Four teaching techniques to support student literacy

Four teaching techniques to support student literacy

Literacy skills are incredibly important for children and young people. The ability to read, write and communicate effectively is crucial in every subject and at every educational level, from primary classrooms to university lecture halls and beyond. What’s more, according to research from the National...


Literacy skills are incredibly important for children and young people. The ability to read, write and communicate effectively is crucial in every subject and at every educational level, from primary classrooms to university lecture halls and beyond. What’s more, according to research from the National Literacy Trust, children who enjoy reading and writing are happier. So, how can we support students to develop these essential skills, and make literacy a priority in our international school classrooms?

1. Teach your students how to use a dictionary

In the age of spellcheck and smartphones, paper dictionaries might be considered redundant. But they are still a powerful learning tool. The physical act of looking up a word exposes students to lots of other new words, sparking their curiosity as they scan the pages. Not only does the use of a dictionary broaden students’ vocabulary, it also helps to reinforce spelling and sequencing, and introduces students to research and problem-solving skills. Best of all, paper dictionaries don’t have ads or apps, so students will remain focused on their writing task.

For students to get the most out of dictionary use, organise your classroom so that there are always a few dictionaries close to hand for students to refer to. Teach them how to navigate a dictionary by explaining how the guide words at the top of a page work. Review the way each dictionary entry is organised (syllables, phonetic spelling, part of speech and example sentences) so that students understand the information they are looking at. That way, the dictionary will become a trusted tool for your students during writing exercises.

2. Use a marking code across all subjects

A whole-school marking code is an important way to support and develop student literacy. It shows students that accuracy in writing is important across the curriculum, not just in English or in History. Whether students are writing a Science report or detailing their research for an Art project, they should strive for clear communication – and correct spelling and punctuation is essential.

Receiving marked work shows students that editing is a routine part of the writing process. What’s more, a marking code encourages students to take responsibility for finding and correcting their own mistakes. That way, hopefully, they will be more likely to remember the correction, and less likely to repeat the same mistake again!

So, how can you implement a whole-school marking code? Well, first of all, it’s important to explain the marking code clearly to the students. Have the code printed as a large poster and displayed in every classroom so students can check the abbreviations when they are looking at marked work.

Here’s an example of a simple marking code:

Marking code Meaning
✔️ Correct/well-written
sp Correct a spelling mistake
p Correct a punctuation mistake
CAP Use capital letters
^ Add a word in here
// Start a new paragraph here
T Use the correct tense
? Clarify meaning
II Reword this
eg Give some examples

3. Support peer reviews

Setting up a system of peer review is a powerful way to boost student literacy. When students know that one of their peers will read their work, this awareness often encourages them to take extra care when writing. It also promotes a collaborative way of working that will serve students well beyond the classroom.

However, for peer reviews to be effective, the feedback has to be constructive. Creating a structure for students to follow is helpful here. Encourage students to offer three distinct types of feedback:

  • Compliments: where students share what they enjoyed about the writing. Encourage them to be specific. “It was interesting” is too vague. Instead, “This explanation was very clear,” is more helpful, as it lets the writer know exactly what is working well.
  • Suggestions: where students make suggestions about where the writer could improve. Again, this is only useful if the suggestions are rooted in the specific.
  • Corrections: if students notice errors in the writing, then they can use the marking code to draw the writer’s attention to any mistakes.

Reviewing work and giving useful, constructive feedback is a skill that students will need help to develop. So, before you start peer reviews, work through some anonymous writing examples with your class, perhaps taken from a previous year group. Show them the process as a group, and check on their feedback once they are reviewing one another’s work independently.

4. Make time for redrafts

If you really want to convince students of the importance of accuracy in written work, then you need to dedicate some classroom time to redrafting. That way, students are less likely to rush through their corrections. And, as they process their feedback and improve their work, you’ll be on hand to answer questions and support them.

Once a piece of work has been redrafted, it’s a good idea to be open to revising your initial grade upwards. Again, this underlines the value of accuracy in writing. And, students will see the purpose of redrafting – and apply themselves to the task more fully – if they know they can boost their grade with a diligent and careful redraft.

Learn more

Reading is an important part of boosting student literacy – and we’ve got lots of advice on how to get your students enthusiastic about reading. Read our suggestions for creating a reading culture in your school, and learn about the power of reading aloud to young learners. Reading is also a powerful tool to help students deal with stress.

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