A Personalized Literacy Platform for Teaching Close Reading and Academic Writing Across Subjects

App of the Week
Formats: Web-based application

Website: https://thinkcerca.com/

What does it help with?

ThinkCERCA helps teachers nurture students’ critical thinking skills. Through standards-aligned close reading and academic writing lessons for English language arts, science, social studies, and math. ThinkCERCA’s schoolwide approach to literacy instruction prepares students for post-secondary life by building up their analytical skills in every subject. Lessons are differentiated to 10 readiness levels so teachers can challenge and inspire students with “just right” texts and tasks.

What grade and age range?

Students in grades 4–12 (ages 9–18). However, content ranges from grades 3–12, so that 4th-grade teachers can differentiate for students reading below grade level.

Is this core/supplemental/special needs/extra-curricular/professional development or what?

ThinkCERCA helps teachers personalize the development of skills in regular classroom settings and in stand-alone intervention and test preparation courses. Schools and districts are integrating ThinkCERCA into their instructional plan to address the renewed emphasis on writing across content areas, disciplinary reading skills, and academic language across new assessments. Schools with varying blended learning environments integrate ThinkCERCA’s curriculum, content, and tools into weekly instruction to cover standards and engage students in critical literacy skills. Most schools use the platform as a core supplemental across content areas; however, others use it an intervention program for specific, targeted groups.

Here’s what the platform offers for each content area:

  • English Language Arts: ThinkCERCA offers a core product for ELA with full coverage of ELA standards. The ELA lesson library includes nearly 70% informational texts and 30% literature from authentic and engaging sources. Master teachers and literacy experts, including Katherine McKnight, a published author on literacy and 21st-century learning; and Gerald Graff, author of They Say, I Say, helped shape the design of the instructional platform to meet the demands of new career and college readiness standards.
  • Science: Contributors to the Next Generation Science Standards, master teachers, and administrators worked with ThinkCERCA to develop its approach to differentiated science literacy content, which supports the development of content knowledge and critical literacy skills in science through close reading, writing practice, and in-class discussion and debate. This debate-centric approach to science mirrors items on new assessments that ask students to evaluate peer-to-peer and scientist-to-scientist debates. The content spans life science, earth and space science, physical science, and engineering, providing support for evaluating conflicting viewpoints in science—a focus for college placement assessments.
  • Social Studies: Key thought leaders, including the designers of the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards, collaborated on the development of ThinkCERCA’s social studies content. The goal was to provide teachers with both curricular content and skills-based instructional materials that are differentiated to meet the needs of diverse learners. These leveled lessons—aligned to key topics across geographical locations and time periods—allow teachers to build discipline-specific background knowledge in a vertical plan while engaging students who may be ahead of or behind peers. The content spans world and U.S. history, geography, civics, and economics.
  • Math: ThinkCERCA collaborated with Professor Doug O’Roark, founder of the Graduate Math and Science Teacher Certification Program at University of Chicago and current head of Math Circles Chicago, to design a standards-aligned approach to differentiated math literacy content that serves every student at their level of readiness while maintaining cohesion on topic and skill in the classroom. These lessons are designed to support the expansion of mathematical knowledge through its application in writing.

What subject, topic, what standards is it mapped to?

In English language arts and math, ThinkCERCA is mapped to Common Core State Standards as well as other state-level standards, and science and social studies lessons are aligned to the NGSS and C3 Framework respectively. ThinkCERCA’s flexible, modular design makes it easy to integrate instructional materials into district-level technology systems and state standards frameworks. Throughout each lesson, multiple standards are practiced and assessed.

What lesson time does it use? 

ThinkCERCA is designed to be used flexibly throughout the school year. The product provides a large and growing library of lessons sufficient for more than 40 weeks of instruction. The recommended usage is one applied reading and writing lesson per week, supported by one direct instruction and one independent reading lesson per week. Depending on technology access and students’ keyboarding skills and reading level, it takes students between 90-120 minutes to complete an independent reading lesson.

Most ELA teachers use ThinkCERCA during a reading or writing block, whereas other content area teachers use ThinkCERCA as part of a unit.

What is the pricing model?

Pricing typically ranges from $30–$40 a student, depending on the amount purchased at each site. Because ThinkCERCA includes lessons across all content areas, every teacher of that student can create a classroom account.

Are there services around it?

ThinkCERCA comes with 24/7 support and chat services as well as professional development services. PD is customized to focus on leadership goals (such as data-driven instruction), writing across the curriculum, or blended learning, along with considerations of levels of technology access to support initiatives. ThinkCERCA trainers are either literacy content experts or blended learning and education technology implementation experts who work with administrators and teachers to support implementation of the technology. 

What makes it unique?

Research suggests that discipline-specific close reading and writing practice improves students’ literacy skills while building up their critical thinking skills. As the authors of the CCSS and other rigorous state standards point out, these skills are essential for 21st-century success. ThinkCERCA’s evidence-based argumentation framework helps students develop strong critical literacy skills across subjects by teaching them how to make Claims, support their claims with Evidence from texts, explain their Reasoning, identify Counterarguments, and use Audience-appropriate language for a given academic, professional, or personal situation. ThinkCERCA’s flexible CERCA Framework also empowers whole-school teams by providing teachers, parents, administrators, and students with a common language to drive sustainable academic growth.

A description of the characteristics—how is it designed for user interface, user experience?  What instructional design principles are at work here?                                                                

ThinkCERCA’s scaffolded lessons walk students through the process of using evidence 
and details to support their argumentative, informational, and narrative writings across disciplines. Features include the following:                          

  • Standards-aligned, discipline-specific highlighting and summarizing practice;
  • In-text vocabulary and audio support;
  • Automated assessments for comprehension;
  • Interactive Argument Builder including prewriting tools for narrative and informational writing;
  • Rigorous writing prompts focused on debatable issues and great literary models; and     
  • Standards-aligned sentence frames and supports for English language development.


Teacher reviews:

“ThinkCERCA is the first program I've used that meaningfully integrates technology into a literacy classroom. My classroom's focus is around reading and writing, and ThinkCERCA allows me to purposefully differentiate and scaffold articles and ideas for individual students’ needs while maintaining a uniform conversation at the class-wide level about a topic or skill.  With ThinkCERCA, each student has access to an a high-interest article and assignment that is at his/her reading and writing level. My students are more willing to engage in a challenging assignment when they are excited about the topic and understand the purpose of the process.  The ThinkCERCA interface is easy to use and acknowledges that today's young adults find it easier to express themselves and their ideas online. By pairing technology with the CCSS and key Literacy skills, our in-class conversations and debates are not only academic, but exciting and engaging for every student. In other words, ThinkCERCA helps me create a 21st-century learning environment that is preparing each and every one of my students to read, write, talk and think beyond the classroom.” —Cera-Jann Joseph-Guevara, Middle School 88, Brooklyn, NY

"For students, ThinkCERCA was transformational. They made tremendous growth as readers, writers, and speakers." —Lindsey Harrison, KIPP Ascend Middle School, Chicago, IL

“My students have accused me of receiving a nickel for every time I say, ‘I love ThinkCERCA, it is amazing.’ I’ve promised them I am genuinely obsessed with your program and how helpful it is for the students! They are even realizing how much the scaffolding assists them in preparing for their finals. This program is game-changing for my students, especially those who struggle.” —Denise Bertolotti, Bethpage High School, Bethpage, NY