Reading Gems Part 2: Teaching reading in primary school

Part two of our blog series, focusing on One Education Reading Gems. In part two, we explore the structure for teaching reading effectively in primary school.
A child holding open a book, the pages show the works of Shakespeare.
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Reading Gems Part 3: Teaching early reading for understanding

This blog follows on from our previous blog, Reading Gems: Part One, which we would suggest that you read first. The teaching of reading is essential, a time which teachers can share high quality texts with pupils whilst developing a love of reading, fluency, skills and strategies to become competent, lifelong readers. The sessions can either be in small groups or as a whole class. Whatever the approach, a similar structure should be followed to ensure children have opportunities to read or listen to a teacher read, explore strategies to approach unfamiliar vocabulary, and to see modelled how we can comprehend and discuss texts in a variety of ways. 

The Structure for Teaching Reading Effectively 

The team at One Education has seen whole class, small group, and a combination work successfully for structuring the way in which you teach reading. To us, it is more important about how effectively reading is taught and how the children respond to group or whole class discussions. You may wish to read the rest of this blog whilst looking at an example Reading Gems plan so that you can see how it relates to our suggested structure. Our plan is detailed but it is designed to help you follow our structure, we would not expect a usual unit plan to have so much detail. 

Please download our resources to access an example reading plan that follows our structure.  

A note of caution: We have seen small group reading work very well, but please do bear in mind the workload of planning five different guided reading lessons each week can be onerous. It may be that the quality of lessons is better if adults are only planning for one text per week. Adaptive teaching can work well here, and some children may also need a pre-teach or a post-teach session to ensure that they are able to prevent against gaps in reading skills. Other children may need additional guided reading sessions in addition to their main class sessions, to help close any gaps already identified. As mentioned, to us it is more important that reading is taught effectively and in a way that suits all children within a cohort. (We are more than happy to discuss individual school requirements with you if required!) 

Session 1: Get Ready

Day one and two are essential to both small group reading and whole class reading, ensuring that the following days are spent understanding the text. 

The first day is all about getting ready, following the structure below, with an emphasis on discussion we can engage the reader and ensure they are enthused about reading the text whilst having some prerequisite understanding. 

Hook 

A great way to start your reading sequence during day one is to hook in and excite children about the new text. Making the experience real will really engage them and promote a love of reading. It is also a brilliant way to develop their skills in questioning and predicting. 

For example, when introducing ‘Cogheart’, which includes ‘mechanimals’, to a Year 5 or 6 class, it would be fantastic to show pictures of clockwork or mechanical toys with cogs to initiate discussion. Or if you have the luxury of more time, giving the opportunity to make similar ‘junk model’ toys could help children form a prediction and set expectations about the text. 

The children's book Cogheart, alongside mechanical toys inspired by the text.

Another example of a school ‘hooking in’ their pupils was during the study of ‘Esio Trot’ by Roald Dahl. The teacher brought in a pet tortoise for the children to see and ask questions about. Before they had even gone past the front cover of the story, the children had discussed what tortoises eat, where they sleep and to what age they live! Access to a live tortoise is not essential of course! Showing videos of tortoises will also initiate discussion. 

The book Esio Trot, alongside photographs of a tortoise in a sandbox.

There are more ideas of ways to ‘hook’ pupils into texts in our ‘Hook in Readers’ resource in our downloadable resources. 

Background Knowledge and Experience   

As mentioned in Part One of this blog, the DfE and Ofsted are focusing on what children are learning and how well it is remembered. Schools are designing curricula that suit their pupils’ needs in order to prepare them for the world in which they live. The accumulation of background knowledge is important, as research shows that our understanding of what we read depends greatly on what we already know. 

In short, we need to build children’s background knowledge. But how can we do this? It is beneficial, where possible, to link reading lessons to current learning in other subjects, so that the children can develop their understanding and become familiar with relevant events, people, objects, concepts and subject-specific vocabulary. 

The EEF state in their ‘Improving Literacy KS2’ document: “To activate prior knowledge, pupils think about what they already know about a topic, from reading or other experiences, and try to make links. This helps pupils to infer and elaborate, fill in missing or incomplete information and use existing mental structures to support recall.” 

