Reading in Primary schools: single page view

Reading in Primary schools

Reading is a complex cognitive skill that involves the extraction of meaning from printed or written text. It changes lives. Its transforming power is seen in promoting health and well-being. It builds creativity and imaginative skills. It promotes empathy and understanding. It makes a significant contribution to pupil attainment and closing the gap, especially for disadvantaged learners. It allows access to the whole curriculum and learning in Primary schools and remains one of life’s joys.

This MESHGuide is written to support teachers, literacy co-ordinators, SENCOs and Headteachers. It is also a valuable go-to resource for teacher educators and students on initial teacher training courses. It provides readers with short, easy to read summaries of independent evidence on approaches to teaching reading in Primary schools, the importance of language and pre-reading skills, the value of communities of readers along with illustrative case studies and resources to promote literacy and reading throughout your school.

Young people reading

‘He that loves reading has everything within his reach’ —William Godwin

Reading changes lives. It has a positive impact on mental health and well-being. It builds creativity and imagination, knowledge and skills, empathy and understanding. It connects people and strengthens communities. It improves prospects and shapes life chances (Hilhorst et al., 2018). It is a key driver for closing the attainment gap in schools.  Being able to read fluently is key to educational achievement. Without a strong foundation in literacy, children cannot access to a rich and diverse curriculum in schools. Poor literacy limits opportunities not only at school, but in life, economically and in terms of a wider pleasure and appreciation of the written word. Those who cannot read well are at a constant disadvantage. Pupils who can read are more likely to succeed at school, achieve good qualifications, and subsequently enjoy fulfilling and rewarding careers. Participation in this intellectual and cultural heritage depends upon universal, high standards of literacy. In addition to its substantial practical benefits, reading is one of life’s profound joys (DfE, 2015).

Reading is a skill we take for granted yet one that is essential for everyone. As a child grows up, being able to read well directly helps learning in school and, also opens them up to a world of discovery, stories and opportunities. Children receive many benefits from being able to read: educational, cognitive, psychological and emotional that last throughout their lives. Being able to read

  • improves brain connectivity
  • increases vocabulary and comprehension
  • promotes the ability to empathize
  • aids in sleep readiness
  • reduces stress
  • lowers blood pressure and heart rate
  • combats depression symptoms
  • prevents cognitive decline through aging
  • contributes to a longer, fuller life

Reading patterns in young people

Data from the UK National Literacy Trust survey in 2019 (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2020) reveal a stark picture of young people’s reading habits in the UK and a gradual decline year on year. Only 53% of young people said they enjoyed reading and levels of reading enjoyment were at their lowest recorded level since 2013. Fewer young people said that they read daily in their free time. At the same time, attitudes towards reading have remained relatively unchanged. The link between reading engagement and skill is also clear. Young people who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than those non-readers enjoy reading (30.1% vs 8.1%). Young people who read daily in their free time are twice as likely to read above the level expected for their age than children who don’t read daily (37.6% vs 14.2%).

Young people in disadvantage

Every year in England, numbers of children leave primary school without the confidence and fluency in reading they need. This has a significant effect on their learning, life chances and engagement with reading, and long-term economic and social impact. It is estimated that poor reading skills will cost the UK economy £32.1bn by 2025 (Clark & Teravainen-Goff, 2017). Krashen (2016) reporting an earlier study (2004) showed that children of poverty have fewer books at home, in their classroom and school libraries. They live in areas with fewer bookshops and with public libraries that are open for far fewer hours and have far fewer books. Socioeconomic status at the individual and school-level are positively related to literacy achievement in all English-speaking countries (Buckingham et al., 2013) A persistently large number of children struggle to learn to read at a basic level, and those children are disproportionately from socially disadvantaged families.  Low social economic status (SES) does not destine a child to literacy underachievement, but to argue that it is not important is to misconstrue a wealth of research findings. The relationship between SES and literacy is attributable to a number of factors (e.g. family background, mother’s qualifications, opportunity, etc). Identifying these factors and understanding the processes by which they work and the impact they have, is a key to reducing the impact of socioeconomic disadvantage on children’s literacy behaviours and achievements.

International findings. Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

Whilst the model of reading presented in this Guide is a holistic one, incorporating reading for pleasure as well as reading as a skill to interpret text, international comparisons provide important data on young peoples’ reading performance. The OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a framework for examining the extent to which students from around the world have foundation reading literacy skills at age 15. According to the agreed PISA definition, Reading literacy is ‘understanding, using and reflecting on written texts, in order to achieve one’s goals, to develop one’s knowledge and potential, and to participate in society’. This is a dynamic interpretation of reading literacy and one that emphasises the interaction between reading skills and their application (OECD,2002). Reading literacy results show that all countries face common challenges, in raising overall student reading literacy levels and in reducing disparities between the best and worst readers. Results show unequivocally that improvement in reading literacy performance relies not just on improving student cognitive skills but also on increasing their engagement in reading. This has implications not only for home learning but for school systems where there is a need for schools to think carefully about how to engage young people as readers.

In the majority of countries, as well as on average across OECD countries, reading performance has remained stable, or moved with no clear direction of change. Eighteen participants in PISA saw improvements in their students’ reading performance since their first participation in PISA in 2000 (OECD, 2020). In almost all countries/economies, high-performing students are expanding their repertoire of skills as the demand for more complex reading processes increases. However, trends in achievement among low-performing students, and the widening of performance disparities in many countries, are worrying. Singapore improved over its (already) high performance in 2009; Estonia, Germany, Macao (China) and Poland moved from average or below-average performance in their first participation to above-average performance. Evolving technologies have changed the ways people read and exchange information, whether at home, at school or in the workplace. In many respects, the challenges that readers encounter today, in a highly digitalised environment, are greater than those encountered in the world of printed books, manuals and newspapers. To navigate successfully the information provided in electronic text formats, people need to use complex strategies to analyse, synthesise, integrate and interpret relevant information from multiple sources when they read. When PISA assessed reading literacy in 2001, only Canada and Norway had populations where over 50% used the Internet. By 2018, the proportion not using the internet across OECD countries had shrunk to less than 5%.

Progress in the International Literacy Reading Study (PIRLS)

Fifty countries from around the world participated in the PIRLS 2016 international assessment of reading comprehension. In every country there was a range of reading achievement from basic skills to advanced comprehension. The Russian Federation and Singapore had the highest reading achievement on average. These countries also had more than one-fourth of their students reaching the PIRLS Advanced International Benchmark. Students reaching this level interpreted, integrated, and evaluated story plots and information in relatively complex texts. Hong Kong, Ireland, Finland, Poland, and Northern Ireland also performed very well, with approximately one-fifth of their students reaching the Advanced Benchmark. Internationally there are more good readers than there were 15 years ago. The gender gap in reading achievement has favoured girls since 2001 and does not appear to be closing. Good readers have home environments that support literacy where foundations for literacy learning are laid. 39% of students had parents who reported often engaging their children in early literacy activities such as reading, talking, or singing to them as well as telling them stories and teaching them to write alphabet letters.  95% of students had very positive attitudes to reading and many had a high degree of self-efficacy in computer use and digital reading. (PIRLS 2021 offers assessment of literary and informational reading in a digital format). Across the countries, students had higher reading achievement on average if they attended schools that were well resourced and academically oriented to reading. Teaching reading was a high priority in Primary schools internationally.


Buckingham, J., Wheldall, K. & Beaman-Wheldall, R. (2013) Why poor children are more likely to become poor readers: The school years. Australian Journal of Education. Vol, 57. Issue 3, pp.190-213. 

Clark, C. & Teravainen-Goff, A. (2017) What it means to be a reader at age 11: valuing skills, affective components and behavioural processes. An outline of the evidence. London: National Literacy Trust.

Clark, C. & Teravainen-Goff, A. (2020) Children and young people’s reading in 2019.  Research report: Findings from our Annual Literacy Survey. London: National Literacy Trust.

DfE (2015) Reading: the next steps. Supporting higher standards in schools. London: HMSO.

Hilhorst, S., Lockey, A. & Speight, T. (2018)  A Society of Readers. London: DEMOS.

Krashen, S. (2004) The Power of Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann and Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Krashen, S. (2016) The Researcher’s Perspective. The Purpose of Education, Free Voluntary Reading, and Dealing with The Impact Of Poverty. School Libraries Worldwide Volume 22, Number 1. 

Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2017) PIRLS 2016. International Results in Reading. Lynch School of Education, Boston College: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center and International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement.


OECD (2002) Reading for Change – Performance and Engagement across Countries. Paris: OECD.

OECD (2020) PISA in Focus 2020. ISSN: 22260919 (online)


Reading in English Primary schools

This section gives a brief history and overview of the key programmes used in Primary schools to promote reading.

National Literacy Strategy (1997+)

The National Literacy Strategy (NLS) was established in 1997 to raise standards of literacy in English primary schools over a ten year period. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had their own curricula and Education Departments and were not formally affected by the NLS. The Strategy promoted the teaching of reading in its broadest sense from the beginning of a child’s education. This included decoding, comprehension, grammatical understanding and a more general experience of different books and texts. In the NLS scheme, none of these aspects was given priority at any particular time in a child’s acquisition of reading. For example, when a child learning to read encounters a word he or she does not know, the child is encouraged to ‘work out’ the word either by inferring from narrative context or syntax, by sounding out the word or by recognising the shape of the word from a previous encounter. This approach was termed the ‘searchlights’ model. The rationale for this approach was that children will learn to read most effectively by exploiting a diverse range of strategies. It claimed to be more effective for those children who respond better to one particular approach than to others”. The ‘searchlights’ metaphor attempted to describe a methodology for teaching reading which optimises the range of ‘cues’ or inputs for the pupil, enabling them to cross refer between them. The more ‘searchlights’ that are switched on, the less critical it is if one of them fails” (pp.10-11).

House of Commons Education and Skills Committee (2005)

This inquiry focused on the methods used in schools to teach children to read. It acknowledged that reading is the key to educational achievement and without a basic foundation in literacy, children cannot gain access to a rich and diverse curriculum. The Committee recognised factors implicated in underachievement are the early development of literacy, oral and communication skills, as well as a love of literature and reading, and parental involvement in teaching children to read. It took advice from advisors who argued that phonics programmes should have more prominence in the early teaching of reading (i.e. programmes concentrating on establishing an early understanding of sound-letter correspondence). They took evidence from others who questioned the utility of this approach, preferring to focus on the development of vocabulary and the enrichment of linguistic experience, as well as from those who supported the then Government advice in the form of the Primary National Strategy. It concluded that it was unlikely that any one method or set of changes would lead to a complete elimination of underachievement in reading.  Evidence received was in favour of synthetic phonics. This was based on the belief that an early ability to ‘decode’ words was the key to later success in reading. Phonics programmes give children the ability to ‘sound out’ words on a page, even if they do not always understand the meaning of all those words. Phonics programmes emphasise the importance of establishing a secure correspondence between written letters and the sounds of language in the learner’s mind. The Government accepted that phonics was an essential methodology in teaching children to read. It also confirmed that enjoyment of reading should be a key objective and one endangered both by an overly formal approach in the early years and by a failure to teach decoding.

