Supporting students to develop literacy skills


This themed collection is designed for teaching assistants on the theme of developing literacy skills. A themed collection brings together a range of useful resources on a specific topic to support practitioners deepen their knowledge in this area and shape their own professional learning. These collections can also be used to inform collegues’ professional development as well as school policy and practice.

This collection is part of a series to support teaching assistants (TAs) with their professional learning. They are designed to develop knowledge around a range of topics relevant to TAs.

These topics include:

  • Supporting students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND)
  • Supporting students with English as an Additional Language (EAL)
  • Supporting students to develop literacy skills
  • Fostering positive relationships and learning environments
  • Working effectively with teachers, parents and the wider community 
  • Developing effective learners
  • Developing curriculum knowledge 


These collections incorporate a range of content types to support professional learning and reflective practice, including:

  • Research summaries and reviews that summarise the latest evidence base
  • Case studies from practising TAs, teachers and school leaders
  • Webinars and video content delivered by leading experts in the field  
  • Reflective questions to support the learning
  • Reading lists signposting further sources and support


Whilst much of the content is from the perspective of researchers, school leaders and teachers, it is both useful and relevant to TAs. Moving forward, we would like to expand our knowledge base by including voices and expertise of TAs. 

Supporting students to develop literacy skills

Literacy is defined as ‘the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world’ (National Literacy Trust, 2022). These important skills allow students to access the curriculum and unlock their academic potential. Proficiency in these skills can also determine students’ prospects post-education, contributing to greater access to the job market, increased salaries and an overall higher standard of living. On the other hand, those who experience low literacy levels are more likely to be unemployed, experience serious health issues and have a lower life expectancy (Gilbert et al., 2018). Developing competency in reading, writing and oracy is therefore a prerequisite for successful and equitable participation in society – as Murphy (2019: 9) states ‘without full access to this foundation, full participation in our society is impossible’. 

Unfortunately, in England, 18% of students leave secondary school without foundational literacy skills (OECD, 2016). This situation has been exacerbated by the recent pandemic. Figures demonstrate that primary school students meeting literacy benchmarks fell from 65% in 2018-19 to 59% in 2021-22 (Institute For Fiscal Studies, 2022). The pandemic has also had a disproportionate impact on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are believed to have fallen twice as far behind their peers (Institute For Fiscal Studies, 2022). These facts and figures highlight the urgent need for high-quality training and resources to support teaching staff to address the needs of those with low literacy rates in their classrooms. 

In light of this situation, teaching assistants have been increasingly tasked with supporting children and adolescents with low literacy levels. Most recently, in the wake of the pandemic, teaching assistants are playing a vital role in supporting students to ‘catch-up’ with lost learning (Hall & Webster, 2022). Indeed, there is a growing body of research that indicates the positive impact that TA-led-interventions can have on students’ reading and writing capabilities (EEF, 2021). However, research also indicates that these interventions are most effective when TAs are supported with high-quality training to deliver evidence-based literacy programmes (EEF, 2021). Consequently, this unit seeks to support teaching assistants by developing their knowledge of teaching reading, writing and oracy and provide the tools to identify and address the specific needs of the students in their context. 

Moving forward, we hope to build on this knowledge base by drawing on the experience and expertise of TAs supporting students with low literacy levels. We invite you to use the attached padlet to begin sharing your reflections, experiences and expertise to support other teaching assistants with their professional learning.



Education Endowment Fund (EEF) (2021) ‘Making Best Use of Teaching Assistants: Guidance Report’ (online) (accessed on 03.01.22)

Gilbert, L., Teravainen, A., Clark, C. & Shaw, S. (2018) ‘Literacy and life expectancy An evidence review exploring the link between literacy and life expectancy in England through health and socioeconomic factors’, National Literacy Trust Report. (online) (accessed on 03.01.23)

Hall, S. & Webster, R. (2022) ‘From Covid to the Cost of Living: The Crises Remaking the Role of the Teaching Assistants’ (online) (accessed on 03.01.23)

Institute for Fiscal Studies (2022) ‘Education Inequalities’ (online) (accessed on 03.01.23)

Murphy, J. (2019) ‘Introduction’. In Murphy, J. & Bennett, T. (eds) ‘The ResearchEd Guide to Literacy’. Woodbridge: John Catt, pp. 9-10

National Literacy Trust (2022) ‘What is Literacy?’ (online) (accessed on 03.01.23)

Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2016) ‘Programme for International Student Assessment Results from PISA 2015: United Kingdom’ (online) (accessed on 03.01.23)


Case studies and articles

Hear about a range of approaches used to support students with developing literacy skills.

The articles below discuss a broad range of strategies to support students with developing reading, writing and oracy skills across different phases and subjects.

We acknowledge the majority of case studies are written from the perspective of school leaders and teachers; however, they remain both useful and relevant to TAs. Moving forward, we would like to expand our knowledge base by including voices and expertise from other practising TAs. 

We invite you to make notes on each journey and the approaches taken in these case studies to inform your own next steps and consider how you might apply some of these insights in your setting. 

You could also consider the following questions:

  • What are the current challenges in supporting students with developing literacy skills in your classroom and wider school? 
  • Are there any strategies from the learning that could contribute to overcoming these challenges?


