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Literacy across the Curriculum: Making it real

‘Literacy across the Curriculum’ has become a well-worn phrase. The strategies might be slightly different in each school but there is agreement about the intended outcome - a desire for children to transfer and apply the generic skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening to any/all areas of the curriculum.

Posted on Monday 14th April 2014

Most schools will have developed a progression of literacy skills that they ‘thread’ through their particular curriculum map, (APP for example). They will be working as a whole school to ensure coverage of various text types (which will be revisited to consolidate) and teachers will take every opportunity to make the links between a particular literacy focus and the range of reading and writing opportunities across a week, term or year.

So why is it often the case that children will spell something correctly in one piece of writing but not in another?  Become engaged and attentive when asked to read or write in one subject or topic area but not another?  Why is it so difficult to achieve consistency with this transference of skills.  It equates to children thinking:

  • Why do I need to read, know or write about this?
  • Who am I writing this for?
  • Does anyone really care about my work?
  • Do I care?
  • What has this ‘literacy’ I do in school got to do with me and how I relate to the real world?

The moment a child realises that there is a real purpose for literacy, then motivation levels increase and the opportunities to teach specific literacy skills open up more naturally.

Sue Dixon

Start on your doorstep where there are quick, untapped opportunities. Make as many community links as you can:

  • Write articles for your parish/community magazines.
  • Advertise on local community notice boards.
  • Write letters to local councillors or MPs.
  • Create helpful maps and instructions for people new to the area.
  • Display ‘Our School News Letter’ in the local supermarket or store.
  • Write a report on the current state of the playground for the planning committee.
  • Designing a new outdoor art installation for the park and sending it to a local business person to ‘help’ with funding.
  • Make a poster for a health issue in the doctors’ surgery.

Go outside more often

Talking Tubes Set

These don’t need to be highly engineered experiences; the simpler and more spontaneous the better; to look at clouds, feel the power of the weather, notice and observe wildlife and generally feel what nature has to offer. If children are asked to draw and annotate a ‘cloud timeline’ which will be displayed in a community exhibition, or write a poem about the wind, it will be based on a personal, multi-sensory experience and be more meaningful.

Use of IT

We know this provides a host of opportunities to communicate with different audiences: e.g. scientists, artists, museums, authors, children and teachers in other schools – right across the world. There are many ways: blogging, tweeting, writing emails as well as producing radio, video and music. These are highly motivational when they are intended for a real audience, especially when a child is likely to get a personal response to their work.


Outdoor Mark Making DaisyThink about setting up enterprises, with a reach beyond the school gates. Get local business people involved to coach (and) or set up competitions to design or produce something ‘real’. Visit local businesses where possible. Over a period of time, arrange for small groups of children to carry out a ‘literacy audit’ in a local business (i.e. what literacy is needed to do the jobs in that place?). As more information is gathered it builds a picture of the range of literacy skills needed for the real world.

When children are ‘hooked’ into doing things like this (and I’m sure you will have better ideas than these) then the literacy objectives are taught as a ‘natural consequence’, rather than a ‘target to be met’.  This way Literacy across the Curriculum becomes almost invisible.

Isn’t that how it should be?

Thinking Child - Sue Dixon

Meet our expert– Sue was primary trained and has enjoyed the privilege of a wide spectrum of experiences in education. She was one of the first NLS Literacy Consultants in Northamptonshire and worked at national and regional levels before going freelance in 2008. Following this move, Sue founded Thinking Child as a way to share some practical ideas and resources with teachers; to reflect an uncompromising belief in the underlying philosophies of how children learn best.