The Independent review of the teaching of early reading (2006)

The remit for this review was to report on best practice in the teaching of synthetic phonics and early reading; how to close the achievement gap in literacy; discover how targeted interventions programmes align with synthetic phonics teaching and how leadership and management in schools can support the teaching of reading, as well as practitioners’ subject knowledge and skills. The Review made a number of recommendations. Early Years Foundation Stage and the renewed Primary National Strategy Framework for teaching literacy should provide, as a priority, clear guidance on developing children’s speaking and listening skills. High quality, systematic phonic work as defined by the review should be taught discretely. Knowledge, skills and understanding that constitute high quality phonic work should be taught as the prime approach in learning to decode. Phonic work should be set within a broad and rich language curriculum that takes full account of developing the four interdependent strands of language: speaking, listening, reading and writing and enlarging children’s stock of words. The Primary National Strategy should continue to exemplify ‘quality first teaching’. For most children, high quality, systematic phonic work should start by the age of five, taking full account of professional judgments of children’s developing abilities and the need to embed this work within a broad and rich curriculum. Headteachers and managers of settings should make sure that phonic work is given appropriate priority in the teaching of beginner readers and this is reflected in decisions about training and professional development for their staff. Settings and schools should make sure that at least one member of staff is fully able to lead on literacy, especially phonic work.

The Cambridge Primary Review (2009) was an independent enquiry into the state and future of primary education in England. The final report, Children, their World, their Education, is the most comprehensive investigation of English primary education in 40 years. The Review was required to ‘identify the purposes which the primary phase of education should serve, the values which it should espouse, the curriculum and learning environment which it should provide, and the conditions which are necessary in order to ensure both that these are of the highest and most consistent quality possible, and that they address the needs of children and society over the coming decades’. The Review reported 75 recommendations, drawn from detailed analysis of the evidence and based on a comprehensive set of conclusions. Amongst these and relevant to this Guide were to intervene quickly and effectively to help disadvantaged and vulnerable children. A new curriculum should be introduced in primary schools that is firmly aligned with the Review’s aims, values and principles; guarantees children’s entitlement to breadth, depth and balance, and to high standards in all the proposed domains and ensures that language literacy and oracy are paramount. Advice was that teachers should work towards a pedagogy of repertoire rather than a recipe and of principle rather than prescription. They should ensure that teaching and learning approaches are properly informed by research.  Teachers were advised to avoid pedagogical fads and fashions and act instead on those aspects of learning and teaching, notably spoken language, where research evidence converges.

The Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum (2009) was a review of the curriculum rather than the whole of primary education. The central questions were, ‘ what should the curriculum contain and how should the content and the teaching of it change to foster children’s different and developing abilities during primary years?’ It stated that “the curriculum that primary children are offered must enable them to enjoy this unique stage of childhood, inspire learning and develop the essential knowledge, skills and understanding which are the building blocks for secondary education and later life” (page 9). The Review asserted that it tried to capture the distinctiveness of the primary phase and ensure it is recognised as more than a postscript to the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) and a prelude to secondary education.  Recommendation 8 was that ‘Literacy, numeracy and ICT should form the new core of the primary curriculum’. Schools should continue to prioritise literacy, numeracy and ICT as the foundational knowledge, skills and understanding of the primary curriculum, the content of which should be clearly defined, taught discretely, and used and applied extensively in each area of learning. Recommendation 9 was that ‘Primary schools should make sure that children’s spoken communication is developed intensively within all subjects and for learning across the curriculum’. Recommendation 10 stated, ‘Primary schools should continue to build on the commendable progress many have made in teaching decoding and encoding skills for reading and spelling through high quality, systematic phonic work as advocated by the 2006 reading review as the prime approach for teaching beginner readers’ (Page 21).

Reading by six. How the best schools do it (2010)

The Standards regulator, Ofsted, made its recommendations in this report. It was stated that too many children in England do not read or write well enough by the time they leave primary school. The best primary schools in England teach virtually every child to read, regardless of the social and economic circumstances of their neighbourhoods, the ethnicity of their pupils, the language spoken at home and most special educational needs or disabilities. Diligent, concentrated and systematic teaching of phonics is central to the success of all the schools that achieve high reading standards in Key Stage 1. Effective teachers are highly trained to instil the principles of phonics, can identify the learning needs of young children, and recognise and overcome the barriers that impede learning. The assessment of individual pupils’ progress, phonic knowledge and skills is sufficiently frequent and detailed to identify quickly the pupils who are failing, or in danger of failing, to keep up with their peers. All children should be reading at age appropriate standards when they are six, by the end of Year 1. Children at this stage who are still struggling to read should have individual support which is carefully attuned to overcoming barriers to their phonological development.

Reading: The Next Steps. Supporting higher standards in schools (2015)

The government’s plan for education again recognised the vital importance of reading and prioritised raising standards of literacy in schools. Since 2010, the focus has been upon improving reading overall, and narrowing the attainment gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. Funded early education is essential in securing high quality early years provision that helps support young children’s language development. The new English national curriculum, introduced in September 2014, includes a strong emphasis upon phonic knowledge, teaching young pupils to decode the words. Funding was made available through the Pupil Premium to help disadvantaged learners. It claimed that children learn to read best when they are taught using a robust programme of systematic synthetic phonics. To help schools choose a high quality phonics programme a core criteria that defined the key features of an effective programme was published. A statutory phonics screening check for pupils at the end of Year 1 in primary school was introduced in 2012.

At the core of the government plan for English education has been the focus on raising standards in literacy. At the time of writing this guide, Key Stage 2 National SATs results from 2019 showed that 65% of pupils met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths combined. An increase of 1%.   73% of pupils achieved the expected standard in reading which is 2% down from 2018. The full results can be seen here.


Alexander, R. et al., (2009) The Cambridge Primary Review. Children, their world, their education. University of Cambridge: Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

Department for Education and Employment (1998) The National Literacy Strategy: Framework for Teaching.  London: DfEE.

Department for Education (2015) Reading: The Next Steps. Supporting higher standards in schools.  London: HMSO.

House of Commons Education and Skills Committee (2005) Teaching Children to Read. London: The Stationary Office.

Ofsted (2010) Reading by six. How the best schools do it.  Manchester: Ofsted.

Rose, J. (2006) Independent review of the teaching of early reading. Nottingham: DFES Publications.

Rose, J. (2009) Independent Review of the Primary Curriculum: Final Report. Nottingham: DFES Publications

Primary Literacy

Nutbrown’s research (2006) informs us that parent-child conversations, how children experiment with words and rhythms, listening to and telling stories and pretend play provide important building blocks of family literacy. Literacy is a skill for life. It is the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that allows us to communicate effectively and make sense of the world. Lacking vital literacy skills holds a person back at every stage of their life. Low levels of literacy undermine the UK’s economic competitiveness, costing the taxpayer £2.5 billion every year (National Literacy Trust, 2019).

  • Children and young people who are the most engaged with literacy have better mental wellbeing than their peers who are the least engaged (Mental Wellbeing Index scores of 7.9/10 vs 6.6/10)
  • Children who are the most engaged with literacy are three times more likely to have higher levels of mental wellbeing than children who are the least engaged (39.4% vs 11.8%)
  • Conversely, children who are the least engaged with literacy are twice as likely to have low levels of mental wellbeing than their peers who are the most engaged (37.4% vs 15%)
  • Children with above expected reading skills are three times more likely to have high levels of mental wellbeing than their peers with below expected reading skills (40.3% vs 13.1%)
  • As children transition from primary to secondary school, their levels of literacy engagement and mental wellbeing both begin and continue to decline
  • Boys who are the most engaged with literacy have higher levels of mental wellbeing than girls who are equally engaged (Mental Wellbeing Index scores of 8.1/10 vs 7.6/10)

You can find further research reports from the Literacy Trust here.


Globally, it is estimated that 1 out of 5 people are illiterate and a further three billion are people struggling to read and write at a basic level. Low level reading and writing skills cost the global economy around £800 billion each year. In 2018, illiteracy was estimated to cost UK economy £80 billion. There are often-hidden costs of functional illiteracy that poses even more significant costs to the economy and long-term personal and social impacts on a person’s quality of life. Functional illiteracy means a person may be able to read and write simple words, but cannot apply these skills to tasks such as reading a medicine label, balancing a chequebook, or filling out a job application. Around 15%, or 5.1 million adults in England, struggle to read and write at a very basic level and can be described as functionally illiterate (World Literacy Foundation, 2018).

(Moving) From “What is Reading?” to What is Literacy?

Frankel et al., (2016) define literacy as the process of using reading, writing, and oral language to extract, construct, integrate, and critique meaning through interaction and involvement with multimodal texts in the context of socially situated practices.  Five principles are presented 1. Literacy is a constructive, integrative, and critical process situated in social practices. It involves complex, multimodal transactions between readers, texts, activities, and sociocultural contexts. 2. Fluent reading is shaped by language processes and contexts. It develops alongside other literacy processes (i.e., writing, speaking, listening) and involves prosody as well as speed and automatic, accurate word reading. 3. Literacy is strategic and disciplinary. It involves the use of contextualized comprehension strategies embedded in disciplinary practices; this principle is especially critical for the reading that happens in school. 4. Literacy entails motivation and engagement. It includes motivational factors such as self-efficacy, intrinsic motivation, and interest, as well as the mediating effects of engagement on reading. It requires attention to how relationships between readers and texts may change over time and in and through particular socioculturally-situated contexts. 5. Literacy is a continuously developing set of practices. It develops throughout a reader’s lifetime in the context of authentic tasks with real-world purposes and motivations, and this holds true for the reading that happens within as well as beyond school.

Digital Literacy

Here is a very useful report from the National Learning Trust concentrating on the early years.

Teaching literacy in Primary schools

In the references below are a series of reports produced by the UK Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on literacy. The first report covers the requirements of teaching literacy in Key Stage 1 (ages 5–7) and the second Key Stage 2 (ages 7–11). The last focuses on the teaching of communication, language and literacy to children between the ages of three and five. However, it may also be applicable to older pupils who have fallen behind their peers, or younger pupils who are making rapid progress. The recommendations in the reports represent ‘lever points’ where there is useful evidence about communication, language and literacy teaching that schools can use to make a difference to children’s reading skills.

More on literacy is available from the EEF.


Education Endowment Foundation (2016) Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1.  London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Education Endowment Foundation (2017) Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2. London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Preparing for Literacy: Improving Communication, Language and Literacy in the Early Years.  London: Education Endowment Foundation.

Frankel, K.K. et al. (2016) From “What is Reading?” to What is Literacy? Journal of Education  Vol. 196 (3) p.1-17.

