Happy Lessons 6  Developing Literacy Skills

Hi I can't believe I am up to blog number 6 and have had 1869 views so far, which I hope means people are finding it useful.

If you are new to my blogs you might not know that up until 6 months ago I was a fun and I like to believe effective full time Primary Teacher and Key Stage 1 Leader but due to chronic ill health  I could no longer follow my passion. I felt I had lost an amazing opportunity to share my knowledge and exchange ideas,but then I realised there are lots of different learning platforms and lots of different life lessons to be shared and so this blog was born

Over 20 years of teaching I have learnt a very important thing about children and that is the only predictable thing about children is that they are unpredictable. Just like all children do not learn to walk on the same day, neither do they all read, write nor tie their own shoelaces. Each child is unique and will run to their own specific timetable. Our job as teachers and parents is to help them along their journey to achieve their potential but not to always dictate the pace. 

Literacy is term often bandied around in the school environment. Many parents ask me, "What is Literacy?" Simply Literacy is the ability to talk, read, write and express yourself through a language and in UK schools that is the English language. There are several basic skills we need to master to be able to communicate easily and become successful learners and without them many doors would be closed to us. 

In this blog I try to break these skills down and make them easier to understand. I hope to give you some ideas to help your child develop good literacy skills and in turn become life long learners.

Speaking and Listening 

In an earlier blog I discussed the importance of your child developing good Oracy skills. The reality is that we all need to be able to express our thoughts and needs through talk. By creating a happy, language rich environment with your child, you will allow them to express their needs and share their feelings with others. In turn they will become more confident and happier individuals. In the following sections I will explain further how to develop these skills.

Sound Discrimination

Many children find learning to read difficult because they have not mastered the earlier skills of Sound Discrimination. Before your child can recognise the sounds letters make (phonics), they will need to develop their general awareness of sound and listening skills. This can be a lot of fun and is done by playing around with sounds. Here are a few examples:

Ask your child to copy you meowing like a cat (or any animal you chose), then get them to make a quiet meow, a loud meow, a short (quick) meow, a long (slow) meow. You will need to model these different types of sounds a few times, but if they listen carefully, they will soon pick it up.

Try talking like a robot; can you both have a conversation in robot talk?

Play sound bingo - cut or draw some pictures of anything that makes a noise, a fire engine, horse, doorbell etc and when you make the noise they have to find the object.

Clap a simple rhythm and they have to copy you

Tell your child to only jump up if you make a certain sound (the bell) then see if you can catch them out. They will have to listen really carefully to win.

All these games help develop good listening skills, which in turn will help them become independent learners.

Asking and Answering Questions

We find out about the world around us by asking and answering questions. Although this is not always a natural skill, there are many enjoyable activities you can do with your child to help develop it:

Show them a picture of someone/something unfamiliar and ask them what they want to find out about them/it. They may ask their name or how old they are; encourage them to think of as many questions as possible. 

Sit on a special chair (the hot seat) tell them you are a story character/ animal/ food and they have to ask you questions to find out who or what you are. As your child gets the hang of it, they can sit on the hot seat and you can question them instead.

Hide some chocolate coins in a room and they have to ask you questions to find where they are hidden - if they get disheartened - give them a clue.

Ask your child lots of questions, what is their favourite food, toy, TV programme, pet etc. As they get better at answering, encourage them to justify their answer - my favourite food is spaghetti, because it is squidgy.

Another type of speech developed through asking and answering questions is 'reporting' speech. This is when your child tells you in lots of detail about something they have done. If they have been to nursery or a party encourage them to tell you all about it by asking leading questions.


Who did you do play with at nursery today?
What kind of games did you play?
What did you have to eat?
What did the cake look like?

Reading and Writing

Just like speaking and listening, reading and writing need a language rich environment to develop well. They are both developed over a series of learning steps from the initial building block of experiencing story language to being able to read and write a simple sentence.

