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'I can read the words but I dont know what they mean'.  Eleven primary schools in Slough are working together to offer pupils a toolkit to unravel those rich, but deeply unfamilar, words in quality texts.

A collaborative project, involving eleven primary schools in Slough is gaining momentum. Training sessions at Penn Wood School have been received with enthusiasm and teacher champions are  preparing to adapt their classrooms and prepare flexible teaching strategies for a January launch.

At Cippenham Primary, a whole school model has already been introduced and the teacher champion is thrilled with the feedback from children and staff. This blog will regularly share some of the strategies and experiences that are already helping  children with limited vocabulary to use words they are not generally exposed to with confidence and full understanding.

The project started as a response to data analysis of questions answered correctly in the 2016 Y6 reading comprehension test.  The gap between  disadvantaged children and all children nationally was striking and, with 12 marks across just two questions specifically related to vocabulary, certainly had the potential to make the difference between meeting standards and not. The project has since gone on to use data from 2017 tests and is also using the British Picture Vocabulary Scale Test to evaluate the difference the teaching makes.

A wealth of evidence exists around a significant vocabulary gap between children of different income groups (see Millenium Cohort Study and Hart and Risley below). Evidence also suggests working on vocabulary alone doesn’t make the difference to reading skill (Wright and Cervetti 2016). Our model is designed to fit in with everyday classroom practice and teach children to use metacognitive strategies to tackle unfamiliar words in reading. Our very skilled trainer at Penn Wood, working alongside the project lead at Cippenham Primary, has cleverly woven together strategies that compliment a Talk for Writing approach but also work independently of any particular approach to reading or writing so that children can use them flexibly across the curriculum.


The teacher champion at Cippenham Primary has been delighting children with vocabulary routines, rules, games and challenges that are stretching their tongues and firing their imaginations. When a disaffected Y4 pupil catches you in the corridor with a ‘ look look I’ve found 4 other words’ and drags you over to a Y6 display to add them to the word board, you know you are on to something.

Models like the Frayer model and lots of investigative talk around synonyms, antonyms, affixes and etymology is exposing pupils to a whole new world of words.. and they are loving it!

Is it making a difference to their reading skill? Data capture in July will be able to tell us this across the 11 schools, including some control groups that should be able to tell us what would have happened if we had done nothing. Learning walks and coaching training for project leads and teacher champions will assist with the school improvement element of planning, evaluating and embedding those elements known to work.

At the moment, I can honestly say that the engagement , new knowledge and application of vocabulary  around the school is tangible, the impact on spelling is noticeable (vocab lessons are linked to spelling programme) and anecdotal evidence is suggesting a more confident approach to reading unfamiliar words and gaining meaning from them. We will know more when we repeat the vocabulary test and gain some insights from reading tests but at the moment the signs are good.