Reading Gems: Reading Skills (Part 1)

Over the last few years, many schools have made changes to the way they teach Reading. Some have focused on developing their pupils’ inference skills; many have changed their approach to Reading by moving to whole class teaching and others have experimented with their curriculum and content.

By Jo Gray on 03 Feb 2022

Over the last few years, many schools have made changes to the way they teach Reading. Some have focused on developing their pupils’ inference skills; many have changed their approach to Reading by moving to whole class teaching and others have experimented with their curriculum and content.

The OFSTED framework (2019) emphasises the importance of a school’s own curriculum, with reading at its heart. Likewise, The Reading Framework (DfE, 2021) explain, “The reading and writing of Standard English, alongside proficient language development, is the key to unlocking the rest of the academic curriculum." For all children to achieve their full potential, it is essential that schools think carefully about their whole school Reading curriculum: does it teach the skills needed to decode, understand, and enjoy books? Does this continue across the curriculum, rather than just in Reading lessons?

Teaching children reading skills and supporting them to become resilient readers is essential to success in school and throughout their lives. Reading can develop imagination, creativity and curiosity; it can open up new ideas and concepts and all kinds of new worlds. Teaching reading skills from an early age will allow for children to explore new interests and help to develop language, vocabulary and knowledge on many new topics.

The most successful schools also adapt their curriculum to be tailored to meet their pupils’ cultural and social needs, including the chance to participate in enriching activities that they might not normally experience. In many schools, this same approach is being applied to Reading. As Oxford School Improvement (2017) states, “Children who are encouraged to read widely, both fiction and non-fiction, develop knowledge of themselves and the world in which they live.”

It is essential that schools consider this as part of their planning: how they will introduce and immerse pupils to the right books throughout the curriculum in order to improve their general knowledge and gain a greater insight into human nature (National Literacy Trust, 2006).

With this best practice in mind, we have ensured that the resources supporting the teaching of reading skills and adding an additional pre-read lesson to our sequence to provide the opportunity for children to develop their subject knowledge.


When embarking upon planning Guided Reading, it is essential to consider three key aspects:


The Reading Gems
The Reading Gems is essentially an approach to teaching Reading which includes the skills needed to become a fluent and resilient reader. We believe that the teaching of Reading should include more than awareness of the skills needed to get children through the test; they need to develop skills that will last a lifetime. The Reading Gems is an approach which ensures the application of reading skills are fundamental to the understanding of what is being read.

Our approach ensures that these key reading skills are referred to in a child-friendly way as illustrated below.

Key Stage 1 blog%20ks1

Key Stage 2 blog%20ks2

Using our approach, we recommend choosing one reading gem per week/cycle to explicitly teach and focus upon, allowing modelling by a teacher and then chances to practise and apply throughout the week. It is important that the skills within each skill are taught effectively and that pupils are exposed to opportunities to practise and explore them regularly through different text types.

Each of the skills refer to every day reading techniques and therefore each one needs appropriate coverage within medium term plans. However, some domains are more common than others: retrieving, defining and inferring are used most frequently in day to day life and also represent a high percentage of question types within SATs papers. We therefore suggest exposing pupils to skills within these domains on a more regular cycle, perhaps every 3 weeks, with a lighter touch teaching approach to the other domains.

It is also important to note that pupils will need to learn and embed certain skills before attempting others. For example, in order to make reasonable predictions, pupils might need to understand and be able to answer questions about vocabulary, they will also need to retrieve information and then make inferences on them (prediction is a form of inference).

Below is an example of what a typical UKS2 7 week autumn half term might look like: blog%20autumn

However, although coverage is important, addressing any learning gaps by careful planning is vital for advancing children’s reading, so please do not be afraid to change direction. It is important to teach the skills, but also vital that children understand what they are reading too, which might entail discussing certain texts in more detail or developing additional background knowledge.

In order to teach the skills effectively, it is vital that staff subject knowledge for Reading is highly developed. With this in mind, we have created two sets of resources to support staff: skills overviews and skills ladders.

Download a skill overview resource for the Retrieve and Define domains that explores the key subject knowledge required to teach the skill. Download a skills ladder for the retrieve and define domains that can be used to scaffold teacher modelling or given to pupils to support their own use of the skills. Resources for the other ‘Reading Gem’ skills are available as part of the One Education Reading Award resources. Please click here for more information.

If we want our children to be well read and have a passion and enthusiasm for books that are rich in both language and experience, then we need to introduce such texts to them, encouraging reading and promoting books at every opportunity. It is important that we, as teachers, have a good knowledge of literature to not only ensure that pupils meet the different demands of the curriculum, but also to support them in their choice of books; guide them in discussion about authors and to create a buzz and excitement about Reading.

The most current research, as referenced in DfE’s Reading Framework, explores the importance of Reading for Pleasure "PISA data consistently shows that engagement in reading is strongly correlated with reading performance and is a mediator of gender or socio-economic status." Findings from OECD research suggests that those who enjoyed reading tended to score highly on Reading Tests than those who say they do not like reading - and this was the case whatever their family’s occupational status. The OECD emphasised: "Reading practices can play an important role in reducing the gap between the reading proficiency scores of students from different socio-economic backgrounds." It is, therefore, even more important that the texts we choose to teach reading with inspire our children further.