World Literacy Foundation (2018) The economic and social cost of illiteracy. A White paper by the World Literacy Foundation. World Literacy Summit, March 25th-27th. Oxford: UK.

Language and pre-reading skills

Oral language plays an important part in learning to read. This has long been recognised (Dougherty, 2014) and the relationship between oral language ability and academic success is well established (Brinkman, et al., 2009; Hoff, 2012).  Research now tells us of the link between disadvantage and low levels of language and communication, whereby there are significant gaps in vocabulary between children from the least disadvantaged and most disadvantaged backgrounds (Save the Children, 2015). Acquiring language depends on both the amount and quality of language they are exposed to as well as the interpersonal context in which it occurs (Hoff, 2012). Joint attention and parent–child book reading are considered to be among the most important interpersonal contexts that facilitate children’s early vocabulary development. Joint or shared attention refers to the practice of sharing attention (usually visual) by following the focus of another person’s attention or by drawing their attention to one’s own focus of attention (Williams et al., 2001). Joint attention and parent–child book reading are vital to help close gaps in early language development, school readiness and academic achievement (Farrant, 2012).

What is ‘oracy’?

Oracy may be seen as an outcome of talking confidently, appropriately and sensitively. It is a process, whereby students learn through talk, deepening their understanding through dialogue with their teachers and peers (Alexander, 2012). Oracy involves teachers and their students thinking carefully and deliberately about the sorts of spoken language they are using, and this will vary across subjects and with different age groups. Different types of talk will be appropriate at different points in the learning cycle, and Robin Alexander outlined five key types of ‘teaching talk’ (Alexander, 2008):

  1. Rote: imparting knowledge by getting students to repeat key pieces of information to impart facts, ideas and routines.
  2. Recitation: using questions to test students’ knowledge and understanding, to check students’ progress, and stimulate recall.
  3. Instruction: telling students what to do and explaining key facts, principles or processes in order to transmit information.
  4. Discussion: encouraging the exchange of ideas within a class, to share information.
  5. Dialogue: using structured questions and discussion, helping students deepen understanding of key knowledge, principles and processes.

Communication and language approaches

These emphasise the importance of spoken language and verbal interaction for young children and are based on the idea that children’s language development benefits from approaches that explicitly support communication through talking, verbal expression, modelling language and reasoning. Communication and language approaches in the early years include reading aloud to children and discussing books, explicitly extending children’s spoken vocabulary by introducing them to new words in context and drawing attention to letters and sounds. They also include approaches more directly aimed at developing thinking and understanding through language, such as ‘sustained shared thinking’.

Communication and language approaches consistently show positive benefits for young children’s learning, including their spoken language skills, their expressive vocabulary and their early reading skills. On average, children who are involved in communication and language approaches make approximately six months’ additional progress over the course of a year. All children appear to benefit from such approaches, but some studies show slightly larger effects for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some types of communication and language approaches appear, on average, to be more effective than others. There is consistent evidence that reading to young children and encouraging them to answer questions and talk about the story with a trained adult, is an effective approach. A number of studies show the benefits of programmes where trained teaching assistants have supported both oral language and early reading skills (EEF, 2019).

For example, the Education Endowment Foundation Early Years Toolkit Early Years Toolkit Communication and language approaches 

In order to maximise students’ literacy and learning, teachers need to have solid understandings of oral language and its potential as an educative tool.

Oral language involves expressive and receptive skills.

Expressive language encompasses the words and actions used to convey meaning, including tone, volume, pauses and inflections.

Receptive language is the understanding of language expressed by others. Expressive and receptive oral language are often referred to as ‘speaking and listening’.

Effective vocabulary instruction and exposure to a rich language environment with opportunities to hear and confidently experiment with 'new words’ can boost literacy skills.  A really good read is Bringing Words to Life (Beck et al., 2013) describing classrooms ‘rich in words’, and this work is brought up to date in a recent article by Beck & McKeown (2018).


Alexander R (2008) Towards Dialogic Teaching: Rethinking Classroom Talk. 4th ed. York: Dialogos UK.

Alexander R (2012) Improving Oracy and Classroom Talk in English Schools: Achievements and Challenges. In: Department for Education seminar on Oracy, the National Curriculum and Educational Standards, London, 2012.

Beck I., McKeown, M. & Kucan, L. (2013) Bringing Words to Life. Guilford Press.

Brinkman, S., Sayers, M., Goldfeld, S., & Kline, J. (2009). Population monitoring of language and cognitive development in Australia: The Australian Early Development Index. International Journal of Speech Language Pathology, 11(5), 419–430.

Dougherty, C. (2014). Starting off strong: the importance of early learning, American Educator. 18 (2), 14-18.

Farrant, B.M. (2012)| Australian Institute of Family Studies, Family Matters No. 91 pp.38-46.

Hoff, E. (2012). Interpreting the early language trajectories of children from low-ses and language minority homes: Implications for closing achievement gaps. Developmental Psychology. doi:

Nutbrown, C. (2006) Key concepts in early childhood and care. London: Sage.

Save the Children (2015) Ready to read: Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child in England can read well. (accessed 20 November 2020).

Williams, J., Whiten, A., Suddendorf, T. & Perrett, D. (2001). Imitation, mirror neurons and autism. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 25(4), 287–295.

Early reading

Developmental pattern

The typical developmental pattern is that in the early years children learn receptive and expressive language skills. They learn letter sounds and develop necessary auditory skills for this. Then by putting sounds together they are able to decode words. As they encounter and remember more words, they develop a “sight vocabulary” of words which are recognized at a glance, without any need for decoding. Then they develop more visual skills and learn whole words. As they progress there is increasing emphasis on comprehension. Eventually they get to the stage of not “learning to read” but “reading to learn”, where the focus is completely on meaning, rather than the process of extracting it. Practice with reading is essential to develop fluency. Good readers read many times the amount of poor readers. Better readers will get to the stage of being aware of how they read and be able to control how they read for different purposes. Eventually there is less emphasis on the process of reading and more on the value of what is being read (Topping, 2019).

Primary schools in England encourage reading for pleasure whilst also emphasising the importance of understanding a wide range of texts throughout the curriculum. Balanced curricula have a focus on building a strong foundation, and this is particularly so for reading. Research such as the DfE’s EPPSE 3-16 project (2014), has proven the impact of good early years provision.

According to Reade, A. & Sayko, S. (2017), children typically move through several stages as they learn to read:

  • Emergent readers (usually birth to age six) are learning our sound system and how print works, including letter-sound relationships, and the meaning of stories read to them.
  • Early readers (usually age six and seven) are linking speech sounds to letters to make words, learning to decode words, and beginning to make sense of what they read.
  • Transitional readers (usually age seven and eight) are usually reading “like they talk” and have strategies to help them decode words and read with understanding, but may still need support with more difficult reading material.
  • Fluent readers (usually ages eight and up) are reading independently with confidence and understand longer and more difficult types of material. They use word parts to figure out words and relate sections of the story to one another.
  • As fluent readers enter middle and high school, they often read material that has many viewpoints and more complex language and ideas. They draw on what they know from other reading material and experiences to judge what they read and come to conclusions.

Bold Beginnings  (Ofsted, 2017) emphasised the importance of securing the essential skill of reading and starting this early. It detailed how schools, in which outcomes were above the national average, placed an emphasis on the teaching of reading in a “...systematic and structure way, building up children’s phonic knowledge and skills explicitly and providing regular story times where children could be taught to understand what they heard.” See pp19-22 on early reading.

In the new OFSTED Education Inspection Framework (September 2019) are clear parallels between the practice observed in Bold Beginnings, and what inspectors will be evaluating on the new framework. Paragraphs 296 to 298 set out how the teaching of early reading will be inspected:

In England during all inspections of infant, junior, primary and lower-middle schools, inspectors must focus on how well pupils are taught to read as a main inspection activity. They will pay particular attention to pupils who are reading below age-related expectations (the lowest 20%) to assess how well the school is teaching phonics and supporting all children to become confident, fluent readers.

Inspectors listen to several low-attaining pupils in Years 1 to 3 read from unseen books appropriate to their stage of progress. They should also draw on information from the school’s policy for teaching reading, phonics assessments, phonics screening check results and lesson visits.

In reaching an evaluation against the ‘quality of education’ judgement, inspectors consider whether:

◼ the school is determined that every pupil will learn to read, regardless of their background, needs or abilities. All pupils, including the weakest readers, must make sufficient progress to meet or exceed age-related expectations.

◼ stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction are chosen for reading to develop pupils’ vocabulary, language comprehension and love of reading. Pupils are familiar with and enjoy listening to a wide range of stories, poems, rhymes and non-fiction.

◼ the school’s phonics programme matches or exceeds the expectations of the national curriculum and the early learning goals. The school has clear expectations of pupils’ phonics progress term-by-term, from Reception to Year 2.

◼ the sequence of reading books shows a cumulative progression in phonics knowledge that is matched closely to the school’s phonics programme. Teachers give pupils sufficient practice in reading and re-reading books that match the grapheme-phoneme correspondences they know, both at school and at home.

◼ reading, including the teaching of systematic, synthetic phonics, is taught from the beginning of Reception.

◼ the ongoing assessment of pupils’ phonics progress is sufficiently frequent and detailed to identify any pupil who is falling behind the programme’s pace. If they do fall behind, targeted support is given immediately.

◼ the school has developed sufficient expertise in the teaching of phonics and reading.


Ofsted (2017) Bold beginnings: The Reception curriculum in a sample of good and outstanding primary schools, Manchester: Ofsted.

Ofsted (2019) Education inspection framework (EIF). Manchester: Ofsted.

Reade, A. & Sayko, S. (2017). Learning about your child’s reading development. Washington, DC: U.S.A.

Topping, K. (2019) Children’s Reading and Instruction.



National Centre for Improving Literacy

Beginning reading

Good practice

Dfe/Early Education (2012) Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) This non-statutory guidance material supports practitioners in implementing the statutory requirements of the EYFS.

The reading brain

On average, children take two to three years to learn to decode English. It is the most difficult alphabetic writing system in the world to master. In Finland, where there are no exceptions, each letter always stands for the same sound and children take only a few months to learn to decode. Like a muscle, the brain grows with practice. Brem (2010) showed that the visual word form area in the human brain begins to appear in the brain scans of non-readers after as little as five hours of training in decoding.  A number of brain regions are involved in reading and comprehension. Among them are the temporal lobe, which is responsible for phonological awareness and for decoding and discriminating sounds; Broca’s area in the frontal lobe, which governs speech production and language comprehension; and the angular and supramarginal gyrus, which link different parts of the brain so that letter shapes can be put together to form words. The visual stimulation of reading exercises the occipital lobe. This helps with the imagination, which will also help with creativity. The occipital lobe also has a big impact on making decisions. The parietal lobe is the part of the brain that turns letters into words, and words into thoughts.

