Whole-school literacy: why every teacher is a teacher of English

First posted on the Reach Free CPD blog on 16 October 2016.

Literacy is an essential aspect of every pupils’ learning. As the National Curriculum for England states:

“Teachers should develop pupils’ reading and writing in all subjects to support the acquisition of knowledge.”

This means that every teacher in the English language is a teacher of the English language. Moreover, the 2015 OFSTED Inspection handbook says:

  • Inspectors will consider the impact of the teaching of literacy (reading, writing and oral communication) and the outcomes across the range of the school’s provision.
  • In secondary schools, inspectors may hear lower-attaining pupils read in Years 7 & 8. This is to find out how effectively the school is teaching reading to its weakest readers and to assess whether the pupils are equipped with the phonic strategies needed to tackle unfamiliar words.

What does this mean for secondary schools?

  • Many pupils entering Year 7 do not read or write at the nationally expected level.
  • This has huge implications for all subjects.
  • No secondary school teacher is trained to teach the basics of reading – the majority have little to no knowledge of phonics.
  • This includes English teachers! We are trained to teach literary analysis and the like, not the fundamentals of reading.

Marking for Literacy

At The Reach Free School, we have a policy for marking work, which includes marking for literacy. It can be found on the Mini Marking Guide in the Staff Handbook. In short, it says:

  • Spelling – circle the misspelt word and correct it in the margin. Pupils should then copy out the word three times using the look, cover, write, check method. *
  • Paragraph – first line of each paragraph should be indented. To indicate a new paragraph, use //
  • Punctuation – (P) where the mark should be. Pupils should then add the missing marks.
  • Capital letter – circle the letter
  • Inconsistent tense/agreement – underline

*For pupils who struggle with spelling, don’t correct every single error. Look for patterns or a repeatedly misspelt word and correct those. Offer strategies such as breaking down the word into syllables, i before e except after c, words within words and so on.

Marking for Literacy: DIRT

Via Google Classroom, we should provide each of our classes with a ‘guide’ to the marking symbols used; pupils can access it at any time, but it is handy for them to refer to during Designated Improvement and Reflection Time (D.I.R.T.) lessons.

picture1Explicit teaching of literacy

 This is not about adding to your workload! It is about:

  • Making small, manageable tweaks to your planning and delivery of lessons.
  • Being creative with activities that relate to your specific subject.
  • Always insist on full sentences and standard English; challenge poor oracy and correct pronunciation and grammar.
  • For example:

➔ Encourage pupils to read aloud (but be mindful of those with dyslexia, etc.)

➔ Talk, model, write.

➔ Explicitly teach the meaning and spelling of key words.

➔ Use colour and visuals to highlight key words and/or common spelling 

➔ Make links between key words with shared prefixes/suffixes to encourage 
pupils to decode and contextualise unfamiliar words.

➔ Have pupils keep a spelling/key words log in the back of their books.

➔ Test comprehension when pupils read instructions/texts; ask them to explain in their own   words, summarise, or identify specific words and phrases that have provided them with the answer.

Moreover, you can also BE CREATIVE!

  • Could pupils demonstrate their knowledge of, say, the digestive system by writing it as a first-person story, focussing on description and key words?
  • Rob discovered ‘blacked out poetry’ and is using it with lyrics in Music.
  • Make subject-specific literacy into a game. For example in PE, spelling words out while practicing passing the ball.

Make literacy fun!

For instance, you can use common classroom games, especially those used as starters and plenaries. Games could include spelling or definition bingo as well as anagrams. Some teachers at The Reach Free School have been adapting scrabble to improve the spelling of key words.


Also, highlight your own mistakes (or make some up). This will teach students that it is OK to make mistakes and will help build up their resilience, especially if they find literacy a challenge. See the PowerPoint slides below, for example.


And finally

At The Reach Free School, we have resources available on the CPD Google Classroom:

  • spelling strategies/approaches;
  • word web templates and examples;
  • marking symbols guide;
  • dyslexia font;
  • this information on PowerPoint slides;
  • Ideas: Teaching Literacy document.

Collaborating and Sharing Good Practice

  • Carla Da Silva has shared with all staff a document called Ideas: Teaching Literacy.
  • This document contains some of the examples from today’s INSET, but we would like staff to add to this document with any ideas they have/activities they have found successful in their subject area.

If you’re not sure of something – spelling, punctuation, grammar – ask!  The English department are happy to help.

This blog was written after I worked with The Reach Free School’s literacy co-ordinator, Carla Da Silva, whose ideas are all detailed here.

The featured image is by www.pxhere.com and used here under a Creative Commons licence.

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