Resource 1: What successful readers and writers need to know
Background information / subject knowledge for teacher
The language in which they are expected to read and write
If pupils have to learn to read and write in a language that is not their home language, this makes the task much more difficult. In this situation, teachers need to start with oral work and vocabulary building in this additional language, using actions and pictures. Only when pupils have some oral understanding of the additional language can they be expected to use it for reading and writing.
The written code
Pupils need to understand how the letters on the page represent particular sounds and how they combine to communicate meaning in the form of words. This is why it is important for teachers to give some attention to ‘phonics’ – the letters that represent particular sounds – when working with beginner readers. To take an example from English, you could use a picture of a dog, with the separate letters d o g and then the word dog underneath it. First ask pupils what they see in the picture (a dog), then point to each letter and pronounce it; then pronounce the whole word. Then check pupils’ understanding by pointing to the separate letters and asking them to make each sound. Next, ask them to tell you other words beginning with the d sound. Also give them some examples of your own.
The rules of writing
Pupils need to understand how words combine to make meaning in sentences, paragraphs and longer texts (e.g. a whole storybook) and how texts are written in different ways for different purposes (e.g. a recipe for cooking a meal is written differently from a story). In the early years, pupils begin learning about how writing is organised, but this is something that they learn more about all the way through their studies. Pupils need to work with whole texts so that they can see how words connect with one another and how a story or an argument develops. This is why phonics work alone is not sufficient.
How to read drawings, photographs and diagrams and how to make connections between these visual images and written words
Pupils need to be taught to notice details in drawings, photographs and diagrams. You can help them by asking questions such as ‘What is the old man holding?’ ‘What does the hippopotamus have on its back?’
About the world and how it works
The more that teachers help pupils to expand their general knowledge of the world and how it works, the easier it is for pupils to read about what is new and unfamiliar because they can make connections between what they have already experienced or learned and this new information.
Above all, it is important that pupils enjoy reading and writing – even when they find it challenging.