Introduction to Literacy in Health and Physical Education

This section is focused on literacy in Health and Physical Education (HPE).

The information and resources address the reading and viewing, writing, speaking and listening modes across the HPE curriculum.

Literacy in Health & Physical Education

Literacy in Health and Physical Education (HPE):

  • refers to the literate practices and strategies that enable individuals to understand, synthesise and communicate content knowledge within the HPE domain
  • relates to the reading, viewing, writing, speaking, and listening practices that students use to access, understand and communicate subject-specific knowledge.

Health or physical education literacy, on the other hand, has traditionally been more contextualised to lifestyle and movement and lifestyle.

The importance of health literacy has been understood for a long time. For example, the World Health Organisation promotes a holistic definition of health literacy as:
the achievement of a level of knowledge, personal skills, and confidence to improve personal and community health by changing personal lifestyles and living conditions. (1998, n.p)

Physical literacy, on the other hand, is more focused on its definition. As described by Whitehead (2010, p.5), physical literacy is the 'motivation, confidence, physical competence, knowledge and understanding to maintain physical activity throughout the life course.'

Although the two terms differ in their focus, developing literacy skills are key to ensuring that individuals have the skills and tools to read, comprehend, interpret and apply the knowledge and concepts of health and physical education to improve personal and community health and wellbeing. As Nutbeam (2009, p. 303) argues, 'The ability to read and write (functional literacy) is a foundation for health literacy on which a range of complementary skills can be built.'

For students to develop and create meaning in health and physical, they must first learn to use the tools of literacy that allow them to engage meaningfully with text, concepts, and ideas.

Literacy in Sport and Health Video: Explained

John Quay and Abbey Boyer

Literate demands in Health and Physical Education

Health and Physical Education (HPE) as a subject relies heavily on the literacy skills of students. There is an expansive range of literature available to Health and Physical Education teachers. The challenge is to select appropriate and supportive texts across the range of topics and genres to make literacy learning relevant for students and to teach strategies that ensure that allow students to:

  • comprehend the texts they read and view
  • compose and create texts and
  • engage competently and knowledgeably in dialogues about HPE issues and topics.

As with all curriculum areas, HPE involves a great deal of reading and understanding of specific terminology.

Students also encounter a range of genres in HPE, including:

  • informative texts,
    • such as procedures, protocols, reports, recounts, and explanations
  • persuasive texts,
    • such as expositions, discussions and arguments and challenges material for health promotion campaigns (ACARA, n.d., 7–8)

In addition, the forms of these genres are often multimodal, including written, visual, symbolic, and aural language. Some of the multimodal texts used in HPE include:

  • pamphlets
  • brochures
  • instructional texts (written, spoken and visual)
  • advertisements
  • media articles.

Consequently, students in HPE must develop literate skills to:

  • read and write from the individual word to the whole-text level
  • view and interpret visual representations, including photographs, diagrams, and graphs
  • understand how meaning is constructed through the interrelation of written language, visual language, sound, and movement in multimodal texts
  • critically reflect on information and data to understand bias and how information is communicated to influence an audience.

Literacy in the Victorian Curriculum: Health & Physical Education

Literate practices are embedded in the aims of the Victorian Curriculum: Health & Physical Education. For example, the curriculum aims to ensure students:

  • access, evaluate and synthesise information to take positive action to protect, enhance and advocate for their own and others' health, wellbeing, safety, and physical activity participation across their lifespan
  • develop and use personal, behavioural, social, and cognitive skills and strategies to promote a sense of personal identity and wellbeing and to build and manage respectful relationships (VCAA, n.d.)

To develop health literacy, the curriculum is structured around Freebody and Luke's Four Resources Model (1990). Regarding the strand, Personal, Social and Community Health, there is an expectation that students will:

  • research and apply information relating to knowledge and services to respond to a health-related question
  • include more advanced knowledge, understanding and skills to actively and independently engage with a health issue and to apply new information to changing circumstances
  • access and critically analyse health information from a variety of sources which might include scientific information, health brochures or messages in the media, to promote personal health and wellbeing or that of others (VCAA, n.d.).

While the Movement and Physical Activity strand is focused on developing movement skills and concepts, literacy skills are still central to learning for this strand. Literate elements of this strand include:

  • developing personal confidence, and interpersonal and social skills to engage and take part in physical activity and sport
  • understanding and interpreting rules, procedures and protocols related to various physical activities and sports.


ACARA (n.d.) Literacy learning progression and Health and Physical Education. Retrieved from

Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990) Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 5,3: 7–16.

Nutbeam, D. (2009). Defining and measuring health literacy: What can we learn from literacy studies? International Journal of Public Health, 54, 5: 303–305.
VCAA. (n.d). Victorian Curriculum: HPE. Retrieved from

Whitehead, M. (2010). Introduction. In M. Whitehouse (Ed.) Physical literacy: Throughout the life course (pp. 3–9). London: Routledge.

World Health Organisation (WHO). (1998). Health promotion glossary. Retrieved from Health promotion glossary (