we are in remote learning so they still have access.
Graphic of additional Health Good Classroom resources

Q7: What health literacy activities have/can one implement into their school community and/or community in general?

  • As an international school teacher, this is something that I have never done enough of. I love seeing examples of student-lead advocacy campaigns for school & community health. Or school-wide wellness days, engaging community members and/or families to take part.
  • I want to improve this. I’m a firm believer in engaging the students through inquiry & action. There are some great examples of student-led health advocacy campaigns, a project-based wellness week, or community projects.
  • don’t assume that your team fully understands #HealthLiteracy themselves! The CDCgov has some great training resources https://cdc.gov/healthliteracy
  • Organize a #HealthLiteracy month event through the school that is open to the community. This could also be a great chance to showcase student work or even have students plan the event! You could design a community scavenger hunt for families to visit different services.
  • You could organize screenings or blood drives to promote health and well-being & connect people to resources (once it is safe to do so!). Host virtual community health events where providers come & share about their services & ways to connect w/ them.
  • This year students are learning about the Immune System & Personal Hygiene. They create a snapshot of what they have learned about a specific term & how they’d re-teach it, through the use of an image, phrase & hashtag. Stuents then create a project around Personal Hygiene where they have to educate others on the importance. They get to pick from creating a comic strip, poster ad, rap/song, poems, a what if story, or children’s book.

Q8: How do you determine “what” to teach in terms of content given the limited amount of time especially during distance learning with your students?

  • Since the pandemic hit, it’s been about doing what is best for student well-being. Self-care, self-management, media literacy, & communication (by way of building social connection despite distancing) have been the focus.
  • As #HealthEd teachers, we strive to be relevant & relatable with content. Right now, this means shifting to what the current landscape has for us. Well-being, building relationships, & finding joy are important things to focus on. I don’t know what the future has in store, but I do know that I want my students to feel empowered to take care of their well-being.
  • Regardless of the content, use plain, non-medical language, focus the message, and use a teach-back method to confirm understanding with open-ended questions.
  • Focus on skill development and skill practice. Helping students develop competence in these skills and increasing their self-efficacy is going to impact their ability to use these skills outside of your classroom.
  • In CA we have mandates to teach about Healthy Relationships, Comprehensive Sex Ed., Hands-Only CPR, suicide prevention. Building skills: like AI, IC, Goal-setting, Self-Management weave perfect with these topics.
  • This is SO hard. I mostly try to meet students where they are at. I use reflection, knowledge of students, issues that are coming up to help me steer. I try to be responsive and not let content drive me. But this can be tricky.
  • Use data to help inform your decision-making. This can be data such as the YRBS as well as a pre-assessment where you ask students what they want to focus on. When skills are the focus, you have lots of opportunities for student centered learning.
  • I thought while prepping this year: “What if I was a student in my class? What would I be grateful for covering & going over during 2020?” This led me to focus on topics such as our overall health & the health triangle (5th &6th graders). I’m also focusing on our brain’s response to stress & the benefits of mindfulness during these uncertain times.
  • I’m spending time looking at the importance of taking care of ourselves/body systems. Make time to look at the immune system & how it goes hand-in-hand with the success of taking care of ourselves (hygiene) & connection to self-esteem.

You can read the complete transcript of this Twitter chat here.

Additional Resources

Chad Dauphin

Chad Dauphin is a health educator at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, where he served as associate athletic director from 2006-2017. He has presented at several state and national conferences on the topics of health education and athletics and served on the SHAPE America Health Education Council. Chad is currently chair of the #SHAPEHealthEd Twitter Chat task force. He can be reached at cdauphin@d125.org