Captions aid literacy in the classroom

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Tuesday, 9 June 2015 14:47pm

Worldwide studies have identified that captions can play a vital role in improving literacy levels of students. Improving reading skills is one of the main objectives for Media Access Australia’s CAP THAT! campaign, which targets all schools and all classrooms across Australia with the simple message: turn the captions on when playing television or video content in the classroom.

High school aged girl writing on paper in classroom with other students

In-class studies examining at improved literacy through captions include the 2013 New Zealand study by University of Canterbury researcher Faye Parkhill that targeted Maori and Pacific Islander students who watched popular movies with captions turned on to improve readings skills. Parkhill noted that captions were part of a wider strategy to improve literacy in these students.

An American study in Memphis targeted primary school students and asked them to watch captioned television for an hour a day over the school holidays in late 2012. This school-wide approach included a requirement for parents to sign off that their children had watched television with captions. Principal Raychellat Williamson credited the increase in overall literacy partly to use of video observation as one strategy. Students reported increases in reading speed through the use of captions.

Other studies include: Markham’s study1 which identified improved comprehension among students learning Spanish with captions turned on and Huang and Eskey’s study2 which focussed on English as a Second Language students and found better general comprehension, acquisition of vocabulary and improved listening through the use of captions. Finally, Linebarger3 found in Year 2 students that captions helped with word recognition and understanding of central story elements in videos.

At a general level, a 2009 Australian Bureau of Statistics Study found that 14% of students aged 15 failed to reach the baseline level of reading proficiency needed for knowledge acquisition.  An additional 20% were functioning at the minimum proficiency level.  Simply turning on the captions is one of the strategies in improving literacy.

The campaign is supported by National Literacy and Numeracy Week (31 August – 6 September).


1 Markham, Paul (2001), ‘The Effects of Native Language vs. Target Language Captions on Foreign Language Students’ DVD Video Comprehension’, Foreign Language Annals, 34, No 5, pp 439-45.

2 Huang, Hsin-Chuan and Eskey, David (1999-2000), ‘The Effects of Closed-Captioned Television on the Listening Comprehension of Intermediate English as a Second Language (ESL) Students’,  Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 28, No 1, pp 75-96.

3 Linebarger, Deborah (2001), ‘Learning to Read from Television: The Effects of Using Captions and Narration’, Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, No 2, pp 288-98.

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