Wolves Working Wonders with Reading

How do you improve EAL pupils’ reading performance by the end of KS2?

Mark Smith, Leader of Wolverhampton’s Citizenship, Language and Learning Team, has some answers.
At Naldic’s West Midlands’ meeting on 2nd March 2019, Mark Smith reported successes in reading progress in 19 Wolverhampton schools who took part in a city-wide initiative.


How did the targeted schools manage to score 5% higher than the national average in combined Reading, Writing and Maths amongst their EAL learners? What boosted reading improvements by 16.3% from 57.1% to 73.4%?


Good quality CPD training for staff, resulting in good quality teaching for pupils learning English as an Additional Language (EAL).

Quality CPD Training in EAL Teaching

Firstly, teachers were trained by Mark and his team to considered the challenges facing readers who are also learning English as an Additional Language:
• Phonics – popular commercial schemes develop phonics synthetically but are not effective in developing reading comprehension skills
• Vocabulary size – having both breadth and depth
• Time constraints – being able to read and process content at speed
• Background knowledge and the context of SATs texts – being able to understand texts with a  cultural focus outside the children’s experiences
• Reading for pleasure – how much children were exposed to books
• Decoding and comprehending – knowing when something does not make sense

Once successful reading skills had been identified, teachers had the skills to take children on a reading journey. This journey focused on three areas:
• Reading skills
• Reading for Pleasure
• Reading across the curriculum

Reading Strategies

Reading strategies were taught explicitly using texts from different curriculum areas.

• Children learned to tackle unfamiliar words through vanishing close activities.
• They noted down words they didn’t know in a text, guessed the meaning, then checked their predictions using a dictionary.
• Activities were always used collaboratively in mixed ability groups. Here are two examples:
1. Each child in the group reads a slightly different extract from a book. Then the group discusses a text (a letter, or message of some kind) that has mistakes in it. They must collectively work out what is wrong.

Click here to download an example of a ‘Stone Age’ collaborative reading activity from our free resources.

2. Children are given three sets of picture clues to discuss that activate their prior knowledge of a subject and create speculation and inference. Then they are given a text to read and find out what could be incorrect about the information.


During his Naldic presentation, Mark posed an important question:
Are schools teaching reading skills or just practising them with the aid of free downloads from the internet?
He also asked if pupils were developing the metalanguage needed to talk about reading. Did they know what ‘inference’ meant, for example, when teachers talked about it?

Teachers used SATs style questions and the language of SATs papers to get children used to test vocabulary.
They worked on children’s reading speed and stamina. This was done by setting up fortnightly, 20-minute comprehension exercises. Children worked independently for 20 minutes on a comprehension task, then they paired up with a partner to compare notes. Finally, they got together with a group to discuss their answers. This method of snowballing made sure that every child could contribute something to the conversation.

A STAR Approach

A STAR approach was also encouraged as a teaching strategy amongst staff:

  1. Select a word you want to focus on
  2. Teach its meaning in a multi-sensory way using different strategies – visuals, mime, auditory clues etc
  3. Activate the use of the word in different contexts
  4. Review how the children are using the word after its introduction

For further information on Wolverhampton’s reading initiatives and training, contact Mark.Smith2@Wolverhampton.gov.uk

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