Keller and Just in 2009 uncovered evidence that intensive instruction to improve reading skills in young children causes the brain to physically rewire itself, creating new white matter that improves communication within the brain. The researchers report that brain imaging of children between the ages of 8 and 10 showed that the quality of white matter — the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter, where information is processed — improved substantially after the children received 100 hours of remedial training. After the training, imaging indicated that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better.

Read the article here.

brain image


Brem, S., Bach, S., Kucian, K., Kujala, J., Guttorm, T., Martin, E., et al. (2010). Brain sensitivity to print emerges when children learn letter–speech sound correspondences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 107(17), 7939-7944.


Some suggestions for further reading: Stanilas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read is an excellent and very accessible  book on the neuroscience of reading. Dehaene, S. (2010). Reading in the brain: The new science of how we read. New York: Penguin Books.

Martha Burns has very interesting blogs on brain development and reading.

I also recommend Reading Mastery: Where Pedagogy Meets the Science of Reading - Scientific Learning (

Scientific American

Models of reading

Reading is a complex skill involving the orchestration of a number of components.  Researchers often talk about a “model of reading” when talking about only one aspect of the reading process (for example, models of word identification are often referred to as “models of reading”). 

Models of Word Identification

Various models of word identification have been proposed during the last 30 years. Two models that have received  most attention are the Dual Route Cascaded (DRC) model and various parallel distributed processing or connectionist versions of what have become known as triangle models These two models because they provide contrasting frameworks for explaining the two most prominent theoretical perspectives in the on-going debate about how words are identified and represented in the mental lexicon. This debate has specifically focused on whether word identification is guided by linguistic “rules” that are used to access a word’s pronunciation and/or meaning from its orthography, or whether this process is more accurately described as being one in which different types of lexical information provide mutual “soft” constraints on the pronunciations and/or meanings that are generated during word identification. 

Models of Syntactic Parsing

There are many existing models of sentence-level processing that explain how the linguistic structures and constraints (e.g., syntax) guide the construction of the representations that are necessary to understand individual sentences. Thus, these models presumably take as bottom-up input the meanings of individual words that are provided by the types of word-identification models .These models can be classified into three broad categories to include the various garden-path models; constraint-based models and various models that have been implemented using connectionist frameworks.

Models of Discourse Processing

In contrast to the models above, the models which explain discourse processing are more difficult to categorize into groups that define opposing positions on some central theoretical question.  The models instead tend to describe certain aspects of the processes and representations that are necessary to connect the meanings of individual sentences into more global representations that support text comprehension.

Examples of these discourse-processing models include the Construction-Integration Situation-Space; Landscape; Resonance and Distributed Situation Space models, along with several connectionist and production system models of discourse processing.

Models of Eye Movement Control in Reading

There are now a large number of models of eye movement control in reading. The development of such models was motivated by the appearance of the E-Z Reader model (Although there were prior verbal and implemented models  that attempted to document aspects of eye movements in reading, E-Z Reader clearly stimulated the development of a number of competing models, of which SWIFT is generally regarded as the main competitor. Other models include Mr. Chips; EMMA; SERIF; Glenmore; SHARE and the Competition-Interaction model.

Cognitive processes that support reading are complex. This is undoubtedly the reason why to date efforts to develop computational models of ”reading” have largely been directed towards explaining only one or two components of the reading processing (e.g., how printed words are identified), with little effort being directed towards explaining how these components interact with the remaining processes that are important in reading (e.g., attention allocation). Although this strategy may have proven effective in that it allowed cognitive scientists to focus on their own particular problems, the approach may be limited in that it tends to provide a narrow view of what actually transpires in the minds of readers.

The Simple View of Reading


Learning to read consists of developing skills in two critical areas: (1) Reading each word in texts accurately and fluently and (2) Comprehending the meaning of texts being read. This is known as the Simple View of Reading. The Rose Report made a number of recommendations for the teaching of early reading and  replaced the ‘Searchlights’ model used in early literacy frameworks in schools. It makes clear that there are two dimensions to reading – ‘word recognition’ and ‘language comprehension’. These two dimensions are represented as the ‘simple view of reading’. It is a formula demonstrating the view that reading has two basic components: word recognition (decoding) and language comprehension. The Simple View formula shows that a student’s reading comprehension (RC) score can be predicted if decoding (D) skills and language comprehension (LC) abilities are known.

The Simple View formula presented by Gough and Tunmer in 1986 is:

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)

Decoding (D) is defined as “efficient word recognition” (Hoover & Gough, 1990). This definition goes beyond the traditional definition of decoding as the ability to sound out words based on phonics rules. The meaning of decoding expands to include fast and accurate reading of familiar and unfamiliar words in both lists and connected text (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).  Students read a list of pseudowords to assess decoding.

Language comprehension (LC) is called by several other names in various studies, including linguistic comprehension, listening comprehension, and comprehension. All of these terms are defined as the ability to derive meaning from spoken words when they are part of sentences or other discourse. Language comprehension abilities, at a minimum, encompass “receptive vocabulary, grammatical understanding, and discourse comprehension” (Catts, Adlof, & Weismer, 2006). Students listen to a passage read aloud then retell the passage combined with answering oral questions that were not addressed in the retell.

Reading comprehension (RC) differs from language comprehension because of the reliance on print, as opposed to oral language, to perceive the words and derive meaning (Hoover & Gough, 1990). In other words, language comprehension becomes reading comprehension when word meaning is derived from print. It is possible to have strong language comprehension and still be a poor reader if there is difficulty with decoding. Students read a passage then retell the passage combined with answering oral questions that were not addressed in the retell.

Kamhi (2007) eloquently describes the differences between decoding (word recognition) and comprehension. Decoding is “a teachable skill” compared to comprehension, which “is not a skill and is not easily taught.” Kamhi explains that word recognition is a teachable skill because it “involves a narrow scope of knowledge (e.g. letters, sounds, words) and processes (decoding) that, once acquired, will lead to fast, accurate word recognition.” Kamhi further writes that comprehension “is not a skill.  It is a complex of higher level mental processes that include thinking, reasoning, imagining, and interpreting.” The processes involved in comprehension are dependent on having specific knowledge in a content area. This makes comprehension largely knowledge-based, not skills-based.

Scarborough’s Reading Rope

Hollis Scarborough—creator of the famous Reading Rope spoke of skilled reading as resembling the “strands” of a rope, using pipe cleaners to illustrate the interconnectedness and interdependence of all the components. The Reading Rope consists of lower and upper strands. The word-recognition strands (phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words) work together as the reader becomes accurate, fluent, and increasingly automatic with repetition and practice. Concurrently, the language-comprehension strands (background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge) reinforce one another and then weave together with the word-recognition strands to produce a skilled reader. This does not happen overnight; it requires instruction and practice over time.

Reading rope image

Reading is also supported through parental involvement. Parents have a major role in helping their children develop reading in pre-school and during the school years. Peer learning may be added to the school curriculum to individualize and differentiate reading (Topping, 2019)


Catts, H.W., Adlof, S.M. & Weismer, S.E. (2006) Language Deficits in Poor Comprehenders: A Case for the Simple View of Reading. Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, 49(2) pp.278-93

Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Hoover, W. and Gough, P. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 2, 127–160.

Kamhi, A. (2007). Knowledge deficits: the true crisis in education. ASHA Leader, 12 (7), 28–29.

Rose, J. (2006) Independent review of the teaching of early reading, Nottingham: DFES Publications

Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Topping, K. (2019) Children's Reading Development and Instruction.

Instructional approaches

Is there an optimum way to teach reading in schools? A best approach? Studies of schools and classrooms where children are taught to read most effectively show consistently that high achieving classes are characterized by:

 • a balanced approach in which attention to word recognition skills is matched by attention to comprehension “with the consistent message that understanding and effective communication - not just word recognition - are what literacy is about”  (Taylor & Pearson 2002, p.365)

 • attention to individual children’s literacy skills, experiences and interests through high quality interaction and close monitoring of individual progress (Pressley et al. 2001)

• high levels of engagement in reading (Guthrie et al. 1996)

UKLA proposes that reading instruction should encompass balance, attention is paid to individual children’s literacy skills, experiences and interests and engaging readers, whilst at the same time recognises that reading is not confined to print but embraces reading in a digital age. (Dombey et al. 2010 )  See here.

The most common teaching approaches in Primary schools are:

Guided Reading

Informed by Vygotsky’s (1978) Zone of Proximal Development and Bruner’s (1986) notion of scaffolding, this is a structured approach to reading. Children put into practice their developing expertise at an appropriate level. Teachers differentiate the instructional reading programme and guide groups of children at a similar level of skill to develop independent reading strategies on new and increasingly challenging texts. It uses a partnership approach that includes direct teaching and is tailored to specific needs of individuals or groups.  Texts increase the reading challenge of the individuals and require teachers to guide pupils through them. They then re-focus on the text, re-models the questions asked and increase and decrease the pace as appropriate. It follows a prescribed teaching sequence of book introduction; teaching focus and strategy check; independent reading and a return and response to the text. Guided reading sessions are made up of three parts: before reading discussion; independent reading and after reading discussion. The goal of guided reading is to help students use reading strategies whilst reading independently.

See resources from One Education at - reading skills, part one and reading skills, part two.

Whole class reading

This is where one student reads aloud while their classmates follow the text. A useful article here is by Coleman in 2016. This is available here.

He draws on the work of US professor Tim Shenahan who advocates alternatives include reading in pairs, where students alternate after each paragraph, choral reading, where students and teachers read the same section of the text simultaneously, and repeated reading, where students read the same passage multiple times. In all cases, Shanahan argues that students read more and have greater opportunities to improve fluency and cites citing studies reviewed by the US National Reading Panel (NIHCD, 2000).

See the blog by Shanahan, ‘Are read-alongs (round robin, pop corns) a good idea?

Silent reading

There is some evidence that when reading individually students are likely to read more quickly and cover more text (Hilden and Jones, 2012). Effective readers often employ strategies such as re-reading an unclear section of the text. These strategies can be utilised when reading alone, but not when reading aloud as a whole class.

Reciprocal Reading

This model for teaching reading comprehension was developed in Australia, New Zealand and the US and is credited with raising attainment in reading. Its popularity has grown in the UK where it is known by a variety of names: Reading Detectives, Reading Circles, Guided Reading, etc. All  versions are based on the same simple messages: • It is reciprocal because you gradually give away more and more teacher control as pupils develop independence in groups, in pairs and the as individuals. •The instructional concepts which underpin it include expert modelling, expert support as the child begins a task, children supporting each other and gradual reduction of support as pupils develop competence. • Pupils are supported to develop reading strategies before, during and after reading. • Pupils are encouraged to monitor their own reading abilities.

