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Using generative AI to support literacy in 2024: What do we know?

25 Jun 2024

AI and literacy: what we know so far. Image: Possessed Photography, Source: Unsplash

Interest in, and use of, artificial intelligence (AI) [1] has exploded in the past year, and barely a day goes by without someone writing about it.

This rapid development of generative AI will undoubtedly continue to gain momentum. The continued evolution of the digital sphere and rise of new (readily available) technologies has made us want to stop and consider the subsequent questions that naturally arise around the relationship between AI and literacy.

This evolving literacy and education landscape is nothing new. From the invention of writing to the invention of generative AI, what it means to be literate has always been changed by the technology we use to communicate. Today, being literate increasingly includes the skills of effectively, critically and creatively engaging with generative AI, yet our education system is struggling to keep pace with its rapid growth and capabilities.

We know that universally, there are mixed feelings about AI as we all grapple with the ever-changing technology and begin to better understand how to harness its power. This is perhaps most pertinent to teachers and educators who are trying to wrestle with the technology their students are more comfortable using.

There are understandable questions and considerations about the impact on the way future generations will harness the digital tools to support their education, and, therefore what this means for their future literacy.

This is why we have taken time to research generative AI in relation to its impact on literacy in 2024 and understand how and why it is being used currently. Together, we can begin to weigh up the pros and cons, and explore the best options for use in a classroom.

What do we know about generative AI and literacy so far?

The potential impact of generative AI [2], including tools such as ChatGPT, Claude, Gemini, Midjourney and Sora, is of particular interest to those working in the creative industries and education (see, e.g., Department for Education [DfE], 2023).

In terms of education, experts suggest that AI could help to address big educational challenges, but that it will require supporting people to learn about its safe and effective use and may mean changing the focus of education on to human intelligence to “prepare people for an AI world” (Luckin, 2019).

The ability of generative-AI tools to both write and read texts in a human-like manner means they are set to play an increasingly important role in the literacy lives of children, young people and adults. Indeed, academics have suggested that “Literacy increasingly means and includes interacting with and critically evaluating AI[LM1] ” (McKnight, 2021).

One of the best-known generative-AI tools, OpenAI’s ChatGPT3.5, was released in November 2022 and has since been followed by later iterations along with many rivals (such as Anthropic’s Claude, Microsoft Copilot, Google Gemini and Snapchat MyAI).

Our research method

We were interested in exploring how these platforms might influence, and potentially redefine, what it means to be literate in the digital age. As a first step, we included questions about generative AI in our Annual Literacy Surveys of children, young people and teachers in early 2023 and 2024. This allowed us to explore attitudes, behaviour and confidence around using generative AI to support literacy and learning using data from tens of thousands of children and young people and more than a thousand teachers from primary and secondary schools across the UK.

What children and young people told us

As our new reports show, there has been a dramatic increase in the percentage of young people aged 13 to 18 who say they have used generative AI over the last year.

In 2024, more than 3 in 4 (77%) said they had used it. While there were some differences in use by gender and household income in 2023, in 2024, similar numbers of boys and girls and young people who did and did not receive free school meals told us they had used it.

How are children and young people using generative AI?

Most young people who used generative AI regularly (more than once a month) told us they were using it for entertainment, curiosity, homework and inspiration. However, they were also using it for literacy-related purposes:

  • more than 2 in 5 (44%) using it to have a chat
  • 1 in 5 (19%) to write stories
  • 1 in 8 (13%) to write poems or lyrics, and
  • 1 in 11 (9%) to write non-fiction.

More generally, 2 in 5 (40%) said it helped them with writing and almost 1 in 4 (23%) with reading.

What are children and young people's attitudes towards generative AI?

Given wider concerns about increased plagiarism and potential bias and inaccuracy relating to generative AI use, we also asked young people about their attitudes and behaviours when using these tools. Almost half (47%) of the young people in our survey told us that they usually added their own thoughts into anything generative AI told them, and 2 in 5 (40%) said they checked AI outputs as they could be wrong. However, 1 in 5 admitted that they usually just copied what it told them (21%) and that they didn’t check outputs (21%). This suggests that many young people would benefit from greater support to work effectively with generative AI and to learn the skills they need to critically evaluate AI outputs.

What teachers told us

As with young people, we saw a rise in the percentage of teachers saying they had used generative AI tools over the last year. In 2024, 1 in 2 (48%) teachers said they’d used these tools, with far more secondary than primary teachers doing so (57% vs 31%). Most teachers who used generative AI regularly were using it for similar reasons to young people (curiosity, ideas and questions), but many also used it to support their work. For example, 2 in 5 (38%) teachers had used it to create lesson content and 1 in 3 to generate model answers (35%) or for lesson planning (32%).

At the same time, nearly 2 in 5 (38%) teachers were concerned about their pupils using generative AI in 2024, with more secondary than primary teachers concerned about this (45% vs 20%). Indeed, most of the teachers’ responses to our survey reflected the mixed feelings many of us have about the potential benefits and drawbacks of these new technologies. For example, while 2 in 3 (65%) teachers agreed that generative AI could model good writing, 1 in 2 (49%) also believed it could have a negative impact on children’s writing skills overall.

Similarly, while nearly 3 in 5 (57%) teachers were concerned that generative AI could stop children thinking for themselves, and 2 in 5 (42%) felt it could decrease children’s engagement with learning, more than half (56%) felt that students who weren’t supported to use generative AI effectively would be at a disadvantage in the future workplace. Notably, more than 4 in 5 (82%) teachers agreed that young people should be taught how to engage critically with generative-AI tools, and 3 in 4 (75%) wanted more training to use it effectively themselves.

