The Power to Depict: A Further Discussion

There is a running theme to which I keep returning when I consider the power of literacy: its power to depict.

It is this ability to “paint” or “represent” with written language that can exemplify our desire to record an event or a scene, whether real or imagined. It is also a good illustration of the simple view of literacy, as well as its possible limitations.

Let’s imagine the following common scenario: a learner is presented with a series of pictures that can quite easily form the basis of a narrative. In this scenario, we challenge the learner to carefully draft a descriptive text (which may easily become a narrative text). This becomes a scenario in which the learner can demonstrate his or her skills. The learner may be provided with the opportunity to orally rehearse what could be said about each image. That said, the learner will eventually be required to coordinate language and writing skills to carefully lay down one written sentence after another after another (either independently or with support through joint construction).

When you write you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wordcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it and it digs a path you follow.
— (Fish, 2011, p. 3)

All that is necessary for the production of the text is made available to the learner. Both the stimulus and the language required to describe the stimulus are concrete and accessible. At its most basic, the learner is required to merely describe - through the vehicles of vocabulary and sentence structure - what is seen and - possibly - imagined in each image. This is all captured in the functional elements of grammatical sentences, which allow me to express things like:

  • the who’s and what’s;

  • actions;

  • location;

  • time;

  • position;

  • sights and sounds

  • causes and effects;

  • and so on.

There are subjects or objects or actions or descriptives ..., and as such they combine into a statement about the world, that is, into a meaning that one can contemplate, admire, reject or refine.
— (Fish, 2011, p. 2)

Sure … a more competent learner will embellish the text with deeper imagination as well as narrative flourishes, cohesion and dialogue that bring the text alive, but these features aren’t necessary for the core task of demonstrating the simple view of literacy, which suggests that a learner is developing control over (a) oral language skills along with (b) the code-based skills necessary to represent and recognise language in print. Throughout it all, the learner is also developing (c) the attention, patience, motor mechanics, working memory, time management, impulse control and work ethic to coordinate these two skills in the execution of a text.

If basic skills aren’t enough to produce a “good” description or narrative, what would be required for a quality narrative to arise? A quality narrative would arise from an individual who has had ample opportunities to experience, understand, practice and share in the art of narrative.

Entering into such a practice involves the individual’s “willingness to engage with such activities in a particular way, thus changing ‘mere’ activities into practices where standards of excellence do matter.
— (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010, p. 196)

This additional experience underscores a potential limitation in the simple view of literacy that has been recently outlined by Dr David Francis and colleagues in “Extending the Simple View of Reading to Account for Variation Within Readers and Across Texts: The Complete View of Reading (CVRi)”. That is, the simple view of literacy focuses on individual-centric (or intra-individual) aspects of literacy, such as (a) the extent of an individual’s language skills and (b) the extent of an individual’s decoding skills. Even though these skills are learned in a social context, they are measured by reference to individual-centric criteria, such as phonemic awareness skills, vocabulary size, or mean length of sentence. However, a more complete view of literacy would take into account the interactions between individuals, texts, authors, audiences and subject matter. The more complete view of literacy would take into consideration (a) the extent to which an individual has been brought into different forms of communicating, knowing and thinking and (b) the extent to which an individual has been brought into particular ways of reading, perspective taking and processing information (Snow, 2018).

In short, one can complete the descriptive task that I asked you to imagine to an extent that would demonstrate competency in the elements of the simple view of literacy; however, the resultant text may not be “good” at all. It may be satisfactory but not necessarily good. According to the simple view of literacy, it is enough for an individual to demonstrate satisfactory control of grammar, vocabulary and spelling. Through the lens of a more complete view of literacy, this satisfactory skill is necessary but not sufficient to meet the standards of literacy acquisition. The more complete view of literacy would ask us to question whether the learner is developing the comprehension and communication skills necessary to be deemed literate according to contemporary standards.

