Lost queens and dodos: some reflections on knowledge, comprehension and how we teach reading

Reading is built on knowledge. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

This post was co-written with Barbara Bleiman (@BarbaraBleiman), and is also published on the English and Media Centre blog.


In 2016, the passages on the new-look Key Stage 2 ‘Reading’ test caused some controversy, seen by many as being too demanding for too many pupils. They have since been used widely to illustrate the argument for a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum in primary schools, and – perhaps more significantly and concerningly – as a rationale for teaching factual knowledge (sometimes called cultural literacy) as a major plank in the teaching of reading.

Continue reading “Lost queens and dodos: some reflections on knowledge, comprehension and how we teach reading”

Quick talk about texts

Short-burst pair or group talk activities which can be woven into reading lessons

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In other posts, I’ve suggested that the most effective whole-class reading sessions allow for seamless weaving together of whole-class discussion, individual thinking time and pair or small group talk. below are some examples of typical, short pair or group talk activities (30 seconds to a couple of minutes) which can be woven into reading lessons so that pupils are required to retrieve and to rehearse knowledge, to develop and refine understandings, and to practise the articulation of these things, as well as develop their independence and their personal and social confidence as readers. Continue reading “Quick talk about texts”

Reading as writers; writing as readers: an account of a Year 5/6 teaching sequence

This is an example of an approach to a text, which is designed specifically to help all pupils to develop their writing of literary narrative without recourse to the ‘features of descriptive writing’ or to checklists of literary devices. Over a series of sessions, it integrates whole-class reading practice with the planning and drafting of a piece of extended writing.

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We often talk about the importance of pupils ‘reading as writers, and writing as readers’. It’s a powerful idea which doesn’t translate simply into a list of practices, but which is more about the culture of the classroom: the way pupils are encouraged always to think about their reading and their writing as in dialogue with each other; the way they are encouraged to develop a certain sense of control when they are reading and when they are writing. Continue reading “Reading as writers; writing as readers: an account of a Year 5/6 teaching sequence”

Whole-class reading: a planning tool

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See also Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches  and Whole-class reading: another example lesson

Recently, colleagues and I have been working hard with schools to develop whole-class reading practice which is both challenging and inclusive. This is a particularly current issue in primary schools, but is – of course – also pertinent to secondary English.

Many teachers and schools are moving towards quite a formalised approach, with a similar agenda for every session or series of sessions. Pupils might move through a fairly fixed set of activities; texts might be subjected to quite repetitive kinds of interrogation, with pupils asking and answering similar questions each time. (Such an approach can develop out of a focus on preparation for assessment, often defaulting to ‘content domains’ in primary, or to GCSE ‘AOs’ in secondary.) Such repetition, while reassuring, can also be limiting, denying the potential of individual texts to teach particular aspects of reading, to demand particular kinds of thinking, to invite different kinds of response, to suggest a variety of engaging, classroom activities, and to offer new pleasures and experiences to pupils as real readers.

The contrasting approach is to have no set formula for whole-class reading sessions, but to let planning be flexible, led by the the text’s ‘potential’, by the shifting needs of the pupils, by the class’s developing relationship with the text as readers and – of course – by the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the teacher.

Such a flexible approach can make it easier for teachers to follow the following principles, which we believe underlie the best whole-class reading practice.

  1. Enjoy reading challenging texts with children
  2. Let the text lead
  3. Have rich conversations about texts
  4. Pitch high & scaffold for all
  5. Build talk around personal response
  6. Keep it varied
  7. Integrate the teaching of reading, writing & grammar

Continue reading “Whole-class reading: a planning tool”

Whole-class reading: another example lesson

See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool

A description of a recent whole-class reading lesson, with commentary

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This is a description of another successful whole-class reading lesson which I taught recently to Year 4 and Year 5 classes (although the approaches are applicable to other phases.) It is a follow-up to a post last year (Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches) which described a Year 5/6 lesson, and which also offered some resources developed here by the North Yorkshire English advisory team, including a menu of approaches for whole-class reading. (Click for Word document.)

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Continue reading “Whole-class reading: another example lesson”

Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson

A reflection on some different ways to structure discussion of a text in the classroom. The example is from Key Stage 3, although the principles are applicable to any phase.

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The text below is one which we used to read with Key Stage 3 pupils at Parkside Community College, in Cambridge, when teaching about World War 1 poetry and propaganda. It is a personal letter from a soldier to his mother, which was published in the local paper as part of a drive to recruit more volunteers for the army.

Its local relevance made it particularly compelling to the pupils, all of whom knew “Gwydir Street” and the “Great Eastern” railway area, and some of whom lived there.

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Continue reading “Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson”

Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches

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See also: Whole-class reading: a planning tool

See also: Whole-class reading: another example lesson

See also: Challenging responses: designing a successful teacher-led reading lesson

In primary schools recently, there has been a lot of interest in ways to approach whole-class reading lessons. The imperative to raise standards in reading is leading many to question the dominance of small group guided reading, in which – at any one time – most pupils are not being taught by the ‘expert’ in the room. Teaching the whole class instead means that all pupils can read with the teacher more often, moving faster through more or longer texts and benefiting from the teacher’s expert explanations, modelling, questioning and feedback. It also makes possible more integration between ‘guided reading’, topic-related reading, reading as stimulus for writing, daily reading aloud to the class and following a ‘class reader’.

Continue reading “Whole-class reading: an example lesson and a menu of approaches”

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