Shared reading

Shared reading is an effective way for teachers to demonstrate reading strategies and behaviours in continuous text. It is part of a suite of practices the teacher can use to support the teaching of reading. It is located at the higher end of teacher support in the Gradual Release Model (Duke and Pearson, 2002). Initially, the focus of the reading is on meaning and enjoyment. Once understanding is established, the teacher can reread the text to explicitly demonstrate reading strategies and engage in problem solving using meaning, structure and visual information. Shared reading usually involves the whole class and the teacher reading an enlarged text (e.g. big book, website projected via the interactive whiteboard or large-screen tv) that is beyond the level students can read by themselves. Big books are traditionally one of the more common shared reading text types.  The purpose of the enlarged text is so students can follow the words as the teacher reads. Initially the teacher may do much of the reading. However, as students become more familiar with the text they will assume more control, particularly at repetitive sections or when rhyme and rhythm are present. Students are expected to be actively engaged whilst the teacher is reading, following the text and when confident, joining in and reading with the teacher. 

Reading comprehension

Reading comprehension strategies focus on the learners’ understanding of written text. Pupils are taught a range of techniques which enable them to comprehend the meaning of what they read. These can include: inferring meaning from context; summarising or identifying key points; using graphic or semantic organisers; developing questioning strategies; and monitoring their own comprehension and identifying difficulties themselves. On average, reading comprehension approaches deliver an additional six months’ progress. Successful reading comprehension approaches allow activities to be carefully tailored to pupils’ reading capabilities, and involve activities and texts that provide an effective, but not overwhelming, challenge. Many of the approaches can be usefully combined with Collaborative learning techniques and Phonics to develop reading skills. The use of techniques such as graphic organisers and drawing pupils’ attention to text features are likely to be particularly useful when reading expository or information texts. (Education Endowment Foundation Toolkit, 2020).

See  - comprehension strategies.

Paired Reading

Involving parents and children read at home is a major factor in children's reading progress, irrespective of socioeconomic status or other variables. In this method the child chooses the reading material, irrespective of its level of difficulty. The technique allows for children to be supported through texts of high readability levels, with understanding supported by associated discussion and questioning. The reading together aspect of PR was designed as participant modelling, in which the child receives a model and continuous prompt for correct reading during his/her own attempt to read the words. The independent reading phase gives the child practice in responses acquired during simultaneous reading. This technique constitutes a simple, coherent, durable, and easily deliverable package for parents and other non-professionals.

Reading aloud

Reading aloud and discussing the text was a crucial strand of the Reading for Pleasure pedagogy identified in the Teachers as Readers research. It enables children to access rich and challenging texts, offers a model for silent independent reading, prompts children’s affective engagement and creates a class repertoire of ‘texts in common’ to discuss.  Adapted from pages Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. and Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure, London/New York: Routledge.  

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries and related papers at here.

Teachers read-aloud

The teacher read-aloud is an essential part of a child’s reading education. It turns the reading into an event, where the most experienced reader in the room can expertly guide their children through the text. It does, however, have its limitations.

The read-along

With the read-along (often referred to as the round robin), children take it in turns to read part of the text being studied, while the rest of the class follow along. I would rarely (if ever) attempt to get around the whole class in one session as this wouldn’t be an effective use of time. But asking a sample of children to tackle particular parts of the text is a great Assessment for Learning. As with the teacher read-aloud, this approach has clear advantages and limitations.




  • It provides an opportunity for children to read aloud to an audience. This is essential in developing children’s confidence in reading and promotes the joy of performance.  
  • It provides vital data for the teacher. One of the key advantages of the traditional carousel guided model has over the whole-class model is that, in the former, the teacher hears each child read aloud at least once a week; in the latter, this is not always possible if the teacher uses only the read-aloud. Using the read-along overcomes this drawback and allows the teacher to hear readers even if only for a short period. 
  • It provides an opportunity for immediate correction. If a child struggles with a word or phrase, then the teacher can intervene. This helps to prevent children from developing poor reading habits such as skipping difficult words, or not noticing mistakes at all, which will compromise the development of their comprehension. 
  • It develops a culture of listening and respect. It provides a regular and structured opportunity for children to practise listening to their peers. 
  • As with the read-aloud, only one person is doing the reading – this provides an opportunity for some to disengage. Making your choices of who reads next appear random can solve this issue. If children do not know whether it is them that will be reading next they are more likely to listen and follow attentively. 
  • It can place a limitation on your choice of text. In a class where reading confidence is likely to vary considerably, consideration must be given to the text you are asking them to read. You can differentiate by asking the more confident readers to read longer passages or passages where you know there are particular challenges, reserving the more manageable passages for less confident readers. This takes planning but the benefits are enormous. Even in challenging archaic texts or complex non-fiction there will be sentences the less confident readers can attempt. 
  • Before deploying this approach in the classroom, a culture of respect must be established. In addition, children’s confidence in reading and performing aloud to audiences must be developed.



Independent reading

Children read the text independently. Ultimately, this is the end goal – for children to develop in confidence so that they are able to independently decode and comprehend texts appropriate for their age group.




  • Develops independent reading stamina. This is essential for future academic success. 
  • This is what they need to do in order to tackle standardised tests. 
  • Developing this skill through explicit practice opens the door to the world of literature. 






  • It is likely to have a pronounced negative impact on the weakest readers; however, this approach also provides a clear opportunity for guided group work for children who may need additional support as the rest of the class tackle the text independently. Consideration would have to be given as to when these less confident readers read independently but this can be tackled with relative ease.
  • The more confident readers are likely to complete the passage more swiftly than less confident readers; however, having a carefully considered follow-up activity that assesses understanding, which has a high ceiling and low threshold, can overcome this. 
  • It is difficult to tell whether children are actually reading. Therefore, careful consideration must be given in order to make this reading accountable. 

Over the course of a reading unit, it is likely that using all three approaches will have the greatest benefits as opposed to focusing purely on one approach. It is, however, important that teachers take into consideration the needs of their class and the text in which they are studying and adapt appropriately if we are to maximise the impact of our classroom practice.


Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dombey, H. et al. (2010) Teaching Reading: What the evidence says UKLA argues for an evidence-informed approach to teaching and testing young children’s reading. London: UKLA

Duke, N.K. and Pearson, P.D. (2002). Effective reading practices for developing comprehension (Chapter 10). In A.E. Farstrup & S.J. Samuels (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (3rd Ed.), Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Guthrie, J.T., Van Meter, P., Dacey-McCann, A., Wigfield, A. , Bennett, L., Poundstone, C. C., Rice, M.E., Fairbisch, F.M., Hunt, B. & Mitchell, A.M. (1996) Growth in literacy engagement: changes in motivations and strategies during concept-oriented reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly 31 (3), pp. 306-332.

Hilden, K. & Jones, J. (2012). ‘A Literacy Spring Cleaning: Sweeping Round Robin Reading Out of Your Classroom.’  Reading Today. April/May 2012.

National Institute of Child Heath and Human Development (2000). National Reading Panel. Washington: NICHD.

Pressley, M., Wharton-McDonald, R., Allington, R., Block, C.C., Morrow, L., Tracey, D., Baker, K., Brooks, G., Cronin, J., Nelson, E. & Woo, D. (2001) A study of effective first grade literacy instruction. Scientific Studies of Reading 5 (1) pp. 35-58.

Taylor, B.M. & Pearson, P.D. (2002) (Eds.) Teaching Reading: Effective schools, accomplished teachers. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Teaching Phonics

Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write. It helps children hear, identify and use different sounds that distinguish one word from another in the English language. It is an approach to teaching reading, and some aspects of writing, by developing learners’ phonemic awareness. This involves the skills of hearing, identifying and using phonemes or sound patterns in English. The aim is to systematically teach learners the relationship between these sounds and the written spelling patterns, or graphemes, which represent them. Phonics emphasises the skills of decoding new words by sounding them out and combining or ‘blending’ the sound-spelling patterns (EEF, 2018).

A brief history

Before 2000, the dominant method for teaching reading in the English-speaking world was whole language’. Its main characteristics were:

  • Immersion in so-called "real" books. Little to no phonics. Phonics instruction, if it did occur, was unsystematic, and was taught only as a last resort
  • Rote-memorization of sight words
  • Word-guessing based on pictures, or context, or the word’s first letter

In 2000, the U.S. National Reading Panel condemned whole language by name, and in its place advocated, the Whole Word (top-down) method called for systematic phonics.

In 2005 in the UK, the Clackmannanshire (Scotland) Report was published. The results of a seven-year study on the effectiveness of bottom-up synthetic phonics in teaching reading and spelling were published by researchers Rhona Johnston and Joyce Watson The full study is here.

Two months later the House Education Committee released a report for extensive trials of synthetic phonics in England. Until then, ministers had adhered to the official DfES position that synthetic phonics is included in the National Literacy Strategy.

In 2006, in England the Rose Report was published. The Rose Report recommended only systematic phonics.   

In 2007 the DES/PNS published: Letters and Sounds: Principles and Practice of High Quality Phonics

How is phonics taught in Primary schools?

There are two main approaches to teaching phonics: analytic and synthetic phonics. In both approaches the learner needs to have some phonological awareness (the ability to hear and discriminate sounds in spoken words). Synthetic phonics focuses on the development of phonemic awareness as a key skill. To learn to decode written text into sounds, a reader is taught up to 44 phonemes (the smallest units of sound) and their related graphemes (the written symbols for these phonemes). Analytic phonics, also sometimes known as the "whole word" approach, involves analysis of whole words to detect phonetic or orthographic (spelling) patterns, then splitting them into smaller parts and sounding these out to help with the decoding process.

The Rose Report was quite specific about what these four principles of synthetic phonics are: “Having considered a wide range of evidence, the review has concluded that the case for systematic phonic work is overwhelming and much strengthened by a synthetic approach, the key features of which are to teach beginner readers: • grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence • to apply the highly important skill of blending (synthesizing) phonemes in order, all through a word to read it • to apply the skills of segmenting words into their constituent phonemes to spell • that blending and segmenting are reversible processes.” (section 51). The Rose Report also devoted an entire section to a discussion of the Simple View of Reading, a topic missing from the national reports of the US and Australia.

Synthetic phonics

This approach is most commonly associated with the teaching of reading in which phonemes (sounds) associated with particular graphemes (letters) are pronounced in isolation and blended together (synthesised). For example, children are taught to take a single-syllable word such as cat apart into its three letters, pronounce a phoneme for each letter in turn /k, æ, t/, and blend the phonemes together to form a word.

Analytical phonics

A popular approach in Scotland, this method is associated with the teaching of reading in which the phonemes associated with particular graphemes are not pronounced in isolation. Children identify (analyse) the common phoneme in a set of words in which each word contains the phoneme under study. For example, teacher and pupils discuss how the following words are alike: pat, park, push and pen.

Analogy phonics

A type of analytic phonics in which children analyse phonic elements according to the phonograms in the word. A phonogram, known in linguistics as a rime, is composed of the vowel and all the sounds that follow it, such as –ake in the word cake. Children use these phonograms to learn about “word families” for example cake, make, bake, fake.