Please note that the above is not to be taken as a criticism of the simple view of literacy. Instead, it is meant to show how the simple view of literacy and a more complete one can complement each other. If we started the conversation with the complete view of literacy, we would run the risk of obscuring those necessary early skills that must be developed if any higher order literacy practices are to take shape. In fact, the difference between the simple and more complete views of literacy could be described as the difference between one’s command of surface features as opposed to further control of deeper, more multi-faceted processes that underpin composition and comprehension.

If I am permitted the opportunity to reference Wittgenstein once again, we could draw a division between expressing “sense” and “meaning” (Wittgenstein, 2001). For me to express “sense”, I paint a picture in words, but there is no guarantee that this picture will be meaningful to anyone. It may simply be a picture, as in “See Spot run”. Whilst a “sense” is captured in a picture depicted in a sentence, either the author or the audience must process that picture in some way in order to attach meaning to it. The following sentences express a “sense”, but also the deep potential for many meanings (reactions and association) to arise. What meaning(s) does this picture express to you?

Old Man and Old Woman sat in the forest. Pinprop sat at their feet. They were in a clearing. They listened to footsteps running in their direction, and to a siren wailing in the distance. After a while, the footsteps receded.
— (Okri, 2009, p. 5)


Fish, S. (2011). How to write a sentence: and how to read one. New York: HaperCollins Publishers.

Francis, D., Kulesz, P. A., & Benoit, J. S. (2018). Extending the Simple View of Reading to Account for Variation Within Readers and Across Texts: The Complete View of Reading (CVRi). In Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 39(5) 274–288.

Okri, B. (2009). Tales of freedom. London: Rider.

Smeyers, P., & Burbles, N. (2010). Education as initiation into practices. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smeyers (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 183 – 198). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Snow, C. (2018). Simple and Not-So-Simple Views of Reading. In Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 39(5) 313–316.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge.

Updated Versions of Presentation Slides

Here at The Literacy Bug, we have been tidying up some of our presentation slides. We thought it would be an opportune time share them with you.

First of all, you may or may not know that we have a few video presentations on our YouTube Channel. These presentations can also be found here.

When reviewing these presentations, it was inevitable that we’d find ways to refine and improve them. In this case, we’ve attempted to trim down excess materials for a clearer expression of the main ideas (or, at least, that is what we hope is the case).

Below are links to pdfs of the updated slides. Please note: we have only updated the slides. We haven’t re-recorded the video presentations. At some time in the future, we may get around to re-recording some of the lectures so that they are more succinct and to the point.

In the meantime, we encourage you to download and explore the updated materials below.

Updated Slides from the Main Presentations:

Updated Slides for Guidance on Supporting Decoding and Encoding:

Updated Slides on Sentence Structure:

We hope you find the updated materials useful. Please enjoy and explore!

Eight New Resources Available on The Literacy Bug

In this entry, we are proud to present a range of resources that have been in development for quite some time.

These include:

Please note that the “Elements” Checklist includes information on each of the above (phonemes, graphemes, morphemes, etc), as well as additional notes on reading multisyllabic words and vocabulary development.

All together, the resources are designed to provide reference materials that help one better understand the elements that contribute to word and sentence construction in English. They do NOT describe the activities that a learner can engage in to master these elements, though. As a result, these resources are not particularly helpful on their own, but they can be helpful when planning and reflecting upon the linguistic features that leaners need to master over time.

So ... please explore and enjoy! And remember, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Even if a learner is making progress with mastering the structural aspects of literacy - such as learning to decode words, spell words and write grammatical sentences - there is still a lot of work involved in making meaning from and with the printed word.

Words Sorts

It is with great pleasure that we share another Activity Presentation. This time we explore Word Sorts.

