Literacy – how to attack it head on

One of the issues surrounding the idea that ‘we are all teachers of literacy’ is lack of knowledge on how to tackle it in subjects outside of English.

In my current school, literacy is a huge issue. Incorrect spellings, using the wrong ‘there’, not writing capital I, not beginning sentences with capital letters, not using question marks… the list goes on! It is some of the worst literacy I have ever seen and they are all basic primary school mistakes.

Teachers are expected to mark for literacy, currently we write sp for spelling, gr for grammar and p for punctuation. I usually correct it and ask the student to write it out three times for themselves as it saves time when they do their responses. This is doing nothing. The same mistakes appear next time I mark. I also find that students can’t spell the months when they write the date and incorrectly spell things that were spelt correctly on the whiteboard. Why is this happening? In my lessons, I am guilty of glossing over this in favour of covering RS content. I would rather they know the religious content than teach a literacy lesson but my students cannot write essays very well.

I have to tackle this head on. I am going to introduce 5 new things into my ks3 classroom lessons to ensure that this changes.

  1. Regular spelling tests as part of the lesson or for homework. The introduction of a new homework software at my school means I could use homework to work on spellings and thus not use too much of my precious lesson time for this.
  2. More writing in lesson. A simple but effective solution; the more they practice, the better they will be. Paragraphs/Essays as a plenary is the most effective way of ensuring the students are writing more.
  3. Highlighting mistakes in marking but during feedback lessons encouraging the students to find the answer for themselves. Either by asking or by using a dictionary. This does impact on time but it is a laborious task which may mean they put more effort into SPaG.
  4. More reading in lessons. The most improvement I have ever witnessed myself with literacy is in students who are reading every day. This means I will have to differentiate resources more precisely but it may pay off if they are reading more in my lessons.
  5. Correcting verbal responses. Students who speak things incorrectly will often write incorrectly. A student who uses incorrect tense for example can easily be corrected during verbal feedback in lesson.

I expect that if I adhere to my own rules, I will see some improvement between marking cycles.



3 thoughts on “Literacy – how to attack it head on

  1. Hi Teacher of religion,
    Might I make a few suggestions which might help you improve pupils’ spelling.
    First, if you are going to quiz pupils, why not give them a list to learn and, best of all, organise it according to sound. We all learn the sounds of our language naturally. What we don’t do, unless given instruction, is to learn how the spelling system works in relation to the sounds of the language. So, choosing spellings organised according to sound, is going to demonstrate explicitly that sounds can be spelled in certain, limited ways. What you can also do is to take a little time in class to break down the words you intend to send home in preparation for the quiz/test into syllables and sounds. Let’s take a few words you might hypothetically be working with:
    Leviticus: Le | vi | ti | cus. If you split it into its syllables and then use a ‘spelling voice’ to say it precisely, there is no spelling in that word that’s problematical.
    How about ‘Judaism? Ju | da | i | sm. In this word, there are a number of potential difficulties: first, the spelling of /oo/ represented here by ; secondly, the spelling represents the sound /ae/, as in ‘say’; thirdly, the final syllable, which appears not to contain a vowel sound. As you probably know, this latter is a spelling derived from Greek and, like the words ‘prism’ and ‘chasm’ (originally ‘prisma’ and ‘chasma’), both two -syllable words, in English, they have lost their spelling at the end, leaving the ‘unpronouncable’ /z/ /m/ unless, that is, you add a schwa (a weak vowel sound). So, ‘Judaism’ is actually a three-syllable word.
    The good news is that, as Biblical words in English are derived mostly from Greek, they are really very easy to spell if you break them down into syllables and then break the syllables into sound-spellings. Using a spelling voice for certain words should chime well with you asking pupils to articulate words more precisely, too.
    On error correction: one other thing I’d do is to highlight only the incorrect spelling in a word. In the margin, you can write the correct spelling. Verbally, it’s also helpful for pupils who spell, say, Nebuchadnezzar incorrectly [Nebuckadnezzar, say] to point to their spelling and to say, “This is a way of spelling the sound /k/ but in this word we spell it like this.” And write the spelling for them, which you can also tell them is the way in which we spell the sound /k/ in lots of words we get from Greek (chemist, choir, mechanic, etc..
    I hope that’s of some small help.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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