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Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2

Seven recommendations to improve literacy teaching for 7-11 year-olds

This report offers seven 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 builds on the recommendations presented in our Improving Literacy in Key Stage One report, but is specific to the needs of pupils at Key Stage 2. At Key Stage 2, pupils are consolidating their literacy skills, building their vocabulary and developing their fluency and confidence as speakers, writers and readers of language. While many of the strategies and examples presented in this report are similar to those in the Key Stage 1 guidance report, they are often more complex and multi-staged, reflecting the increasing depth and breadth of pupils’ knowledge and skills. Pupils will be using strategies with increasing independence and sophistication, and will increasingly be able to combine them.

EEF Guidance Report

Develop pupils’ language capability to support their reading and writing

Purposeful speaking and listening activities support the development of pupils’ language capability and provides a foundation for thinking and communication. Purposeful activities include:

  • reading books aloud and discussing them;
  • activities that extend pupils’ expressive and receptive vocabulary;
  • collaborative learning activities where pupils can share their thought processes;
  • structured questioning to develop reading comprehension;
  • teachers modelling inference-making by thinking aloud; and
  • pupils articulating their ideas verbally before they start writing.


Support pupils to develop fluent reading capabilities

Fluent readers can read quickly, accurately, and with appropriate stress and intonation. 

Fluent reading supports comprehension because pupils’ cognitive resources are freed from focusing on word recognition and can be redirected towards comprehending the text.

This can be developed through:

  • guided oral reading instruction—teachers model fluent reading of a text, then pupils read the same text aloud with appropriate feedback; and
  • repeated reading—pupils reread a short and meaningful passage a set number of times or until they reach a suitable level of fluency.
  • It is important to understand pupils’ current capabilities and teach accordingly. Most pupils will need an emphasis on developing reading fluency, but some pupils may need a focus on more basic skills, such as decoding and phonological awareness.
EEF Guidance Report

Teach reading comprehension strategies through modelling and supported practice

Reading comprehension can be improved by teaching specific strategies that pupils can apply both to monitor and overcome barriers to comprehension. These include: prediction; questioning; clarifying; summarising; inference; and activating prior knowledge

The potential impact of these strategies is very high, but can be hard to achieve, since pupils are required to take greater responsibility for their own learning. The strategies should be described and modelled before pupils practise the strategies with feedback. Support should then be gradually reduced as pupils take increasing responsibility.

Texts should be carefully selected to support the teaching of these strategies.


Teach writing composition strategies through modelling and supported practice

Purpose and audience are central to effective writing. Pupils need to have a reason to write and someone to write for. Writing can be thought of as a process made up of seven components: planning; drafting; sharing; evaluating; revising; editing; and publishing.  

Effective writers use a number of strategies to support each component of the writing process. Pupils should learn how, when, and why to use each strategy. For example, pupils’ planning could be improved by teaching the strategies of goal setting and activating prior knowledge.

The strategies should be described and modelled before pupils practise them with feedback. Support should then be gradually reduced as pupils take increasing responsibility.

EEF Guidance Report

Develop pupils’ transcription and sentence construction skills through extensive practice

A fluent writing style supports composition because pupils’ cognitive resources are freed from focusing on handwriting, spelling, and sentence construction and can be redirected towards writing composition. 

Extensive practice, supported by effective feedback, is required to develop fluent transcription skills. Spelling should be explicitly taught and diagnostic assessment should be used to focus effort on the spellings that pupils are finding difficult. 

Pupils should practise sentence-combining and other sentence construction techniques.

EEF Guidance Report

Target teaching and support by accurately assessing pupil needs

High-quality assessment and diagnosis should be used to target and adapt teaching to pupils’ needs. 

Rapid provision of support is important, but it is critical to ensure it is the right support. Diagnostic assessment can be used to inform professional judgement about the best next steps. Diagnostic assessment makes teaching more efficient by ensuring that effort is not wasted on rehearsing skills or content that a pupil already knows well. 

A range of diagnostic assessments are available and staff should be trained to use and interpret these effectively. 

This approach can be used for high- and low-attaining pupils and for whole-class and targeted interventions.

EEF Guidance Report

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

Schools should focus first on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy capabilities of the whole class. With this in place, the need for additional support should decrease. Nevertheless, it is likely that a small number of pupils will require additional support.

There is a strong and consistent body of evidence demonstrating the benefit of structured interventions for pupils who are struggling with their literacy. The first step should be to use accurate diagnosis of capabilities and difficulties to match pupils to appropriate interventions.

Seven recommendations to improve literacy teaching for 7-11 year-olds

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