Word Sorts is a simple way to encourage learners to develop an understanding of the predictable patterns when reading and spelling English words. In short, each word sort activity requires learners to examine a set of words, and to sort (or categorise) these words into common patterns whilst identifying exceptions to the rule. This brief activity is designed to be done daily (or regularly) as learners "study" different sets of pronunciation and spelling patterns. In doing so, learners explore how to blend and segment various consonant and vowel sounds in simple to more complex words.

By guiding learners from simple to complex structures, teachers can help learners make logical sense of word reading and writing in English. The Word Sorts (or Word Studies) can easily be organised in such a way that the resulting program is consistent with an evidence-based phonics sequence. Over time, students come to master the patterns of English phonology,  orthography, and morphology, so they are equipped with the skills to rapidly and accurately read both known and unfamiliar words.

Rather than prolong the introduction, it is best to allow the video to speak for itself. The following video presentation provides a demonstration of this activity along with some essential points and resources. Grab your popcorn, because it is a bit of a long one. (NB: The video can also be found on YouTube at

Ultimately, we want children to decode with confidence and notice the patterns within printed words. As Mark Seidenberg observes, “for a beginning reader, every word is a unique pattern. Major statistical patterns emerge as the child encounters a larger sample of words, and later, finer-grained dependencies.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 92)  “Readers become orthographic experts by absorbing lots of data  … The path to orthographic expertise begins with practice practice practice but leads to more more more.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 108).

After you watch the video, we encourage you to download resources that are mentioned in the presentation:

You can also access the Word Sort - Activity Cards, which have been organised into key developmental stages.

We encourage you to check out the book Words Their Way by Donald Bear and colleagues. It's a highly regarded educational resource with a thorough discussion of activities, developmental expectation and assessment tools.

  • Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Also, please visit our Mastering the Code presentation, including the presentation slides. This presentation and its associated slides provide background research that will help you better understand the purpose of the activity.

We hope the activity is a valuable addition to your practice. We welcome your feedback and ideas, so please stay in touch.

Thank you for your time. Please explore and enjoy!



Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: how we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.

Analysing Spoken Words - A New Activity

It is with great pleasure that we add a new type of resource to The Literacy Bug: Activities.

And the first cab off the rank is Analysing Spoken Words. The following video presentation provides a demonstration of this first activity along with some essential points. (NB: The video can also be found on YouTub e at

Ultimately, we want children to notice the patterns within their oral language (e.g. in their words), so they are equipped with the fundamental skills upon which they can build more formal literacy (e.g. sound-letter correspondences).

As Mark Seidenberg attests, “spoken words [need] to be treated as consisting of component parts, [which is a skill that] we now consider [as] an ordinary, teachable aspect of learning to read: phonological awareness. (Seidenberg, 2017, p. 63)

After you watch the video, we encourage you to download the following resources, which are mentioned in the presentation:

If you would like further background, please visit our Mastering the Code presentation, including the presentation slides. This presentation and its associated slides provide background research that will help you better understand the purpose of the activity.

To wrap up our thoughts, over time children need to develop the ability to:

  • Learn rich language;
  • Hear/isolate words within sentences (or the speech stream);
  • Focus attention on words;
  • Detect/isolate syllables within words;
  • Detect/isolate sounds within syllables/words;
  • Begin to recognise the possible sounds within their language(s);
  • Correlate their developing understanding of sounds with their emerging knowledge of sound-letter combinations;
  • Focus on the meaning of words; and
  • Focus on the use of words in rich, meaningful sentences.

We hope the activity is a valuable addition to your practice. We welcome your feedback and ideas, so please stay in touch.

… And please note ... the activity can be done partially or in full, depending on the age and ability of the learners. … And it can be incorporated into many aspects of daily practices, whether this is around book reading, in the sand pit or with general word play. These and other bits of advice are discussed in the above video and associated resources.

Thank you for your time. Please explore and enjoy!



Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: how we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.

