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How the ‘four Cs’ fit with the Common Core

The ‘four Cs’ are an integral part of the Common Core standards; here are free resources for helping to teach these important skills

Connecting students is a great opportunity to teach digital literacy and citizenship.

The 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, often referred to as the “four Cs,” are an integral part of the Common Core standards.

Fortunately, there are an abundance of free resources and digital tools that empower teachers to lead by example and integrate these “four Cs” in meaningful and effective ways.


It’s remarkable to think that we live in a time when we can communicate with anyone, anywhere and any time. We also have so many choices in how we communicate: text message, instant message, video conference, conference call, eMail, snail mail.

Effective communication in our digital world requires new skills, and we need to choose the best tools for the purpose. The Literacy Capacities and Math Practices embedded in the Common Core standards, referred to as “Habits of Mind,” help us understand what students should be able to do. Specifically, students should be able to:

  • Adapt their communication in relation to audience, task, purpose, and discipline.
  • Be familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.
  • Actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds.
  • Justify their conclusions, communicate them to others, and respond to the arguments of others.
  • Communicate precisely to others.

To help students become competent in these capacities and practices, we need to ask ourselves some questions. Do we need synchronous communication to brainstorm and share ideas? Would asynchronous communication allow us more time to explore ideas and develop solutions?

Many of our students have grown up with these tools available to them, but they rarely have opportunities to connect and communicate once they get to school. Here are a few of our favorite free resources for getting learners connected to experts, practitioners, parents, community members, teachers, and other students around the world:

Connecting students is also a great opportunity to teach digital literacy and citizenship, and Common Sense Media has free resources to help (

(Next page: Tools for fostering collaboration and creativity skills)


Naturally, there is overlap when we talk about the four Cs. For example, communication is an essential element of collaboration. Learners must effectively communicate with each other to reach their common goal. The College and Career Readiness Standards that anchor the English Language Arts Common Core standards provide cross-disciplinary literacy expectations that must be met for students to be prepared to enter college and workforce training programs ready to succeed.

Students are expected to be able to use technology, including the internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others. Additionally, they need to prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. As educators, our role is to find a balance, deciding when to encourage collaboration and when to promote independence to prepare our students to be college and career ready.

Tools like Google Docs ( give teachers total flexibility on collaboration, with a very powerful “Share” button that can be used to decide who can collaborate on a document, presentation, spreadsheet, form, or drawing—and the level of access they should receive (owner, edit, comment, or view only). Features like Revision History also allow educators to monitor how each student is contributing.

Here are additional free tools that we like for promoting collaboration in the classroom:


As educators, it is truly rewarding to see students achieve the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy—Creating—and the importance of this element of the “four Cs” cannot be overstated. The Common Core’s mission to prepare students for success in college and careers means that our students need to be innovators and inventors. In fact, the word “create” is referred to more than 40 times in the Common Core standards.

One of the best books we have come across on this topic is A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink. In his book, Pink explains the implications moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. With that in mind, we can leverage technology and give students opportunities to move from the role of passive content consumers to content creators with authentic audiences.

It’s important to note that the English Language Arts Standards are not specific to English teachers; the standards emphasize literacy across the curriculum. Starting in second grade, as part of the Speaking and Listening Standards for Presentation and Knowledge, students should create audio recordings of stories or poems and add drawings or other visual displays to stories or recounts of experiences, when appropriate, to clarify ideas, thoughts, and feelings.

We have seen inspiring examples of this in every subject area and at every grade level. One example that was recently brought to our attention is Club Academia ( These student-created video tutorials are brief, humorous, and—most importantly—represent the learner’s perspective. Started by four high school students with a YouTube account, Club Academia now has 17 contributors and more than 300 videos. These videos represent “education of the students, by the students, and for the students©.”

(Next page: Tools to help develop critical thinking)

Critical thinking

According to Ken Kay, CEO of EdLeader21, “Today’s students need critical thinking and problem-solving skills not just to solve the problems of their current jobs, but to meet the challenges of adapting to our constantly changing workforce.” Embedded within the Common Core standards for English Language Arts are the higher-order critical thinking skills of analyze, compare, and distinguish. In math, students are asked to solve real-world problems.

Each subject area provides unique opportunities to teach critical thinking and problem solving, but one opportunity that is relevant across all grade levels and content areas is Information Literacy. The ability to find, validate, and effectively use information is fundamental to college and career readiness.

In Clay Shirky’s talk “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure,” Shirky discusses the challenges of “post-Gutenberg economics.” Prior to the internet, all media types were expensive to create, so producers of content were required to filter for quality. Now, the cost of producing content isn’t an issue—so there is a lot of content published, and our students need to have the critical thinking skills to navigate and manage an overwhelming amount of information.

Here are two great, free resources for teaching information literacy:

Given the abundance of resources for implementing the four Cs and the Common Core, we are constantly curating what we find to be the most valuable for our fellow educators at and

Christine Olmstead oversees Common Core implementation for the Orange County, Calif., Department of Education. She has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from California State University. Lainie Rowell is an independent professional developer and consultant. She works closely with classroom teachers, principals, and district administrators to find innovative ways to integrate technology to improve teaching and learning.

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