The Imaginative Literacy Program

This website describes and gives many examples of a new approach to teaching literacy. What is new about this approach is tied up with the ways it uses feelings and images, metaphors and jokes, rhyme and rhythm, stories and wonder, heroes and the exotic, hopes, fears, and passions, hobbies and collecting, and much else in engaging the imaginations of both teachers and learners with literacy. That is, it isn’t just that we use such tools for teaching and learning literacy, but we do so in a new and systematic way.

Literacy is one of the great workhorses of our culture, society, and economy. It can greatly enrich the lives of those who learn to use it well. This approach shows how we might better teach our students to learn to use this great cultural toolkit for their benefit and pleasure. This website is designed mainly for teachers and parents.

This new approach is distinguished by its engaging the imaginations and emotions of learners, and also of teachers, in developing literacy. It draws on three sources:


    • Vygotsky’s ideas about the imagination and his developmental ideas
    •  Practices derived from a study of oral cultures
    •  The systematic study of imagination by the Imaginative Education Research Group

What is different about our approach?

We hope this website proves of interest and use to teachers, and also to parents, who want to help children, and adults, to read and write more easily and effectively. The approach that is described here is rather different from other approaches to teaching literacy, in that it draws on sets of skills and engagements common to all learners: a sense of story, feelings and images, metaphors and jokes, the sense of wonder, heroes and the exotic, hopes, fears, and passions, hobbies and collecting, and much else. While none of these is new to literacy classes, of course, the ways we use them, and the ways we use them in combination, are new. We use them particularly as crucial tools of our imaginations.

The website shows how literacy can be learned in a manner that engages children’s, or adults’, imagination. This focus on the imagination is not a matter simply of making the task of learning literacy more entertaining and pleasant—though this is a side-benefit of this approach. Rather the main purpose is to ensure a deeper understanding of literacy and its uses, increasing the learner’s efficiency and power in using language well. The approach described here is designed to show that literacy can extend, and enhance, the power of our minds and the pleasures in exercising it. This website is designed to show these new ideas at work in the contexts of everyday literacy teaching.

Having begun with a bold declaration, we should also more modestly note that we don’t envisage the practices and techniques described on this website displacing the many excellent practices and techniques currently in place. And, indeed, a number of items will be familiar, as they are already much used—for example, no one could consider the use of the story as a new idea for teaching literacy. Good teachers use a number of these practices intuitively. What we intend to show is how we might routinely achieve in the everyday classroom what currently requires rare intuition and energy. And perhaps we will also show new dimensions of familiar features of literacy instruction, like stories and metaphor and the rest, and how they might be more effectively used in new ways to even better educational effect.


Here is a talk recorded recently by Kieran Egan about the importance of imagination to literacy learning for the Reading Association of South Africa/Pan-African 2015 Literacy Conference. It is included here with the permission of the conference organizers, to whom we are most grateful.

Literacy and Imagination (ppt)

“Imaginative Literacy: A brief guide for teachers.” You can download it and pass along copies to anyone you think might be interested.

A new approach to teaching literacy

Kieran Egan introduces the new Imaginative Literacy Program, describing its foundations and the main features of this innovative approach to teaching literacy.

We have completed a new “Five Step Guide” to imaginative literacy teaching. The booklet to the right–which you may download if you wish–is the guide that comes with the ILP-Kit. The kit also includes a book, copies of various support documents, a DVD with further documents and video, and much else to support teachers wanting to begin using the program. The program also provides interactive video-conferences with the ILP team.

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