I would love to fill your classroom tip top and full to brimming with all my literacy resources. But I don’t think I should. It’s not fair on you, it would suggest you don’t have anything better to do than laminate.
So, here are my top 10 literacy resources every classroom should have (yes, I have put them in order of importance – to me, that is):
1. Reading strategies
No matter what subject you teach, students will always need to read in your lessons. Whether it is a worded question or a set of instructions, if your students are unable to decode and process the words in front of them, then you will end up spoon feeding them and they won’t make progress.
Here are 18 “Reading your pen” strategies, that I hope you can use in any subject. This is the extended version of the annotation strategy in my previous post on summarising.
Just another way that you can support students’ reading in your lessons.
Download the word version here.
Connectives are the glue that stick great ideas together.
Why do I want you to have connectives in your room?
Connectives are a brilliant way to extend students thinking and contributions without having to think up a whole new question. I have about 15 connectives stuck up near the front of my room. If a student doesn’t give me a full enough answer – I just go over and point to (occasionally whack) “for example” or “furthermore” or “because”.
The step then to integrating these into student writing is easy. I can pull them off the wall, chuck a few at each group and away they go.
Want some? Of course you do. These lovely connective glue sticks (get it?) are from the days of TeachersTV, remember them. Download them here.
Ok, I get that there are subjects where the need for analytical writing is limited. However, in general I find that most subjects do at some point require students to write a formal essay.
I am also aware that many of us will use structures, such as PQE, PEAL or SPEED, for these essays.
What I would like to see in our classrooms is more advice on academic writing style.
Perhaps we can champion the highest marking essays by putting them on the wall or creating a fab publication like this one
Most universities have an academic writing style guide – we should too. When I say style, I don’t mean how to embed quotes or references. I mean “how do I take my idea and turn into something that sounds clever and sophisticated”.
This is a huge stumbling block for many students. So, this autumn I will be writing a style guide for academic writing in English.
You have one? Please, please share it.
4. Key words in context
I need to confess to a level of hypocrisy on this one. I have lots of key words up on my walls – especially my favourite classical rhetoric techniques and my Words on Wednesday. However, not all of them are displayed in the context of a sentence.
Why is this important?
Students struggle with new vocabulary, they will listen and understand it in the lesson in which it is taught but the following week it might not be so clear cut for them. With key words, if we don’t teach how it appears and can be used in a sentence, we can fall into the trap of setting students up to make grammatical mistakes. Take the word “foreshadowing” for example. A literary technique loved by authors and teachers alike.
I will teach the term in context “The foreshadowing in Chapter 3 ultimately suggests…”. When we come to use the term later, this is what I generally get “Mercutio’s use of foreshadowing allows him to …” or “The dog’s foreshadowing shows…”
Students understand the term but don’t pick up the nuance that it is a technique the writer uses not the fictional character/animal.
From now on, all key words – in the context of a sentence.
Lots of classrooms have reading books in them. If yours is a tutor room and you do reading as one of your tutor time activities, then you will probably have a collection of books you have gathered to support the less organised members of your tutor group.
I would like to see some fiction or non-fiction (but not textbooks) books that relate to your subject. Not long ago I visited a school where every subject area had a box of books in their classrooms titled “what a historian would read” or “what a sportsman would read”.
I love this idea – it helps the kids who are interested in your subject easily identify something they can read, it also helps kids realise that your subject is about books too and it gives you the easiest “early finisher” task every (flick through this and find me something you didn’t know before).
If you can’t get the physical books – perhaps create a little kindle like display or print some of the book covers for the wall.
I do have a list of fiction books for each subject area – but it is on the server at school, which is down for its much needed summer nap. I will upload it as soon as I can.
6. Visual stimulus
It is very easy to think that literacy is all about texts – reading and writing them. But for many of us, our ability to understand, analyse, critique and evaluate concepts starts as much from visual stimulation as it does writing or oracy.
Please, please, please cover the walls in your classroom with pictures that relate to your subject. I don’t just mean diagrams or posters that relate to subject matter.
I mean pictures / images that challenge concepts in your subject area, that show sneak peeks into ideas and that represent the minutiae and the big picture.
Why does this help literacy?
Students who have weak literacy skills (unless SEN) often do not have weak cognitive skills. They can’t perhaps articulate an idea with the level of sophistication you might like, but they can process the idea. I often use images to give these students an opportunity to share ideas and make connections without having to be 100% rooted in words. I will select a picture (see below) and ask a student to make connections between the picture and the text or character or theme and then they have something to share that does not necessarily demand that they have gotten to grips with every word on the page.
Here are examples from my classroom. As you can see they are not directly related to my subject area. But I have used them teach everything from Chaucer to Boy in the Striped PJs.
I am not going to preach to you about the importance of questioning.
What I will say is this. Teaching students to think questions and ask their own, is as important as getting them to answer ours.
Having a few generic questions available – out on desks or around the room – will enable students with low literacy skills to develop higher order thinking without always being prompted by us.
8. Accountable talk
I’m not sure when we all started talking about Accountable Talk, but whether we use the buzz word or not, the skills defined are essential and like the questions and connectives above, allow students an opportunity to practise out loud their analytical ideas before having to put it on paper. This verbal rehearsal is essential for students who struggle with the brain-to-paper jump and for those with low literacy, accountable talk prompts can help them shape their talk into something more complex, without having to remember words like “valid” or “evidence” or “alternative”.
I have these displayed on a washing line around my room (along with the questions), again they are easy to take down and use as part of lessons.
9. Mini whiteboards
Again, I am not going to harp on at you about the value of mini whiteboards in the classroom. If you have a set available, please do use them.
Just a few benefits for students who struggle with literacy are:
- It’s less daunting that an A4 lined page
- If a student makes a mistake, they can make it disappear. Have you noticed how your students with low literacy also have the scruffiest books?
- They can facilitate shared and collaborative writing – which can take the pressure off having to be in charge of all the words.
10. Yellow highlighters / Green pens
Lots of primary schools use green pen marking. In secondary it’s harder. I feel like we have less time. Even as an English teacher, I generally don’t have more than 2 lessons to spare for one piece of written (unless it’s coursework). But I have been converted.
Giving students an opportunity to correct and improve their own work is invaluable. Highlighting where they have met the success criteria builds confidence and correct with the green pen weeds out the lazy ones, who can’t be bothered with spelling Shakespeare correctly and gives students an opportunity to see how they can move from good to great.
See my SPAG toolkit post for more on green pen marking and glow and grow marking.
There you have it.
Some notable exceptions include dictionaries and literacy mats. I don’t have a problem with either of these and have both in my classroom. But feel other subjects I feel that useless we are prepared to invest in subject specific dictionaries then the pocket ones are a waste of time (iphone apps are better). Literacy mats are a funny one – I have seen them used very successfully, I have also seen people spend months and months working on them, as if they were the answer to all problems, only to put them in the cupboard for most of the year.