On trying to improve literacy:

I’ve recently moved from a state school in inner London to a school in Thailand.  The levels of literacy here are far worse than at home.  This is a list of things I’ve done to try and improve my students’ literacy.

  1. Guess the Book.  This one was a voluntary competition.  I’d put up posters around with the school with clues for a certain book on them, for example, ‘This book was written by George Orwell’.  The first students to come to me having guessed the book correctly got a prize.  I stopped doing it because only about five students came to me each week – it just wasn’t worth the effort.
  2. Reading homework.  Set students to read a chapter of a book after every lesson.  Start each lesson with a five question comprehension quiz, checking they’ve done the reading.  I set a one minute detention for every question they get wrong, and have a spreadsheet tracking their marks, which I fill in in the lesson in front of them (I’m currently thinking the detentions should be longer). If nothing else, this ensures students read (for around thirty minutes a night, three times a week), and everyone knows reading is really really good.  At the moment, I’m reading the book with the students, but next year, I’ll have my check questions saved so I won’t have to.
  3. Underline SPaG errors when marking.  Then devote lesson time to correcting the errors.  Advantages: personalised, and obviously as you mark you get an idea of what students are getting wrong, so you can (re)teach them those things.  If your HoD or SLT like seeing books with lots of red pen in, this will please them.  Disadvantages: some students will finish correcting their work way before the others.  They also might ‘correct’ their work wrongly, and the only way you can be sure all of them have ‘correct’ed them correctly is by marking the work again.  Also, it can be depressing for the students; they’ll come to associate red pen with ‘this is wrong’.  Getting feedback may end up just being really depressing for them.
  4. EAL worksheets to start every lesson.  I have’t started doing this yet.  I downloaded a bunch of worksheets from the websites below and had them printed as a big stack.  Each student is going to start each lesson (after the five question homework reading quiz) with a double-sided sheet of A4 with grammar stuff on it.  They can peer-assess them and keep the completed sheets in a separate folder.  I can see if their marks are getting better as we go along.
  5. Explicit teaching of grammar.  In a way, this is the most obvious thing.  If students are using capital letters wrong, teach them when they should be used.  Then mark only for capitals in their next piece of work.  Continue until sure all students have got it.  Repeat with next biggest mistake.  This, at the end of the day, is probably the most effective method as well as the most obvious.  It’s also time consuming.
  6. Get students to speak as if they’re writing.  I don’t do this as much as I should, because Thai students are much worse than British ones at class discussion.  However, I’m pretty sure it’s one of Doug Lemov’s traits of a champion teacher.  I also noticed that when in the UK I insisted on my year tens saying ‘in the 18th century’ rather than ‘back in the day’, they then dutifully wrote the former rather than the latter in their essays.








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