Coming Soon ... Teaching Routines

Literacy can be seen as dependent on instruction, with the corollary that quality of instruction is key. This view emphasizes the developmental nature of literacy — the passage of children through successive stages of literacy, in each of which the reading and writing tasks change qualitatively and the role of the instructor has to change accordingly.
— (Chall, 1996 as referenced in Snow, 2004)

Regular visitors to The Literacy Bug will be very familiar with the above quote. We refer to it just as much as we refer to another of Catherine Snow's observations, "[in] a developmental theory, literacy is not a single skill that simply gets better [with age] ... Being literate is very different for the skilled first grader, fourth grader, high school student, and adult, and the effects of school experiences can be quite different at different points in a child’s development.” (Catherine Snow, et al, 1991, pg 9) In the spirit of these two observations, we plan to add a new section to The Literacy Bug. The section will be entitled Teaching Routines, and it will include advice on the types of teaching activities which suit each of the various stages of literacy development

As a teaser, the following diagram attempts to isolate lesson cycles that reflect aspects of the different stages of development. As these cycles currently stand, they are skeletal and oversimplified; however, they will be fleshed out in the new, yet-to-be-drafted section. Over the coming two to three months, we hope to establish the Teaching Routines section as a valuable addition to the website.  Until then, please explore and enjoy!


Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic College Publishers.

Snow, C. (2004). What counts as literacy in early childhood? In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Handbook of early child development. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Snow, C. E., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., Goodman, I. F., & Hemphill, L. (1991). Unfulfilled expectations: home and school influences on literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Scaffolding deep reading: a personal recollection

I have an entrenched memory of something I experienced in the eighth or ninth grade. One of my friends was taking part in a weekly book club in the library at our school. This weekly book club (or story club, to be more accurate) was being organised by one of our favourite teachers. She was relaxed and casual but asked her students to think deeply about social and civic issues. It’s important to note that my friend was not the best reader, and I was what you would probably call a reluctant reader. I liked the concept of reading, but I often found it an endurance sport. However, since I knew everyone in the group, I thought it was a good way to spend one lunch per week. Have I forgotten to mention that it was a group of five boys discussing stories and none of us were what you would classify as a “strong reader”?

Now, bear in mind, we were all able to read the short stories (i.e. decode and accurately comprehend what we were reading). And the short stories were written in such a manner that we were presented with a controlled amount of challenging vocabulary and other language features. Therefore, we were able to problem solve and discuss new meanings and expressions without becoming frustrated or bogged down. It also helped that these stories were not overly long, and each one clearly probed a moral, social or civic issue, particularly through the confrontation of often adolescent characters. I distinctly remember counting the numbers of pages of each story, though, such was my aversion to reading material that was too long and tedious

I distinctly remember “THE BOOK”. It was a brown paperback book that was divided up into stories of 10 to 15 pages in length (perhaps classics). It may have had the logo “GREAT BOOKS” on the front. Initially, I thought that I was mistaken about the title of the series until a Google search supported my memory. The Great Books foundation ( provides books that are meant “to advance social and civic engagement and help people of all ages think critically about their own lives and the world we share.” The book club may or may not have used the Great Books material, but it definitely was designed to provoke deep discussions about justice, fairness, and individuality, whilst providing a platform for weaker readers to practice deep reading and discussion skills.

In the end, it meant that there were five adolescent boys sitting around a table once a week at lunch who all had a shared understanding of the situation that was presented in the story. We all came prepared. We read the weekly story in advance, because it was embarrassing to let the group down. We didn’t debate what occurred in the story. Instead, we debated our interpretations of the situation(s). And that meant that we interpreted macro features, such as how a character acted and whether such actions were fair. It also meant that we interpreted micro features, such as the choice of words and other details which provided information - occasionally ambiguous - on how a character might have been feeling or how the character might have been motivated to act in a certain way. 