Embedded phonics

An approach to the teaching of reading in which phonics forms one part of a whole language programme. Embedded phonics differs from other methods in that the instruction is always in the context of literature rather than in separate lessons, and the skills to be taught are identified opportunistically rather than systematically.

Resource: National Literacy Trust. Requires a log in and password .

See the article by Stephen Parker, ‘What phonics does and what it does not do.

Characteristics of a Synthetic Phonics Program:

1) Synthetic Phonics is a bottom-up approach to reading and spelling. "Bottom-up" because instruction starts, not with whole words, but with the most basic sound unit there is: the phoneme. The word SHOP, for instance, has 3 sounds or phonemes: /sh/, /o/, and /p/ (represented by the letters SH, O, and P respectively). To use Synthetic Phonics is to teach phonemic awareness, with letters, throughout the entire program.

2) The major letter/sound correspondences of the alphabetic code are taught in an explicit and systematic manner, using a clearly-defined sequence, with each new topic building on what has already been learned.

3) As soon as "some" letter/sound correspondences are mastered, children start reading simple words, that is, they blend (sound-out, synthesize) phonemes, left to right, all through a written word in order to pronounce it. This is the decoding allows the child to self-teach.

4) Children are taught to listen carefully, and to segment a spoken word into its constituent phonemes in order to spell it. Initially, best practice is to do this only with words the children have just decoded, thereby making the segmenting and spelling task easier for them.

5) Children are explicitly shown how blending and segmenting are reversible processes.

6) Children are asked to read for themselves only words and sentences for which they already have the skills to succeed. Such text is called decodable for them.

7) A Synthetic Phonics program is completed within two years for the majority of children, meaning that, by the end of two years, children are able, within reason, to read independently.

8) Reading Comprehension (RC) during these two years is understood strictly in terms of the Simple View of Reading. Time is spent with the teacher reading children’s literature to the class and then conducting a group discussion about that reading. In this manner, both decoding skills (D) and language comprehension skills (LC) improve daily. The Simple View makes the claim: RC = D x LC.

9) The main characteristic of a Synthetic Phonics program is that it presents reading to the child as a logical skill right from the outset. Children need to understand what they're being asked to do - especially if the task requires significant daily effort extending over a period of many months. Without such understanding, many children will get frustrated and give up.

What Synthetic Phonics (SP) Does Not Do

1) SP does not have children rote-memorize words (typically called “sight words”) without regard to the sound value of all the word’s letters or letter groups. Exception: there are perhaps 5 - 10 high-frequency words whose spellings are so bizarre (when compared to their actual pronunciations) that rote-memorization may be necessary (e.g. ONE, TWO, THOUGH, EYE, ONCE).

2) SP does not use top-down teaching methods that start with whole words (sight words) rather than with phonemes and letters. Any program that uses analytic phonics, analogy phonics, or onset-rime phonics must, by its very nature, be top-down.

3) SP does not expect that children will discover the letter/sound correspondences of the alphabetic code. There is neither time nor reason to have students “construct their own knowledge” when it comes to learning the skill of reading. All other academic skills depend on the ability to read.

4) SP does not expect, encourage, or allow children to guess the identity of an unknown word based on pictures, context, or the word’s first letter.

5) SP does not use "predictable" text, thereby giving everyone involved the illusion the child is reading. The reality is that the child is merely reciting memorized sight words, and guessing.

6) SP does not have children write using words they have not yet been taught to spell, thereby assuring “invented” spelling and letter-name spelling. These repeated spelling errors prove difficult for children to correct later on. Phonetic spelling is the goal. Phonetically plausible mistakes (e.g. BOTE instead of BOAT) show significant skill. A child making this mistake should be congratulated, then corrected. The child should also be told that, had the word been NOTE, the O-T-E spelling would have been correct, and NOAT would have been wrong.

7) SP does not use levelled books. Independent readers will, with a little help, find books appropriate to their skill level. No child need be stigmatized or embarrassed by being at level B when all his or her friends are at levels D and E.

8) SP does not condone teachers who can function only as a “guide on the side,” or worse, a “peer at the rear.” The teacher in a synthetic phonics program must be a “sage on the stage.” Synthetic phonics teachers need to be comfortable with whole-class, direct instruction current in most of today's reading classes.

How effective is it?

The Education Endowment Foundation evaluation (EEF TOOLKIT PHONICS, 2018) found a moderate impact for very low cost. Phonics programmes can be effective in schools, but the evaluation also underlined the importance of high quality implementation

Phonics approaches have been consistently found to be effective in supporting younger readers to master the basics of reading, with an average impact of an additional four months’ progress. Research suggests that phonics is particularly beneficial for younger learners (4-7 year olds) as they begin to read. Teaching phonics is more effective on average than other approaches to early reading (such as whole language or alphabetic approaches), though it should be emphasised that effective phonics techniques are usually embedded in a rich literacy environment for early readers and are only one part of a successful literacy strategy. For older readers who are still struggling to develop reading skills, phonics approaches may be less successful than other approaches such as Reading comprehension strategies and Meta-cognition and self-regulation. The difference may indicate that children aged 10 or above who have not succeeded using phonics approaches previously require a different approach, or that these students have other difficulties related to vocabulary and comprehension which phonics does not target. The following recommendations were made:

1. Phonics can be an important component in the development of early reading skills, particularly for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. However, it is also important that children are successful in making progress in all aspects of reading including vocabulary development, comprehension and spelling, which should be taught separately and explicitly.

2. The teaching of phonics should be explicit and systematic to support children in making connections between the sound patterns they hear in words and the way that these words are written.

3. The teaching of phonics should be matched to children’s current level of skill in terms of their phonemic awareness and their knowledge of letter sounds and patterns (graphemes).

4. Phonics improves the accuracy of the child's reading but not the comprehension. How are you planning on developing wider literacy skills such as comprehension?

To find out more about synthetic phonics,

See and


Making meaning from print requires the brain to use a complex array of cognitive strategies. Competent readers do this automatically without conscious effort. Learning to reading, requires we identify what our brains have learned automatically and teach children to do this consciously.

5 Essential Components of Reading

In this guide the five elements of reading were identified. These according to Armbruster et al. 2001 are:

Phonemic awareness





As with any skill that requires an individual to coordinate a series of smaller actions to create a unified process, it is practice that allows the learner to develop expertise. (Kuhn & Stahl, 2003).

Reading with fluency requires both strategies for accuracy. Firstly at letter level to allow quick and effortless identification of letter sounds. At word level for quick word recognition or decoding  and at text level to allow a fluid pace in reading connected text.

It requires strategies of automaticity. At letter level. Lack of strategy here can impair decoding accuracy and fluency. Word level strategies to avoid slow decoding which impairs understanding and reduce cognitive load. At text level, referring to fluidity of text reading, typically measured in correct words per minute (CWPM). This allows attention to focus on the connectedness of text. To read with comprehension, developing readers must be able to read with some proficiency and then receive explicit instruction in reading comprehension strategies.

General Strategies for Reading Comprehension

The process of comprehending text begins before children can read, when someone reads a picture book to them. They listen to the words, see the pictures in the book, and may start to associate the words on the page with the words they are hearing and the ideas they represent.

In order to learn comprehension strategies, students need modelling, practice, and feedback. The key comprehension strategies are described below.

Using Prior Knowledge/Previewing

When students preview text, they tap into what they already know that will help them to understand the text they are about to read. This provides a framework for any new information they read.


When students make predictions about the text they are about to read, it sets up expectations based on their prior knowledge about similar topics. As they read, they may mentally revise their prediction as they gain more information.

Identifying the Main Idea and Summarization

Identifying the main idea and summarizing requires that students determine what is important and then put it in their own words. Implicit in this process is trying to understand the author’s purpose in writing the text.


Asking and answering questions about text is another strategy that helps students focus on the meaning of text. Teachers can help by modelling both the process of asking good questions and strategies for finding the answers in the text.

Making Inferences

In order to make inferences about something that is not explicitly stated in the text, students must learn to draw on prior knowledge and recognize clues in the text itself.


Studies have shown that students who visualize while reading have better recall than those who do not. Readers can take advantage of illustrations that are embedded in the text or create their own mental images or drawings when reading text without illustrations.

See here.

Further classroom strategies

Environments are influenced by teachers’ knowledge of children’s texts and their children as readers and by the complementary approaches to reading

  1. Create a comfortable environment
  2. Develop book areas/nooks/corners for reading
  3. Create reading displays
  4. Foster interactive reading environments
  5. Resource the reading environment
  6. Use children’s ideas to celebrate reading
  7. Develop role play areas based on fictional texts
  8. Develop story boxes/bags based on texts
  9. Liaise with the local library
  10.  Developing reading environments beyond the classroom in wider communities.

Full text from Research Rich Pedagogies.


Kuhn M.R. &  Stahl S.A. (2003) Fluency: A review of developmental and remedial practices. Journal of Educational Psychology. (95) pp. 3–22

Further resources

Teaching and learning Alliance Inc.  

Reading Horizons

Reading Rockets


The publication Read On. Get On (2016) authored by Jonathan Douglas on behalf of the National Literacy Trust and Save the Children has the subtitle ‘A strategy to get England’s children reading’ is a really useful read about reading in the UK.  It opens with this message, “Every year in England, thousands of children leave primary school without the confidence and fluency in reading that they need. The impact on their learning, life chances and engagement with reading is significant. We need to ensure that every child can read well by the age of 11. Specific groups are far more likely to fail. For some children this will be related to additional needs, but for many children the reason is less clear. The reading gap between boys and girls in England is one of the widest in the developed world. Children from poorer backgrounds are also more likely to fall behind. Every child should have the support they need to prevent this from happening” (p.iv).

 It makes the following points for action in relation to Reading in the Primary Years:

  • priorities for improving children’s reading consolidate and build on major improvements in phonics teaching
  • stronger formative assessment of children’s reading
  • access to the latest evidence-based pedagogical approaches for teachers, teaching assistants and school governors
  • exploration of why a child might be struggling with reading in order to match the need with an appropriate approach or intervention
  • a model for how a “self-improving schools system” would work
  • sustained strategy to dramatically increase reading for pleasure especially for children who are not already excited by reading
  • stronger support for primary leadership (ibid, pp.18-20)

See the full document.

In Ireland, Mary Nugent (chair) Lucy Gannon Yvonne Mullan Diarmuid O’Rourke in a revised edition (2019) Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers (Second edition, 2019). A Good Practice Guide for Teachers. National Educational Psychology Service.

See the earlier pack ‘Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers Resource Pack (2012).