For example: During a WWII history lesson, children might be learning about the outbreak of war. They then might be exposed to a newspaper article about Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of war. The children’s background knowledge of this event in history will enable them to make links, aiding their reading and understanding of the text. 

Another way to develop background knowledge would be to support new, unfamiliar concepts found in fiction with a non-fiction text to improve their understanding. For example: In the text ‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio, the main character has a rare facial condition called ‘Treacher Collins Syndrome.’ When reading Chapter One, children might benefit from a better understanding of what this syndrome is and what the symptoms are. Providing them with a small medical article explaining this and discussing it would help them to improve their knowledge before continuing the fictional text. 

There are many other ways of building children’s background knowledge. Some books may not require a separate lesson as it is being covered during another subject lesson, others may need more than just a short 20-minute session. 

Prediction of the text 

Once you have hooked the children in and built up their background knowledge, you may want to develop their engagement with the text. This may be through prediction questions and understanding word meaning.  

You may start by asking: 

1. From the front cover, what do you think the book will be about? Why?  

As an open-ended response question, it allows children to give their own opinion and try to link it to something that they already know and understand. To be able to infer well, we need background knowledge and some understanding of the topic we are reading about. 

2. Have you read any books that you think are similar?  

This draws the children to make links with what they have already read and gives children the opportunity to draw upon prior knowledge whilst reading to make connections. 

Thinking Question 

You may then want to introduce a question that will explore themes throughout the text and give the children something to think about before they start reading the text. For example, if we take the prologue for Cogheart, then a great thinking question may be ‘Should machines be treated as equally as humans?’ Children could start to discuss this from the title of the book, the front cover etc and then the thinking question would be revisited as we go through the extract or book, allowing children to develop their thoughts and ideas as they explore the text. 

Adaptive teaching before Session 2: 

After the first session, I would consider those children who may need a little longer to develop background knowledge and understanding vocabulary, children may benefit from a preteach, prior to Session 2, where vocabulary and the text extract are explored in a small group at the children’s pace. 

Section 2: The Wonder of Words

Vocabulary Focus (including decoding if needed) 

Rather than asking children to find words that they don’t understand, which you can do as you read, for the pre-read it is best to identify and discuss the words with which children may struggle before encountering them in the text. 

This is a good opportunity to check children’s understanding of specific words in addition to introducing new vocabulary. For younger children, this is also the opportunity to discuss strategies of how to read words that they are not familiar with. 

Getting the balance right between independently finding out word meanings and directed teaching will depend on the vocabulary being taught. For instance, is it likely to be used regularly or in future learning? (Tier 1 or 2 vocabulary) If so then it may be worth spending time on the word, or if it is a lesser used word (Tier 3) it may be worth directly telling children what the word means. Encouraging children to work out what specific words mean without teacher input is important, but if children are to learn precisely then in some cases, they may need to be specifically taught the meaning of a word.  

There are many ways in which we can help children to understand the words that they will come across in the text. For example, you may encourage children to choose one of the words you have given them and complete a word map or a vocabulary tree such as the ones below. Alternatively, you may use a word wheel like the example found here. There may also be times when you teach the meaning discretely by showing an image or video clip and explaining what the word means. 

KS1 Word Map

A Key Stage 1 word map with text boxes for children to fill.

KS2 Word Map

A Key Stage 2  word map with text boxes for children to fill.

Vocab Tree

A diagram of a vocab tree, with related words written across the branches.

First Read 

Now it is time to read the text – this could be an extract, book, poem, leaflet, menu, song lyrics etc. As with past approaches to reading, you may want children to read at their own pace and, if an adult is available, they may hear a child read part of the text whilst the other children continue to read independently. Alternatively, if you want to: focus on modelling fluency; model your thought process whilst you read for understanding; or exposing children to a more challenging text then you may want to read the text to the class initially so that children’s cognitive load is reduced. 