These weekly discussions - at times heated - inducted me into deep reading, perspective taking, and evidence-based argumentation. I often had to disagree with a friend, and still respect him as a friend outside of the weekly meetings, even though we were discussing significant issues of moral, social and civic behaviour. I also needed to be in a position to listen and alter my viewpoint of a character or event if someone in the group presented evidence that I initially overlooked and had not appreciated.

Sourced from Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

You see — here you have a group of students who had all learned to read proficiently (i.e. decode and understand), but who had yet to learn how to read meaningfully and critically. The teacher provided us with a space where we could learn to read more insightfully, discriminatingly and deliberately, which reminds me now of a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “seeing an aspect and imagining are subject to the will” (PI, Part II, xi). We had to learn to work hard as we read. In other words, one doesn’t comprehend merely because he or she can read. One must put effort into navigating the details of a text to find one’s way about. One has to *deliberate*, and the routines of deliberation are based on experience, practice and guidance in how to engage deeply. One has to ask questions, “where do I begin?”, “what does this mean?”, “am I right?”, “do I agree?”, “do I have the right picture?”, “is anything unclear?”, “do I need to read this again?”, “what am I thinking and feeling?” (See accompanying figure from Olson & Land [2007] for other common ‘mental moves’) This can all be exhausting if one hasn’t had the chance to take a breath and find the time to practice, interpret and discuss increasingly complex information. 

Whilst this next bit may be off topic, I am often struck when I have failed to properly read a bank form or government form. I might only pick up my errors either on a second/third reading or with the help of another person. Imagine the person who struggles to read and who struggles to hold attention on key details. It can be mentally exhausting and stressful to navigate complex material if one is struggling and concurrently lacks confidence and guidance. Everyday documents can be technical jungles if one lacks confidence/experience in navigating multifaceted material. 

The following passage from Wittgenstein illustrates why it is important that all teaching includes explicit guidance in how we regulate our thinking. This includes teaching that fosters the types of dialogue that govern our activities. As Vygotsky (1978) observed, "every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals." (p.57) In my case, the group discussion with my peers came to shape my internal deliberations as I learned to read deeply on my own.

Let us imagine someone doing work that involves comparison, trial, choice. Say he is constructing an appliance out of various bits of stuff with a given set of tools. Every now and then there is the problem “Should I use this bit?” -- The bit is rejected, another is tried. Bits are tentatively put together, then dismantled; he looks for one that fits etc, etc.. I can now imagine that this while procedure is filmed. The worker perhaps also produces sound-effects like “hm” or “ha!” As it were sounds of hesitation, sudden finding, decision, satisfaction, dissatisfaction. But does not utter a single word. Those sound-effects may be included in the film. I have the film shewn me, and now I invent a soliloquy for the worker, things that fit his manner of work, its rhythm, his play of expression, his gestures and spontaneous noises; they correspond to all this. So I sometimes make him say “No, that bit is too long, perhaps another’s fit better.” -- Or “What am I to do now?” -- “Got it!” -- Or “That’s not bad” etc. (Zettel, #100)

The lunchtime book club was an important part of my growth as a reader. I would still count the pages of the next chapter of my book. I would still often consider reading an endurance sport. However, I became aware of the times when I was “just going through the motions” of reading and when I was reading with my full attention. I also grew to appreciate how important it is to discuss what we read and also discuss what we write. This would became apparent in my later years of high school when I joined a weekly poetry circle at a local bookshop. That - though - is a story for another time.



The Great Books Foundation -

Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

_____________  (1967) Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Berkeley: University of California Press.

A new section has been added to The Literacy Bug ... Recommended Links

We've added a page of links that we recommend. We have only included links that provide authoritative, reliable, useful, creative and/or engaging resources and perspectives on language, literacy and learning. Some are hosted by reputable literacy organisations, such as the International Literacy Association, the National Center for Family Literacy and the Primary English Teachers Association of Australia. Please explore widely and enjoy! We hope this list will grow over time, so visit regularly and follow the site's journal where we will announce updates. 