What teachers would like to see: 10 strategies to achieve world-class literacy

1. Consistently good teaching

2. An English specialist for every primary school

3. Early intervention to support struggling readers

4. Tailoring reading strategies to fit the individual child

5. Encouraging parents to read to their children

6. Early childhood support to introduce children to books, stories and nursery rhymes

7. Encouraging children to read for pleasure

8. Starting the formal teaching of reading later

9. Making creative use of technology

10. Trusting teachers

(Source: Reading Wise , 2014).


Examples of interventions

There are many interventions in Primary schools aimed at improving children’s reading. Here are a selection:

  1. The Power of Reading. The training programme supports schools to raise engagement and attainment in reading and writing for all children.  CLPE
  2. Every Child a Reader was designed to tackle illiteracy in primary schools CaR offered a layered, three-wave approach to supporting children with reading in key stage 1. The majority of money allocated to the project will be spent on Reading Recovery, an intense, one-on-one remedial programme for six-year-olds. The 2011 evaluation is available at here.
  3. MacBeath & Alexandrou (2015) An independent study of Computer-Based Literacy Programme for Accelerated Reading Acquisition.
  4. Reading Wise (2018) Explored closing the reading attainment gap by increasing the effectiveness of teaching assistants.
  5. BookTrust is the UK’s largest reading charity. It offers a number of programmes and interventions to support children and families to experience the joy of reading and its associated benefits.
  6. ThirdSpaceLearning offer a number of curriculum interventions including literacy.
  7. Reciprocal Reading is a programme created by a team from Fischer Family Trust Education Literacy (FFT Literacy) and designed to improve reading skills in older primary pupils. It is a structured approach to teaching strategies – questioning, clarifying, summarising and predicting – that students can use to improve their reading comprehension.
  8. Catch Up Literacy© is a one to one intervention for learners who are struggling to learn to read. It is delivered by Teaching Assistants and consists of two 15-minute sessions per week. See the EEF evaluation here.
  9. Nuffield Early Language Intervention designed to improve listening, narrative and vocabulary skills. Three to five weekly sessions are delivered to small groups of children with relatively poor spoken language skills. It is a 30-week programme starts in the final term of nursery and continues in Reception year.
  10. Accelerated Reader (AR). Is widely used in England, but much of the evidence for the approach comes from the USA. It is a web-based programme that encourages children to read for pleasure See the EEF evaluation at read for pleasure.

One intervention is not enough

It is clear that tackling the literacy challenge with a single intervention is unlikely to be enough. In 2014, the EEF reviewed more than 1,200 studies related to older, struggling readers. The most successful approaches boosted outcomes by between four and five months. See the summary table below:

reading approaches image

Image source


Douglas, D. (2016) Read on. Get on. A strategy to get England’s children reading. London: National Literacy Trust/Save the Children.

Nugent, M., Gannon, L. Mullan, Y. & O’Rourke, D. (2019) Effective Interventions for Struggling Readers (Second edition, 2019). A Good Practice Guide for Teachers. National Educational Psychology Service

Reading Wise (2014) Phonics plus: what’s missing from the government’s literacy strategy.

An excellent resource that includes critical reviews of reading interventions is by Keith Topping. The book ‘Children’s Reading and Instruction’ (2019). 

Communities of readers

The social fabric of reading communities are shaped differently in every classroom in response to readers, parents, teachers and teaching assistants involved. Communities of readers are characterised by reciprocity and interaction. To create these communities, teachers need rich repertoires of children’s texts and knowledge of their readers, a responsive pedagogy and an understanding of reading. Children’s pleasure in reading is strongly influenced by reading networks and relationships: between teachers; between teachers and children; between children and children; and in some cases, between children, teachers, families and communities. As a profession we must be seek to learn more about parents’ and families’ reading practices; in this way, we can build more equivalent reading relationships with families and explore the potential synergies between teachers’, children’s and parents’ reading lives and practices (Cremin, 2019).

The research project Teachers as Readers (TaRs) found that reading for pleasure is strongly influenced by relationships between children, teachers, families and communities. Where shared understandings were established about the changing nature of reading and the value of everyday reading practices, these supported children’s RfP. These reading communities generated new kinds of talk about reading. The newly constructed reading communities that developed in classrooms fostered a sense of belonging and mutual commitment as well as increased interaction. The project revealed that reading for pleasure is a highly social process and that young readers are nurtured through their involvement in richly reciprocal communities of readers (Cremin et al., 2014).

To read more about the research: see the Executive Summaries and related papers.

Families reading together in the Primary years

The National Literacy Trust has produced a family involvement toolkit containing tips, research and best practice examples to help early years practitioners and settings involve families with young children in reading. You will need to register to become a member to access the resource.



Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. & Safford, K. (2014) Building Communities of Engaged Readers: Reading for pleasure. London/New York: Routledge. 

Cremin, T. (2019). Reading communities: why, what and how? NATE, Primary Matters Magazine.


Research Rich Pedagogies have produced a resource on developing a reading community.

Reading for Pleasure

‘Reading for pleasure’, ‘reading for enjoyment’ are often used interchangeably. The National Literacy Trust’s definition is, “reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else’s request we continue because we are interested in it” (Clark & Rumbold, National Literacy Trust, 2006).

Young people in England continue to read less independently and find less pleasure in reading than many of their peers in other countries (Cremin et al., 2009). Studies have shown that boys enjoy reading less than girls. 58% of girls enjoy reading either very much or quite a lot in comparison to 43% of boys. Nearly twice as many boys than girls agreed with the statement that reading is boring and that reading is hard and were more likely to say that they did not read outside the classroom and could not find anything that interests them. Boys are also less likely to say that they have access to a computer, magazines, newspapers, blogs or books compared with girls. Sixty-seven percent of boys say they have books of their own at home as opposed to 79% of girls. Girls were also more likely to rate themselves as better readers (Clark & Douglas, 2011).

There are strong links between reading frequency and future academic attainment, evidence suggests that reading for pleasure appears to be more significant for reading attainment than reading to improve reading skills and achieve results (Schiefele et al., 2012). The importance of reading for pleasure is recognised by the OECD which found it to be a predictor of future economic success (Kirsch et al., 2002). Children who read for pleasure have enhanced levels of text comprehension, an increased knowledge of grammar and show improvement in their writing. They  have more positive attitudes towards reading than their peers (Clark & Rumbold, 2006). Clark and DeZoya (2011) found a significant positive relationship between enjoyment and attainment indicating that pupils who read more are also better readers. Although they made no inference about causality, therefore higher attainment may lead to more enjoyment of reading or greater enjoyment may lead to higher attainment. Young people who enjoy reading very much are nearly five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all (Clark, 2012).

The advantages of reading for pleasure go beyond academic achievement. It is an activity that has emotional and social consequences (Clark & Rumbold, 2006). Other benefits include an increased breadth of vocabulary, pleasure in reading in later life, a better understanding of other cultures, better general knowledge and even ‘a greater insight into human nature. (NLT, 2006).

Research into reading shows that developing positive attitudes towards reading can also play a key role in children’s development. It indicates that pleasure reading may have a greater influence on a child’s overall academic performance than their socio-economic background (Pearson, 2015) Kidd and Castano (2013) suggested that pleasure reading deepened empathy.

Types of reading

Text messages, magazines, websites and emails are the most common reading choices of young people and fiction is read outside of class by over two-fifths of young people. Twist et al., (2007) report a very slight increase from 2001 in the proportion of children in England who claim to be reading comics/comic books and newspapers at least once or twice a week. There is mixed evidence on whether primary or secondary children read a greater variety of materials, while more primary than secondary ‘readers’ reported reading poetry outside of school.

Clark and Douglas (2011) report that young people who read below the expected level for their age were the least likely to read a variety of materials outside of class and found young people who read above the expected level for their age read more of the traditional forms of reading, such as fiction, non-fiction, poems and plays.

Reasons children read

Reading for pleasure is not always cited as the key reason for children reading. There are a few studies that have explored the issue of why children read, which have revealed comparable results. There are also skills-based reasons, reasons to do with learning and understanding and emotional reasons.

Strategies promoting reading for pleasure


Incentives and rewards

Parents and the home environment

The importance of resources

Using libraries

Reading environments, read aloud programmes, book talk and book recommendations and the provision of quality time for independent reading.

Further resources

 See CLPE (2018) READING FOR PLEASURE What we know works. (2018) Centre for Literacy in Primary Education  has 10 strategies

1.Developing an ethos and an environment that excites, enthuses, inspires and values 2. High quality texts with depth and interest in story, character, illustration, vocabulary, structure and subject matter 3. A read aloud programme 4. Teachers who are knowledgeable about children’s literature 5. Creating a community of readers with opportunities to share responses and opinions 6. Planning for talking about books and stories, providing structures within which to do this 7. Understanding the importance of illustration in reading both in terms of creating a text and responding to a text 8. Using drama and role-play to help children to understand and access texts 9. Working with authors and author/illustrators to understand the process of creating books 10. Using literature beyond the literacy lesson – cross-curricular planning with quality literature as the starting point.

The Teachers as Readers (TaRs) research revealed that a robust reading for pleasure pedagogy encompassed four specific practices: reading aloud, informal booktalk and recommendations and independent reading time within a highly social reading environment. Success was dependent upon teachers’ knowledge of children’s literature, their readers and the nature of reading. When responsively combined these practices positively influenced children’s attitudes and attainment.   This Reading for Pleasure (RfP) pedagogy enables teachers to:

Take responsibility for and plan to develop children’s RfP alongside and as complementary to reading instruction

  • Effectively use their wider knowledge of children’s literature and other texts to enrich children’s experience and pleasure in reading
  • Let children control more of their own reading and exercise their rights as readers
  • Make time and space for children to explore texts in greater depth, share favourites and talk spontaneously about their reading
  • Build reciprocal and interactive communities of readers.



See The Egmont Reading for Pleasure Teachers Awards



Clark, C. &  Douglas, J. (2011) Young People’s Reading and Writing An in-depth study focusing on enjoyment, behaviour, attitudes and attainment. London: National Literacy Trust.

Clark, C. & DeZoya, S. (2011). Mapping the interrelationships of reading enjoyment, attitudes, behaviour and attainment: An exploratory investigation. London: National Literacy Trust

Clark, C. & Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure a research overview. The National Literacy Trust.

Clark, C. (2012). Children’s and Young People’s Reading Today: Findings from the 2011 National Literacy Trust’s annual survey. London: National Literacy Trust

Cremin, T., Mottram, M., Collins, F., Powell, S. & Safford, K. (2009). Teachers as Readers: Building Communities of Readers 2007-08 Executive Summary. The United Kingdom Literacy Association.

Kidd, D.C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading literacy fiction improves theory of mind. Science, 342(6156), 377-380.

Kirsch et al., (2002)  Reading for Change: performance and engagement across countries, results from PISA 2000. Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

National Literacy Trust (2006) Reading for Pleasure: A research overview. NLT.

Pearson UK. (2015). Why is reading so important?

