Last Updated: Friday, April 17, 2020

How can schools develop a literacy-rich curriculum in P1-3 to help to close the vocabulary gap?

What is this?

Strategies and interventions which can support teachers and practitioners. ​A range of strategies, interventions, questions and examples to support the development of a literacy-rich curriculum in P1-3.

Who is this for?

​This is for teachers and practitioners.

How to use this learning and assessment resource to improve practice?

The questions can be used and adapted to reflect on current practice through professional dialogue with colleagues. You may also wish to create a bespoke set of questions for your context using How good is our school? (4th edition).

The strategies, interventions and examples are shared to support consideration of how you might address the vocabulary gap in your context and are not intended to be definitive. They can be used to support the identification of relevant strategies and interventions to promote a literacy-rich curriculum. Teachers and practitioners should take account of their own context and consult with relevant partners before deciding on which tools and strategies are most appropriate for the children they work with.

​Explore the resource

Step 1. Understanding the vocabulary gap

The first step in being able to design a literacy-rich curriculum to address the vocabulary gap is to identify and quantify the gap.

  • In what ways do we identify and quantify the vocabulary gap?
  • To what extent do we have a shared understanding of the vocabulary gap in relation to language development?
  • To what extent do we make use of a range of appropriate strategies and interventions to address the vocabulary gap?
  • How and when do we review children's progress?
  • How well do we use research to help us in understanding and address the vocabulary gap?
  • To what extent are there both universal and targeted approaches in place to support address the vocabulary gap?

Strategies and interventions which can support teachers and practitioners to understand and address the vocabulary gap include:

  • working with partners such as Educational Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy. Partners such as these can provide guidance on language development, including vocabulary; and advise on assessments that might be helpful in identifying the vocabulary gap;
  • assessing, tracking and monitoring the vocabulary gap using a range of approaches, for example, observations, collecting baseline data, using developmental profiles, for example Teaching Talking and standardised assessments, for example British Picture Vocabulary Scale. It should be noted that the examples given here are only to demonstrate that there is a variety of tools and assessments available; and
  • participating in professional learning opportunities that extend teachers' and practitioners' understanding of children's language development, the vocabulary gap and of how a literacy-rich environment can help to address the vocabulary gap.

Step 2. Developing a literacy-rich curriculum P 1-3

There are many different strategies and interventions that can be used to develop a literacy-rich curriculum across early and first level. Parents and partners are key in supporting this. Remember, the curriculum includes all the experiences that are planned for children, wherever they are educated. It is essential that experiences are planned across the curriculum specifically to address the vocabulary gap.

  • Are there daily planned opportunities, targeted at the appropriate level, for children to engage in literacy across the curriculum?

Consider implementing strategies such as peer tutoring and mentoring opportunities around literacy that allow children to benefit from support and interaction with their peers in a structured and targeted way, for example Paired Reading.

Plan specific opportunities for children to engage in listening and talking activities which are targeted at the appropriate level. This may be through learning in different curriculum areas, through opportunities for play or in other contexts such as outdoor learning.

Incorporate a variety of pedagogical approaches that provide opportunities for language development in daily practice. Examples of this might include, collaborative learning, children leading learning and reciprocal teaching. Where possible children should be included in groupings that have different language abilities.

  • To what extent is the learning environment literacy-rich?

The Primary One Literacy Assessment and Action Resource (POLAAR) can be a helpful tool to use when auditing the learning environment. This can be done across the whole-school. It allows practitioners to explore evidence-based principles of literacy instruction and consider how robustly and securely they are embedded in practice. This assessment allows for:

    • the exploration of current practice;
    • describes effective practice in each area; and
    • alows for the identification of next steps.
  • To what extent do our learning pathways support the provision of a literacy-rich curriculum?

Teachers and practitioners work together to develop flexible learning pathways across early and first level. These should clearly set out how literacy is developed across the curriculum and in a variety of meaningful contexts which are appropriate to children's developmental levels.

  • To what extent are we working with parents, carers and partners to provide children with literacy-rich learning opportunities in a range of meaningful contexts?

Teachers and practitioners work alongside parents and carers to involve them and help them to provide appropriate literacy opportunities for their children outside of school, for example Paired Reading or modelling storytelling. There are practical materials and ideas available on Parentzone and Read, Write, Count that can be used to help with this.

  • In what way, do we use evidence-based practice to support the development of a literacy rich environment to address the vocabulary gap?

Teachers and practitioners may consider undertaking relevant professional learning opportunities to extend their skills and improve the quality of interactions with children. Examples might include participation in video feedback work (an example of this is Video Enhanced Reflective Practice or VERP), or ​Hanen programmes or participating in other professional development.

The examples below outline how schools and local authorities have developed strategies and interventions to enhance the literacy opportunities available across the curriculum in their own context.

Schools in Renfrewshire Council have undertaken a literacy-based analysis of their learning environment. A number of actions were taken forward as a result. In one school they introduced new library areas into each class and planned more time for everyone to read together on a daily basis. Schools also used miscue analysis to give practitioners a deeper understanding of children's reading process. They used book banding to support children in selecting books at the right level for them. This also allowed them to ensure they had an appropriate selection of books in each band range.

Through the Attainment Scotland Fund, Inverclyde Council developed a Reading for Pleasure Project. Staff evaluated class literacy environments, and worked collaboratively with the Literacy Coaching and Mentoring Officer to plan and deliver appropriate literacy experiences across the four contexts for learning. Library staff led structured sessions to develop story telling skills. The school improved the range of books available to children to read regularly for pleasure. Partnerships were developed with local libraries and children's authors to provide opportunities for children and families to actively engage with texts out with the school environment. Families were encouraged and supported to engage in the Summer Reading Challenge.

Practitioners in Scottish Borders Council have been working together to be much more explicit in planning learning to address the vocabulary gap. In one example of this they have used social studies as a context to develop carefully planned opportunities for listening and talking both in the school and in the local community. These opportunities are specifically designed to enable the children to develop and practice their skills at the appropriate level.

Through the Attainment Scotland Fund, Dundee City Council has developed a new partnership approach to Speech and Language Therapy in early years. A small number of evidence-based programmes, focused on the development of early vocabulary and listening skills, were identified. These included Toddler Talk and Learning to Listen. The speech and language therapists work alongside the teachers, practitioners and parents to deliver the programmes. An action research approach is being used to establish the impact of this approach. It is also building the capacity of staff working in early and first level.