Whilst children are reading the book, or listening to it being read, they should write down any questions they may have. This helps children to become aware of questions readers pose to themselves when thinking about the meaning – something which competent readers do automatically. You will also need to model this; pausing to ask questions can help a child become a competent reader. When sharing the book, please remember that this is also about developing a love of reading and a passion for books. The more enthusiastic you can be about a text, the more enthusiastic (usually) the children are! However, there is never any harm in changing the text if you and the majority of the class are not enjoying it, as much as you thought you might do. Extracts you have used successfully with some cohorts may not have the same impact with others. 

Discussion, with a focus on revisiting the thinking Question 

The sessions should always ensure that there is time for children to discuss questions thoroughly, as well as finding enjoyment whilst discussing the book or having ‘book blether.’  Following the first read you may also want to revisit the thinking questions introduced in the first session, allowing children time to explore this will help them to understand that their thoughts may change, be challenged, or be extended as they learn more. 

Section 3: Exploring the Text

Re-read for Fluency 

Each session should start with a short recap of the two previous sessions to reactivate pupils’ prior learning and make links. The session may start by asking the children to explore the vocabulary identified, or discuss the questions that the children have about the text, keeping a love of reading at the heart of the conversation. 

The next part of the lesson should be an opportunity to re-read the text with an emphasis on practicing fluency:  reading with accuracy (reading words correctly), automaticity (reading words at an appropriate speed without great effort) and prosody (appropriate stress and intonation).  

The reason for this is that fluency can aid comprehension. When a child read fluently, their cognitive load for decoding is reduced and so they can concentrate then on the meaning of the text. As the EEF explains in their guidance: “for this reason, fluency is sometimes described as a bridge from word recognition to comprehension.” 

Suggestions for fluency practice could be another blog in its entirety! However, we have listed a few examples below: 

  • Modelled expressive reading 
  • Echo reading 
  • Choral reading 
  • Paired partner reading 
  • Punctuation concentration 
  • Expressive reading 

Reading Gems 

The next part, as touched upon in Reading Gems Part One, is the explicit teaching of strategies, skills and steps to understand what is being read. Before children delve into the text and practise strategies, the EEF suggests that reading skills should be described and explicitly modelled by the teacher. In order to do this effectively, our Reading Gems suggests that there are a number of skills and strategies that can help children to understand when taught as part of a reading approach.

Steps to help the reader identify a word and understand its meaning.

As mentioned in Part One, One Education have created ‘Skills Overview’ documents for each gem, to assist teachers with developing their subject knowledge and modelling. There is a free example to download with this blog, ‘Retrieve Skill Overview.’ Others are available to Reading Award subscribers and those who have whole school support. Accompanying these documents are Skill Ladders, also mentioned in Part One of the Blog. 

When discussing a text with a class, it is crucial that the questions we ask are thought-provoking and constructive, to help pupils develop their understanding of what is being read. It is also important to use a range of question types, such as: multiple choice questions, short and long response questions, ranking and ordering, find and copy etc. Preparing understandable and pertinent questions for children can be difficult and, if not achieved successfully, can sometimes result in misconceptions and/or a misunderstanding of the text. 

Embedding a range of specific question stems, or graphical representations, is a beneficial part of the teaching of reading. Studying these helps children to develop their own questions about what is being read and allows them to build an understanding of the different ways in which questions can be asked. We provide question stems (adapted from past SATs papers) to support teachers in creating their own quality comprehension questions. 

A series of example questions that ask the readers to give and explain the meaning of words in context.

Download our resources to find the question stems for EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage), KS1 and KS2. These are perfect to help you in your planning of effective questioning within each gem. 

To support pupils in applying reading skills independently, we encourage the ‘I do, we do, you do approach to releasing responsibility: starting with the teacher modelling, then the whole class or partners practising, and finally the children independently applying skills. When asking questions in a whole class session, allow the children to collaborate and practise the skill and their answers verbally with partners and within groups, before feeding back to the class. You can also encourage children to ABC (Lemov, 2016) their feedback: Agreeing with, Building upon or Challenging their teacher’s modelled response or a peer’s response.  