What are the pros and cons of using AI in the classroom?

There are clearly many applications for generative AI both in and outside of the classroom. However, it is perhaps the debate around the pros and cons of its usage which need to be addressed. As with all new technologies and developments, there is more information to be gleaned over time which will support more informed decisions. But let us start to explore some of the pros and cons based on our initial research.

It is worth noting that as with most balanced arguments, there can be shades of grey within opinions and space for a sliding scale where positive and negative outcomes can still be held as possibilities. Therefore, we would love to hear your thoughts too.

Con: young people need better critical literacy skills to use generative AI effectively

Our findings show that while many young people who use generative AI say they add their own thoughts and check outputs, 1 in 5 do not interact with these tools in a critical and creative way. It is essential that all young people build the critical digital-literacy skills they need to learn, not just in terms of how to use the tools themselves but also about their wider digital ecosystem. This includes, for example, the ethical and environmental implications of generative AI, potential biases inherent in training data, and inaccurate content.

Con: could cause poorer writing skills overall

In addition, while many teachers can see the potential benefits of generative AI for modelling good writing, they also feel that coming to depend on it could cause poorer writing skills overall. Similarly, while we may be pragmatic about the need for young people to learn about effective use of these tools for the future workplace, many teachers are concerned about decreased engagement with learning (such as when online research is analysed and synthesized on their behalf).

Con: teachers are unsure of how to use generative AI effectively

Finally, most teachers feel that while young people need support, they too would benefit from training and resources to help them understand how generative AI might be used most effectively to support literacy in the classroom.

Pro: strong literacy skills support more effective use of generative AI

Yet, as generative-AI tools become more commonplace, some commentators have suggested that foundational literacy skills (reading and writing) will be important for getting the most out of what they can offer.

Reading and writing enable and support users to communicate effectively with generative AI (i.e. to craft a good question or prompt) and to critically assess the quality, reliability and ethics of the generated content. Learning to work effectively with AI tools and responses (e.g. adding your own take on the content generated, checking sources, deciding what to keep etc.) is part of developing good AI literacy skills, which have been defined as “understanding, using, evaluating and [considering] ethical issues” in relation to AI (Ng et al., 2021).

The findings above provide a foundation for our future research in this area. We will further explore perceptions of the literacy skills most needed to make a positive contribution to the world of work, economy and society, and how generative AI might reconfigure the purpose and practice of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the digital age. Future surveys will also offer an opportunity to track changes in these areas as generative AI, and its influence on literacy, continues to evolve.

What are the best AI tools for teachers?

Whether you lack the confidence to use AI in the classroom or you are chomping at the bit to get started but you’re not sure which are the best AI tools, there are a wealth of applications and resources already available. We believe that it is crucial to understand which tools can be accessed so that as educators, you feel confident to equip all children and young people with the critical and digital literacy skills they need to thrive in education, work and society – both today and in the future.

Several organisations have developed resources and tips to help teachers use generative AI to support literacy in and out of the classroom. Before using these, read the guidance about minimising harm in the UK Government’s generative artificial intelligence in education document.

It is also worth noting that the ideas and signposting within this blog are provided for illustration and information. They do not imply that we endorse the use of any particular generative AI tool or its use in general. The list is to showcase a breadth of options and we actively encourage you to use this as part of your wider research.

Useful tips, resources and AI tools

  • Check your school’s AI policy if there is one. If you don't have an AI policy, it’s a great idea to get governors, SMT, parents and young people together to develop one. Here is a template for to help you get started by Mark Anderson and Laura Knight.
  • Check if your school already includes built-in generative AI tools, these might include Microsoft Bing Co-pilot or Google Gemini. These tools are a good place to try out generative AI if you're a beginner. You should have a look at what other support is offered too. Some schools may have signed up to specific platforms such as TeacherMatic, which also offers limited free options for access.
  • Remember, never submit confidential, sensitive or personal information to any AI platform.
  • Be aware that generative AI can make mistakes – always remember to check outputs.
  • The PAIR framework is a good way to approach trying out new generative AI tools

AI tools to support Early years:

  • Researchers at Nesta have developed a range of prototypes, including a fun personalised-activity generator for practitioners working in early years settings.

AI tools to support in primary and secondary teaching:

Examples of the ways generative AI platforms can support your teaching:

  • Used to explore story generation, character development or role playing/dialogue with book characters
  • To craft narratives or non-fiction writing based on children’s interests and abilities
  • Support summarising or differentiating texts
  • Developing comprehension quizzes or cloze procedures

You can find out more about the award-winning Digital City project in Portsmouth and discover how they utilised the power of technology to improve educational outcomes for all children and young people in their region.

We'd love to hear from you

This is new research ground for us at the National Literacy Trust. We would love to hear more from teachers about your experiences of using AI in the classroom. Please get in touch if you would like to share your thoughts, find out more about our work and research on young people's and teachers' use of generative AI to support literacy, or if you would like to explore potential partnership opportunities.

Email if you want to find out more about our work and research, or share your experiences.

Email our team via if you would like to explore partnership opportunities.


[1] “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence.” (Oxford Reference Dictionary, n.d.).

[2] Generative AI can “create new content based on large volumes of data that models have been trained on, including audio, text, images and video” (DfE, 2023).

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