Story Language

Sharing lots of books together from an early age will help your child develop an understanding of story language. This knowledge of story language will eventually help them to read and write independently. Story time should be as interactive as possible and it is important to involve them in the process as soon as they are ready. 

Ask your child to use the pictures in the book to retell a familiar story to you.

Help them dress up as their favourite character and to act out their own story - encourage them to use some story language in it e.g. Once there was a beautiful princess.

Small World toys also provide a wonderful opportunity for developing story language through play

Story tapes/CD's are great for long car journeys or a lovely way to help your child drift off to sleep. 

Remember your child will not be able to write a good story if they are not able to tell a good story. These early foundations are vital for developing good literacy skills.

Comprehension and Inference

As well as enjoying the sound of story language it is even more important to understand what we read. If not, we get a problem that educationalists refer to as 'barking at print'. This is when a child can decode (read the words) fluently but does not understand what they are reading. We discover this by asking the child questions about the text. Even if your child can read the words easily, they are not ready to move on if they can't retell the story fluently and answer questions about how the characters feel or why they did something. Therefore when you share a picture or storybook with your child always remember to ask them simple questions about it.

Here are some suggestions for questions: -

What is they story about?

Who is in the story?
Why did they …?
How are they feeling and how do you know? (Are they smiling         or crying in the story or picture)
What do you think is going to happen next?
What did you like best and why?

Phonic Awareness

Children learn to decode (read, but not always understand) the text by learning the sounds (phonemes) of single or grouped letters and then blending them together, this is known as Phonic Awareness. 

How to help your child understand Phonics 

First practice saying each single sound/phoneme (not the name of the letter, for example a = ah, not ay) combined with forming the shape of the letter correctly in the air with their finger. They will also enjoy doing this in sand or even flour. When they have mastered this help your child move on to use their finger to write a smaller version on the palm of their hand. Gradually they will learn; that letters make sounds, sounds make words, and words make sentences.

Your child will learn first to hear the initial sound, then the final sound and eventually the middle sound in the word. The first words they learn to read and write are CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words, as these can usually be sounded out easily and correctly. 


c (ker) - a (ah) - t (ter) makes cat. 
m (mer) -  a (ah) - t (ter) makes mat.
The cat sat on the mat.

Your child will then move on to learning that some sounds are grouped together to make a single sound/phoneme, such as; sh, ch, thr or igh

Phonics is a mechanical process that helps children to decode words but it is important to remember that it only represents one of the skills needed to read or write fluently. 

Although Phonics is an effective way to learn to decode it cannot work in isolation, as some of our words do not decode phonetically. Therefore your child will also need to learn about 100 keywords (whole words that they learn by rote) by the time they reach Year 2. They are called keywords because they appear regularly in reading and writing at this level. The advantage of keywords is that they simplify the reading/writing process, as your child does not need to break down every single word they read/write, making reading/writing a more enjoyable experience.                        


While reading with your child it helps to regularly point out different types of punctuation. Helping your child recognise and understand the use of capital letters, full stops, question marks and exclamation marks will be invaluable when they start to read and write independently. Also point out the spacing between the words (referred to as finger spacing) explaining that without this these the words would all run into each other and not make sense. Other punctuation will be taught over their school lifetime.

Writing Simple Sentences

As long as your child has developed the pencil control needed to write, all the other skills they require will be developed through speaking and listening and reading. The sentence structure will come from their Oracy skills, the letter formation and spelling from phonic awareness activities and keyword knowledge, and the use of punctuation from regular familiarisation. 

Your child will start with emergent writing, that will probably appear as a series of marks but with regular exposure to writing, they will soon start to write independently. Provide lots of opportunities for child to include emergent writing in their role-play. Simple pencils and paper can be turned into shopping lists, menus and birthday cards. As with speaking it is best not to say initially that their word/sentence is wrong, but instead just to rewrite it correctly underneath. This way their confidence stays intact and their skills improve simultaneously. 

Remember, learning to read and write well means mastering all these skills through continued exposure, and as it lots of things in life practice really does make perfect.

Please feel free to post any questions.
Take Care

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