Within this lesson you may want the children to complete an activity where they can practice applying the strategies and skills they have learnt – this may be a hands-on task, answering further questions independently or discussing questions about the text as a group. As already mentioned though, the book blether should still be a part of the lesson – making the love of reading shine through at all times to engage children. (More on book blether on Session 5) 

(Optional) Revisit Thinking Question 

As mentioned in Session 2, you may want to revisit the thinking session as children start to develop their thoughts and ideas whilst they build upon their understanding of the text.  

Adaptive teaching for Session Three 

Adaptive teaching strategies for any children who need further support in specific reading skills such as inferring may need to be considered. The Reading Framework (2023) refers to the research by Professor Daniel Willingham who found that “ten [focused comprehension] sessions yield the same benefit as fifty sessions.”  In other words, the benefits plateau. This may be worth keeping in mind when you structure the teaching focus for the whole class too – you may want to spend more time at the start of the year focusing in on modelling reading skills; consider who would benefit for further RCS; or reduce the modelling on skills and changing the focus to further connecting and linking prior learning as the year progresses. 

Session 4: Becoming a Skilled Reader

Re-read for Fluency 

As with the start of Session 3, which explores reading for fluency in a little more detail, we would suggest that children start the reading session with another reading of the text or extract. 

Treasure Chest: (Optional) Independent Application of skills  

 Children can then be given chance to apply what they know through discussion with peers, answer questions or completing an activity. One example would be to give children mixture of Reading Gems within a Treasure Chest, this helps to develop their confidence and independence in applying different reading skills in a range of ways. Again, if the same text is used then it will help children to gain a more in-depth understanding of themes and plots within texts whilst keeping the cognitive load of decoding lower. An example of a Treasure Chest linked to the planning example can be found in the downloadable resources. 

An illustration of a treasure chest, surrounded by questions that test the readers comprehension.

Here there should be a focus on children having the opportunity to explore themes and ideas within the text through discussion with peers and questions to spark their thinking. There are a variety of ways in which a question can be represented to challenge pupils within their application, such as open-ended response, but you may also want to provide children with opportunities such as ‘find and copy’, tick boxes, ordering events by number and fact or opinion. 

Whether answering questions or completing an activity based on the text, specific and timely feedback is key. Children need time to reflect and extend their responses to texts. It is crucial that you think about how you can feed back effectively to your pupils about their reading, and at regular intervals.  

Adaptive teaching may be applicable here, considering the scaffolds or strategies that could be useful. Children’s independent application can also help your formative assessment and support your decision in how you adapt further Reading Gem lessons. 

(Optional) Revisit Thinking Question 

As mentioned in previous sessions, you may want to revisit the thinking session as children start to develop their thoughts and ideas whilst they build upon their understanding of the text. 

Section 5: Book Club

Session 5 is often the day that can be missed if a timetable is jam-packed, but it is actually our favourite, and it is also very important! It is where children start to come into their own as readers, providing them with opportunities to apply what they have been learning. 

Book Club is an opportunity for children to make links to the rest of the text (if an extract from a longer book has been used), other books and the wider curriculum. For short, we call this TLC. 

  • Text: Book blether and reading further sections (if applicable) 
  • Linked Texts: Explore books by the same author or with similar themes and make personalised book recommendations 
  • Curriculum Opportunities: Create links to different subjects from what has been read 

You may want to use the thinking question to theme the book club, or you may find children take ideas and concepts in a different direction. 

There should also be an opportunity for children to read what they enjoy, having their own book blether about their chosen book in addition to the given texts within school. 

This part of the approach is an opportunity for children to develop their own reader identity, drawing upon Daniel Pennac’s ‘Rights of the Reader’, and giving children the opportunity to build reading habits that will hopefully transcend to home and stay with them for life. 

If extracts are used within the Reading Gem sessions from texts that will not be used for English, Storytime or other lessons within the curriculum then we advise that you ensure a copy of the book is available for children to read independently afterwards. 

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 lifelong 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 Educational Development at: jo.gray@oneeducation.co.uk

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. 

Free Reading Gems Resources

Click the link below to download five additional Reading Gems resources.

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