The not so simple view of reading assessment
Speaking up: The importance of oracy in teaching and learning
Modelling Matters: Thinking about writing in Year 6 English lessons
Photo by Vincent Botta on Unsplash
Using the drawing effect to bridge the vocabulary barrier
A language-rich classroom environment is the norm… but what if you can’t read?
Talking it through: Using specialist coaching to enhance teachers’ knowledge from speech and language sciences
Could teachers’ written feedback be used more effectively to help children to develop their ideas for writing?
Moving away from criteria: Using modelling when assessing pupils
Supporting achievement and progress in English academic writing courses through exemplars
Promoting dialogue with Google Classroom
Dialogic teaching in Google Classrooms
Implementing high-quality teaching of disciplinary vocabulary
The impact of the use of the phonics screening check in Year 2
Enhancing subject-specific literacy through low-stakes testing
A practitioner study: How do pupil responses to peer assessment and feedback impact on their literacy progression?
The Writing Game: Can gamified activities aid pupils’ writing skills?
Children’s perspectives on reading for pleasure: What can we learn from them and how can we adapt our practice accordingly?
Creative writing through the arts in primary schools
2-Curious: The potential of performance-based practice in dialogue with early years practice
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash|Figure 1: Cultural analysis framework (DIALLS
Dialogic teaching: Using wordless texts to develop children’s cultural literacy learning
The Plymouth Oracy Project: Its impact on non-academic measures of pupil success
Photo by Mark Basarab on Unsplash
Creative collaboration: Teachers and writers working together
Addressing the vocabulary gap using the Pattern Grammar approach
Learning conversations: Teacher researchers evaluating dialogic strategies in early years settings
Does teaching consonant clusters systematically aid decoding?
Deepening knowledge through vocabulary learning
It’s good to talk: Moving towards dialogic teaching
Pretend play and the development of children’s language skills
Dialogic RE: Oracy for the 21st century
Identifying and assessing students’ spoken language skills
Combating the effect of school closures on reading attainment through research-based practice strategies

Research summaries and reviews

Read the research and evidence that informs best practice when working towards developing literacy skills. Research summaries are short articles that summarise findings from a single research article. Research reviews are longer articles that critically evaluate the evidence on a larger research theme. 

Some of the articles below explore approaches to develop reading, writing and oracy skills. Other articles discuss more specific pedagogical approaches that support the development of language and literacy, including dialogic teaching, explicit vocabulary teaching and shared reading. 

We invite you to read the research and consider the following questions:

  • In what ways has this learning resonated with your existing knowledge about literacy intervention or perhaps shifted your thinking? 
  • How might you begin to apply this learning in your context?


Reading: Developing comprehension and inference
Literacy and transition: evidence-informed strategies to close the gap
Oracy-Dialogics in primary school
Encouraging reading
Motivating students to read – a look at the theory
Great teaching techniques: A culture of speech
Metacognition and reading
The use of writing frames and planning tools to improve structure and increase depth in writing
Combatting language poverty: Improving oracy and dialogic skills in schools
Fridge magnet collapsed letters
How to address poor spelling for struggling primary school students
How can teachers develop boys’ academic writing?
Supporting reading comprehension through the development of spoken language skills
Fridge magnet collapsed letters
Great teaching techniques: Deliberate vocabulary development
Explicit vocabulary teaching
Oracy and youth social action
Fostering independent readers and creative writers through a non-digital offer
Dialogic and shared reading for young children to support language and literacy
Six principles of language development and how to support them in early childhood settings
Say It Again, Better: setting high expectations by asking students to re-frame their initial answers
Spoken and written narratives
Spelling – using word study techniques
Great teaching techniques: Whole-class reading
Could picture books improve your students’ language and literacy skills?
Using linguistic ethnography as a tool to analyse dialogic teaching in upper primary classrooms
Enacting cultural literacy as a dialogic social practice: The role of provisional language in classroom talk
Lots of multi-coloured books on a bookshelf
Whole-class reading might be engaging, but does it give students enough chance to practise?

Reflective questions 

Having engaged with the resources above, use the reflective questions below to start to think about how you might apply your learning in your school setting.

  • In what ways has this learning resonated with your existing knowledge about supporting students with literacy issues or perhaps shifted your thinking? 
  • What are the common literacy issues in your context?
  • Do you need to carry out any further assessment to identify specific literacy needs?
  • How are you currently supporting students with low literacy levels in your classroom?
  • Do your students have any other additional needs? How could you work with your classroom teacher/SENDCo to meet these needs?
  • What are the whole-school literacy priorities in your context? How effective are these initiatives?
  • Are there any strategies from the learning that could improve 1) your own practice 2) whole-school practice?
  • What areas would you like to prioritise learning more about? 


We invite you to further your learning journey by engaging with the video content below. This selection of webinars and classroom practice videos provide further insight into best practice when supporting children and young people with developing their literacy skills.

Effective talk for learning in the classroom
Developing students’ dialogue skills and cultural literacy: Introducing the DIALLS project
Webinar: Dialogic Teaching Revisited – More important now than ever?
Sentence stems and keyword scaffolds in science
Modelling writing in a primary lesson
Paired writing in primary