Schiefele, U., Shaffner, E., Moller, J. & Wigfield, A. (2012). Dimensions of Reading Motivation and Their Relation to Reading Behavior and Competence. Reading Research Quarterly, 47(4), pp, 427-463.

Twist, L., Schagan, I. &  Hogson, C. (2007). Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS): Reader and Reading National Report for England. London: NFER and DCSF.

Libraries supporting reading

Libraries are an asset in any school. A growing body of research known as school library impact studies has consistently shown positive correlations between high-quality library programs and student achievement (Gretes, 2013; Lance &  Hofschire,  2011; Rudkin & Wood, 2019). The benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including low-income students, and students with disabilities. Exam scores tend to be higher in schools where librarians spend more time: • Instructing students, both with classroom teachers and independently, • Planning collaboratively with classroom teachers, • Providing professional development to teachers, • Meeting regularly with school leaders • Serving on key school leadership committees, • Facilitating the use of technology by students and teachers, • Providing technology support to teachers, and • Providing reading incentive programs.

Recent literature has also investigated the impact of school library use on wellbeing, with arguments made that school libraries positively influence children’s feelings of being cared for through tactical provision and assistance that aids them in dealing with adverse circumstances (Lance &  Kachel, 2018).

Reviews of research into the impact of school library use by children have highlighted the importance of staffing, budgeting and high-quality provision on increasing the use of school libraries and on pupils’ reading attitudes and behaviours (Clark & Teravainen, 2018).

School libraries remain a timely topic in the UK educational discourse as the requirements for critical literacy are increasing and the libraries’ role is even more crucial in supporting children and young people to acquire the skills they need.

Annual Literacy Survey

Each year, the National Literacy Trust conducts an Annual Literacy Survey of children and young people aged 9 to 18 across the UK. In the 2019 survey, a subset of questions focused on children’s and young people’s use of school libraries, with the intention of better understanding the extent of children’s use of these spaces, their views on them, and how these factors related to children’s attitudes to reading, reading confidence, reading behaviours and reading attainment. Key findings · The review found that there was evidence of an association between school library use and reading attainment, although there was no clear-cut evidence that library use ‘caused’ increased reading attainment, due to a lack of experimental or longitudinal studies in this area. · In relation to pupil wellbeing, the review found that there was some evidence of an association between school library use and mental wellbeing, but only a small percentage of school librarians saw pastoral care to be an important part of their job. · The literature review also revealed that demographic factors like age, gender and ethnicity of pupils were related to school library use, and the nature and quality of the book stock carried was also important. The library being seen as a friendly space, and a place that can support students to do better at school, was also important. · The analysis of the Annual Literacy Survey data set focused on a subset of 694 children and young people for whom standardised reading scores were also available. · Overall, children and young people who used the school library had better levels of reading enjoyment, reading for pleasure, reading confidence, writing for pleasure, 2 writing confidence, and reading attainment than those who did not. They also tended to read and write a greater variety of material relative to non-library users. · For children and young people receiving free school meals, library users in this group showed higher reading enjoyment, increased reading and writing for pleasure, and tended to read and write a greater variety of material relative to non-library users. · When we consider just the boys from the whole sample, we find that library users had better scores for reading enjoyment, reading for pleasure, reading confidence, and reading attainment than boys who did not use the school library, and these children and young people also read more diverse forms of text than those who were not school library users. · When we consider just the girls from the whole sample, we find that library users show better levels of reading and writing enjoyment, and they read and write for pleasure more often than non-users of school libraries. They also tended to read and write a greater variety of material relative to non-library users. · However, attitudes to reading and writing were found to be negatively related to school library use, both overall and in the case of each of the subgroup analyses conducted.


Clark, C. & Teravainen, A. (2018) School libraries: Why children and young people use them or not, their literacy engagement and mental wellbeing Findings from our annual literacy survey 2017/2018 London: National Literacy Trust.

Gretes, F. (2013). School library impact studies: A review of findings and guide to sources. Prepared for the Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Lance, K.C. & Hofschire, L. (2011). Something to shout about: New research shows that more librarians means higher reading scores. School Library Journal, 57 (9), 28-33.

Lance, K. C. & Kachel, D.E (2018) Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Phi Delta Kappan. Vol. 99 (7), pp.15-20

Rudkin, G. & Wood, C. (2019) Understanding the Impact and Characteristics of School Libraries and Reading Spaces, London: NLT; Nottingham Trent University

Case studies

Case Study 1. Bourne Abbey Church of England Primary School, Lincolnshire

The school mainly serves White British families. Its headteacher is a National Leader of Education and she and her staff support a number of schools in Lincolnshire. From Reception onwards, children read and write every day. The school introduced the Read Write Inc. scheme for reading and writing three years ago and it is now a lead school for the programme. Generally, Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 children follow the programme for four days each week, and on Fridays spend time on a piece of more extended writing. From October during their Reception year, children are set by attainment across the year group. This setting continues in Year 1 and Year 2. The school considers that children do not become fluent readers using one skill alone, so children take part in guided reading at least three times a week, and more often if they need this. As well as texts from the Oxford Reading Tree scheme, which include phonically decodable books, ‘real’ books are available for the children to take home, banded by difficulty. A team of parent helpers assists with guided reading.

Case Study 2. Trenance Infant School, Cornwall

The school serves the tourist town of Newquay. The vast majority of the pupils are White British; languages other than English include Polish and Filipino. The current headteacher, took up her post in September 2007, inheriting the structured Read Write Inc. programme for reading and writing that her predecessor had recently adopted. The keys to the school’s success were reiterated constantly: absolute consistency across the school; high-quality training and staff development for everyone involved in teaching reading; very strong, logical progression from individual sounds to blending sounds to make words, then sentences, and then reading whole books; setting by attainment, with fluid movement across groups and, every eight weeks, assessment of the progress of each child across the whole school to refine the groupings. In addition, the high-quality, consistent teaching has had a substantial impact on eliminating behavioural problems because the pupils are so engaged.

Case Study 3. Woodberry Down Primary School, Hackney

This multi-ethnic school has a mobile population of pupils, almost two thirds of whom are learning to speak English as an additional language. There is much social and economic deprivation and a quarter of the pupils are refugees.  One of the assistant headteachers coordinates work on reading and writing, providing weekly staff training sessions to sharpen the skills of teachers and teaching assistants. She also trains the staff of other schools, especially the other three members of the Best Start Federation, of which the headteacher is the executive headteacher. Phonics teaching uses the Read Write Inc. programme and is systematic, fast-paced and intensive. Within the nursery, there is a very strong emphasis on speaking and listening to prepare children to enunciate sounds, blend sounds together and segment words into their individual sounds. Developing children’s social skills, including speaking and listening, is essential as many of those at the school come from homes where there is much less structure than usual. Formal phonics teaching starts properly in the Reception year, where pupils from the two classes are organised in seven attainment groups on a ‘carousel’ basis. Pupils are taught in sets based on attainment across each year group.

Case Study 4. Horton Grange Primary, Bradford

Horton Grange was rated outstanding in June 2015. The school is located in an area of significant urban deprivation, in one of the poorest wards in the country. It is deemed three-form entry and makes provision for 740 learners aged 2-11. Over 99% are from minority ethnic backgrounds. The vast majority are either new to English or do not have English as a home language. The majority are Punjabi speakers or of Mirpuri Pakistani heritage, with a range of additional first languages spoken across school. Disadvantage indicators, including pupil premium eligibility, confirm that the school is in the highest quintile nationally. The proportion of learners with special educational needs and/or disabilities supported at Range 1 or 2 is above the national average. The number of learners identified as eligible for pupil premium is currently around 30%. A much larger proportion of learners than is usual enters or leaves the school at times other than the start of the academic year. Attainment on entry to EY, whether in preschool, nursery or reception, is well below age-related expectations across all areas of learning, with few children working at expected levels in the prime areas.

A key school priority to give all learners, in particular the more able, the opportunity to deepen their understanding of a text. Further learner interviews identified that learners wanted more quality time within lessons to discuss books they were reading in class in order to analyse and understand the language in texts, and in doing so develop a deeper understanding of the text. This was a particular focus as most are EAL learners and as a result can struggle with the nuances within the English language.

Staff CPD time was used to share current good practice of teaching reading skills and developing comprehension of texts. Staff were given opportunities to share how the teaching of reading could be further improved to develop and introduce the new initiative. CPD was delivered to develop creative and consistent approaches to developing learners’ understanding of texts and development of vocabulary. Whole-school CPD was delivered by external consultant to teaching staff and learning support assistants to create a consistent approach. Resources were provided to support staff in developing appropriate question stems, activities and selecting appropriate texts. 3) Resources were provided and additional books purchased to engage and motivate learners’ reading for pleasure and ensure sufficient challenge within the texts being provided. 4) Monitoring of impact identified areas for further improvement through learner interviews, lesson observations and teacher feedback throughout the implementation of the initiative. Information gathered was used to further improve teaching of reading or provide bespoke CPD and support to individual staff. “ERIC time” (Enjoying Reading, Improving Comprehension) was introduced as a whole-school approach to promote reading for pleasure, immerse learners in higher-tiered vocabulary, provide opportunities to discuss texts in more depth, and develop comprehension. The initiative has provided a consistent approach for all staff and learners, leading to increased enjoyment of reading, extended vocabulary ranges, and greater skills and confidence in exploring and using new words in a range of contexts.

There was a change in learner attitudes towards comprehension and learning new words. Learners now ask more questions about what words mean and why. They began to transfer words discussed or introduced through reading into their speech and writing. This led to the introduction of “words of the week” – selected from ERIC sessions to further embed new vocabulary. Data analysis demonstrated that the introduction of ERIC had a significant impact on attainment and progress, as well as the teaching of reading across the school. Learner interviews demonstrated that children enjoyed these sessions and the discussion that took place within them helping them to understand texts. ERIC sessions provided all learners access to age-appropriate and challenging texts through the whole-class reading and discussion. Both staff and learners benefitted from a consistent whole-school approach to developing comprehension and building vocabulary. Staff confidence and expertise in creating higher-order questions and tasks increased as a result of CPD provided.



The National Association of Advisers in English (NAAE).  


Centre for Literacy in Primary Education 

National Literacy Trust

The Reading Agency



Rose, J. (2006) Independent review of the teaching of early reading. Nottingham: DFES Publications.


International studies of reading




Other resources

Global Digital Library 

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on literacy

Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) on comprehension

Research Rich Pedagogies 


Teaching and learning Alliance Inc.  

Reading Horizons

Reading Rockets



Kamil, M. L., Pearson, D.P.,  Moje, E.B. & Afflerbach, P. (2010) eds. Handbook of Reading Research. Vol. 4. Philadelphia, PA: Routledge

Smith, F. (2011) Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. 6th ed. Philadelphia: Routledge

Topping, K. (2019) Children’s Reading and Instruction.



The Reading Teacher


Reading and Writing Quarterly

Journal of Early Childhood Literacy