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Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1

Eight recommendations to support the literacy of 5-7 year-olds

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Evidence Review

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This report offers eight practical evidence-based recommendations—that are relevant to all pupils, but particularly to those struggling with their literacy. To develop the recommendations we reviewed the best available international research and consulted experts to arrive at key principles for effective literacy teaching.

This report is part of a series providing guidance on literacy teaching. It is specific to the needs of pupils at Key Stage 1 and emphasises the need for a balanced and engaging approach to developing reading, which integrates both decoding and comprehension skills. The report focuses on core classroom teaching while recognising that a small number of pupils will require additional support—in the form of high-quality, structured, targeted interventions—to make progress.

EEF Guidance Report

Develop pupils’ speaking and listening skills and wider understanding of language

A focus on developing oral language skills is especially important for the development of a range of reading and writing skills in this age group. 

Useful speaking and listening activities include:

  • pupils reading books aloud and being encouraged to have conversations about them; 
  • a teacher modeling inference-making by asking relevant questions aloud and answering them themselves; 
  • pupils engaging in paired or group work so they can share the thought processes that led them to make inferences; 
  • activities which extend pupils’ spoken and receptive vocabulary; 
  • and a teacher encouraging children to clearly articulate what they are going to say in their writing.


Use a balanced and engaging approach to developing reading, which integrates both decoding and comprehension skills

Both decoding (the ability to translate written words into the sounds of spoken language) and comprehension (the ability to understand the meaning of the language being read) skills are necessary for confident and competent reading, but neither is sufficient on its own. 

It is also important to remember that progress in literacy requires motivation and engagement, which will help children to develop persistence and enjoyment in their reading.

Children will need a range of wider language and literacy experiences to develop their understanding of written texts in all their forms. This should include active engagement with different media and genres of texts and a wide range of content topics.


Effectively implement a systematic phonics programme

    Systematic phonics approaches explicitly teach pupils a comprehensive set of letter-sound relationships through an organised sequence. 

The following should be considered when teaching a phonics programme:

  • A phonics programme will only be effective if it is delivered using effective pedagogy.
  • How phonics is taught is important.
  • Pupils’ progress should be monitored to check whether it can be accelerated or extra support is required.
  • Lessons should engage pupils, develop persistence and perseverance, and be enjoyable to teach.
  • All staff involved in teaching the programme should have received training on how to deliver the programme.
  • The programme should be implemented as intended by the developer.
EEF Guidance Report

Teach pupils to use strategies for developing and monitoring their reading comprehension

Reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies that they can apply to both check how well they comprehend what they read, and overcome barriers to comprehension. 

These include: inference, questioning, clarifying, summarising, and predicting.

Teachers could introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be strategically reduced as a child progresses until the child is capable of completing the activity independently.


Teach pupils to use strategies for planning and monitoring their writing

Pupils’ writing can be improved by teaching them to effectively plan and monitor their writing. Teaching a number of different strategies is likely to help, depending on the current skills of the writer. 

These include: pre-writing activities; structuring text; sentence combination; summarising; drafting, editing and revising; and sharing.

Teachers could introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be strategically reduced as a child progresses until the child is capable of completing the activity independently.

EEF Guidance Report

Promote fluent written transcription skills by encouraging extensive and effective practice and explicitly teaching spelling

Transcription refers to the physical processes of handwriting or typing, and spelling.

Children must develop their fluency in these skills to the point that they have become automated. If children have to concentrate to ensure their transcription is accurate, they will be less able to think about the content of their writing.

A large amount of practice, supported by effective feedback, is required to develop fluency. Achieving the necessary quantity of practice requires that children are motivated and fully engaged in the process of improving their writing.Spelling should be explicitly taught.

Teaching should focus on spellings that are relevant to the topic or genre being studied.

EEF Guidance Report

Use high-quality information about pupils’ current capabilities to select the best next steps for teaching

Collect high quality, up-to-date information about pupil’s current capabilities, and adapt teaching accordingly to focus on exactly what the pupil needs to progress. This approach is more efficient because effort is spent on the best next step and not wasted by rehearsing skills or content that a child already knows well.

Teaching can be adapted by:

  • Changing the focus. Models of typical literacy development can be used to diagnose pupils’ capabilities and select a particular aspect of literacy to focus on next.
  • Changing the approach. If a pupil is disengaged or is finding activities too easy or too hard, adopt a different approach to teaching the same aspect of literacy.
EEF Guidance Report

Use high-quality structured interventions to help pupils who are struggling with their literacy

Schools should focus on core classroom teaching strategies, which improve literacy for the whole class. However, even when excellent classroom teaching is occurring, it is likely that a small number of children will also require more focused literacy instruction to make expected progress.

The first step should be to use accurate diagnosis of capabilities and difficulties to match pupils to appropriate interventions.

There is a strong and consistent body of evidence demonstrating the benefit of one-to one or small-group tutoring using structured interventions for children who are struggling with literacy.

Eight recommendations to support the literacy of 5-7 year-olds