Education Endowment Foundation:Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1

Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1

Eight recommendations to support the literacy of 5 – 7 year-olds

This report is part of a series of four guidance reports that the EEF has produced on the theme of language and literacy. It focuses on pupils between the ages of 5 and 7 in Key Stage 1. However, it may also be applicable to older pupils who have fallen behind their peers, or younger pupils who are making rapid progress. Separate reports cover recommendations for effective approaches for improving literacy in Key Stage 2 (ages 7 – 11 years), supporting language and literacy development in the early years (ages 3 – 5 years), and improving literacy in secondary schools.

This second edition presents the same recommendations as the first, but offers additional examples, explanations and resources to provide direct paths of action from the evidence-based guidance to classroom practice. The recommendations represent lever points’ where there is useful evidence about language and literacy teaching that schools can use to make a significant difference to pupils’ learning.

Guidance Report

Second Edition


School Phase


Develop pupils’ speaking and listening skills and wider understanding of language

Language provides the foundation of thinking and learning and should be prioritised. High quality adult-child interactions are important and sometimes described as talking with children rather than just talking to children.

Use a wide range of explicit and implicit approaches including planning the teaching of vocabulary, modelling and extending children’s language and thinking during interactions and activities such as shared reading.

Collaborative activities that provide opportunities to learn/​hear language often also provide opportunities for wider learning through talk. Skills such as social awareness, relationship skills and problem solving are developed, as well as knowledge.


Use a balanced and engaging approach to developing reading, which integrates both decoding and comprehension skills

Both decoding (the ability to translate written words into the sounds of spoken language) and comprehension (the ability to understand the meaning of the language being read) skills are necessary for confident and competent reading, but neither is sufficient on its own.

It is also important to remember that progress in literacy requires motivation and engagement, which will help children to develop persistence and enjoyment in their reading.

Children will need a range of wider language and literacy experiences to develop their understanding of written texts in all their forms. This should include active engagement with different media and genres of texts and a wide range of content topics.


Effectively implement a systematic phonics programme

Systematic phonics approaches explicitly teach pupils a comprehensive set of letter-sound relationships for reading and sound-letter relationships for spelling.

Consider the following when teaching a phonics programme:

  • Training — ensure all staff have the necessary pedagogical skills and content knowledge
  • Responsive — check if learning can be accelerated or extra support is needed and identify specific capabilities and difficulties to focus teaching.
  • Engaging — lessons engage pupils and are enjoyable to teach.
  • Adaptations — carefully consider any adaptations to the programme, as they may influence its impact.
  • Focus — a responsive approach to grouping pupils is likely to help focus effort and improve teaching efficiency.

Teach pupils to use strategies for developing and monitoring their reading comprehension

Reading comprehension can be improved by teaching pupils specific strategies to check how well they comprehend, and to improve comprehension in sections of text that present difficulties.

These include:

  • prediction;
  • questioning;
  • clarifying;
  • summarising;
  • activating prior knowledge.

Teachers could introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be strategically reduced as a child progresses until they are capable of completing the activity independently.


Teach pupils to use strategies for planning and monitoring their writing

Pupils’ writing can be improved by teaching them to successfully plan and monitor their writing. Producing quality writing is a process not a single event. Teaching a number of different strategies is likely to help, depending on the current skills of the writer.

These include:

  • pre-writing activities;
  • structuring text;
  • sentence combination;
  • summarising;
  • drafting, editing and revising; and sharing.

Teachers should introduce these strategies using modelling and structured support, which should be gradually reduced as a child progresses until the child is capable of completing the activity independently.


Promote fluent written transcription skills by encouraging extensive and effective practice and explicitly teaching spelling

Transcription refers to the physical processes of handwriting or typing, and spelling.

Children must develop fluency in these skills to the point that they have become automated. If children have to concentrate to ensure their transcription is accurate, they will be less able to think about the content of their writing.

A large amount of practice, supported by effective feedback, is required to develop fluency. Achieving the necessary quantity of practice requires that children are motivated and fully engaged in the process of improving their writing.

Spelling should be explicitly taught. Teaching should focus on spellings that are relevant to the topic or genre being studied.


Use high-quality information about pupils’ current capabilities to select the best next steps for teaching

Collect high quality, up-to-date information about pupil’s current capabilities, and adapt teaching accordingly to focus on exactly what each pupil needs to progress. This approach is more efficient because effort is spent on the best next step and not wasted by rehearsing skills or content that a child already knows well.

Teaching can be adapted by:

  • Changing the focus. Models of typical literacy development can be used to diagnose pupils’ capabilities and select a particular aspect of literacy to focus on next.
  • Changing the approach. If a pupil is disengaged or is finding activities too easy or too hard, adopt a different approach to teaching the same aspect of literacy.

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

Schools should initially focus on ensuring they offer high quality in-class support for the whole class. However, even when excellent classroom teaching is in place, it is likely that a small but significant number of children will require additional targeted literacy support.

Use accurate assessment of capabilities and difficulties to ensure interventions are appropriately matched to pupils needs.

Use one-to-one and small-group tutoring ideally involving structured interventions. There is consistent evidence the approach supports children struggling with aspects of literacy.

Regularly review children’s progress whilst they are part of the intervention to ensure the support indeed enhances their learning.