It can be so difficult to keep up to date with the latest, although librarians and bookshops such as our partners, Peters Books can help. If using extracts, always ensure that you do have at least one copy available for the children to read independently if they are engrossed after engaging with an extract.

Once the specific reading skill has been chosen, it is important to find a quality text that will support this learning, for example, inference might be taught through a chapter from a narrative focusing on character impression as a key skill. Below is a small section of an extract from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’.


This same extract would then be used throughout the week/cycle (which we will explore this in part two of this blog). It could be argued that this reduces exposure to a range of different texts, however it has been proven that when pupils have the opportunity to read and re-read a text, they develop a deeper understanding. They can learn and retain new vocabulary by being exposed to it repeatedly throughout the cycle and are hence more likely to apply it in their own speech and writing.

Looking at the National Curriculum, the Reading Framework and Reading SATs papers, there is an expectation for pupils to show a good level of reading stamina, with the word count increasing significantly. This is an important consideration when selecting extracts as we want to ensure children can read fluently whilst understanding what they read by the time they leave primary school. With this in mind, we would recommend that children in KS1 build up to read approximately 250 words during a session by the end of Year 2. Following on from this, our recommendation would be for children working at Greater Depth at the end of Year 6 to be able to read approximately 800 words during a session. However, a resilient reader does need to be exposed to many different texts, with varying lengths and complexities - sometimes you may wish to focus on a longer, easier text, or a shorter, more challenging one.

To be able to understand what they read, there is a requirement that pupils have a strong bank of vocabulary and an understanding of, or the ability to relate to, certain experiences and knowledge. The Reading Framework (DfE, 2021) explains that “Extending children’s familiarity with words across domains is particularly important for children from disadvantaged backgrounds who might not otherwise meet such vocabulary.” But it is our job as educators to ensure that all pupils, regardless of background, have the opportunity to develop their vocabulary and familiarity with language. We need to read and carefully consider the challenges and opportunities presented by a specific text before including it in the range considered appropriate and desirable for children’s wider consumption.

It is also essential that texts selected will engage pupils and spark interest. Children are much more likely become excited about language as well as achieve great attainment and progress if they enjoy what they are reading. As teachers, we should strive to understand our cohort: the children’s interests, cultures and personalities and attempt to engage them in quality literature that they will love. Research shows that developing a love of Reading is one of the most effective ways to raise attainment as children who enjoy reading will achieve more highly right across the curriculum, (Oxford School Improvement, 2017). To conclude, when choosing a text, important considerations include:

  • Opportunities - does the text provide opportunities to use the strategy?
  • Vocabulary - how suitable is the vocabulary? Is it challenging enough?
  • Background knowledge - what background knowledge will pupils need to understand the text?
  • Enjoyment - will this text be enjoyable and relevant for the children?

When selecting texts, we would recommend asking yourself ‘Will my class have sufficient knowledge of this topic or content to access this text?’ If the answer is ‘no’, then you may need to decide to teach them about the unfamiliar content and broaden their understanding before they apply their reading skills to delve deeper into the text. For example, an excellent extract from which to develop inference is the prologue of ‘Cogheart’ written by Peter Bunzl (click here to access a free unit plan and accompanied resources). However, the extract refers to considerable technical ‘Tier 3’ vocabulary about airships. If pupils have no experience of these devices, they are unlikely to be able to retrieve information from this text or develop their understanding and inference of the other less technical ‘Tier 2’ vocabulary within it. Here is a small section of the extract highlighting the tier 3 language:


Children may struggle to understand what is happening in this small extract if they do not know what the hull of an airship is, or where the instrument panel is and what its purpose is. They may need to see a diagram or watch a video of airships before reading to ensure they comprehend the text fully.

Great texts will often include experiences, places or objects to which pupils have never been exposed. Instead of dismissing them, teach the children about these, and if possible, let them experience them in real life. You can see more about how to do this in our next blog, Reading Gems: Reading Skills Part Two, where we will explore the structure of reading lessons in further detail.

We have also recorded a free introduction to One Education Reading Gems so that all schools interested in developing the way in which Reading Skills are taught in your school can gain an insight into this. Please click here to access the recording.

Download all the free resources in this blog.

How can One Education help? The teaching of Reading is essential: it is a way of helping children to spark a passion for books, a thirst for knowledge and the desire to become a life-long learner. The curriculum content that teachers must cover is vast, but if a consistent, thorough approach to reading is embedded across the school it can have a profound impact on the entire curriculum. If you would like advice on how to create an approach that is tailored to the needs of your school or would like to book a staff training session then please email Jo Gray, Head of School Development and Literacy.

The resources shared in this blog post are part of a much larger selection available as part of One Education’s Reading Award. For more information on this please click here.

Please get in touch or visit this page for more information.

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