If you have any suggested links that we should consider adding to the site, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The following are a few examples:

A collection of observations regarding the fostering of literacy practice

On the subject of the value of reading, I can sum up the importance of language and literacy in three words: independence, control, and participation. A person who speaks on his or her own behalf and who is a skilled reader and writer can independently advocate for him- or herself and navigate his or her own learning. And since literacy is a constructive skill (as Wittgenstein's picture theory suggests), the individual learns ways to control and critically reflect on experience.  And the development of language and literacy skills amongst a community of practice allows one to participate in that group, to contribute to that group and to find a valued identity therein.

Language, literacy and knowledge allows one to shape the world around one and they allow for one's perception of the world to be shaped by others. Literacy allows one to access information; construct and organise knowledge; participate in a community of practitioners; adopt the many ways of being readers and writers; and persuade (and be persuaded), inform (and be informed), entertain (and be entertained) … ponder, explore, speculate upon, confirm and represent experience.  

“Learning to read is a developmental process that takes place over time, involves qualitatively different (but perhaps overlapping) phases, and may break down at different points due to the failure to acquire the core skills that underlie the development of literacy (Ehri, 2005; Pressley, 2006; Snow & Juel, 2005; Tunmer & Nicolson, 2011). 

Read More

Considering Teaching Techniques in Each of the Main Areas of Literacy Instruction

Continuing on from the previous journal entry, the following presents key “activities” that contribute to the development of the core areas of language & literacy development. The activities are mentioned but not defined. An elaboration of the teaching and learning practices will be presented in the future.


ORAL LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT - Language Comprehension - The Beginnings of Literacy

  1. Identifying target language
  2. Modelling & emphasising the target
  3. Interpreting & recasting expressions
  4. Extending contributions
  5. Utilising pause-prompt-praise
  6. Using cues/prompts (visual/tactile/etc)
  7. Facilitating barrier activities
  8. Employing oral cloze procedures
  9. Providing choices and other opportunities to extend language
  10. Utilising links to first language for English language learners
  11. Overall ... shaping discourse


PHONEMIC AWARENESS - Analysing Known Language - Becoming "Word Aware"

  1. Clapping syllables (PA)
  2. Multi-sensory phonemic awareness / puppet play (PA)
  3. Elknoni boxes / sound sticks (PA)
  4. Picture sorting / picture blending / picture segmenting (PA)
  5. Onset & rime identification (PA)
  6. Phoneme isolation & phoneme blending (PA)
  7. Phoneme deletion (PA)
  8. Phoneme journals / phoneme walls / picture walls
  9. Utilising links to first language for English language learners



  1. Alphabet books / alphabet walls
  2. Multi-sensory handwriting practice
  3. Picture sorting / picture blending / picture segmenting (PA)
  4. Elknoni boxes / sound sticks / Say-It-And-Move-It (PA)
  5. Spelling journals / phoneme walls / rule records
  6. Word sorts (closed / open) (timed / untimed)
  7. Word scrambles
  8. Word ladders
  9. Word hunts (identifying sounds in texts)
  10. Make a word (morphological analysis)
  11. Use the Words You Know
  12. High frequency words / sight words
  13. Invented spelling / tracking spelling skills
  14. Games (e.g. memory, bingo, board games)
  15. Utilising links to first language for English language learners


VOCABULARY DEVELOPMENT - Having Something to Talk With

  1. Incidental learning (see Oral Language Development)
  2. Learning from read alouds (see Read Alouds)
  3. Personal glossaries / word banks / word walls
  4. Word maps / four square maps / power maps
  5. Semantic maps (and other brainstorming techniques)
  6. Graphic organisers (hanging diagrams, flow charts, Venn diagrams, etc)
  7. Clines, timelines and scales
  8. Semantic feature analysis
  9. Word analysis / morphological analysis
  10. Analysis of dictionary definitions and thesaurus entries
  11. Games (e.g. memory, bingo, board games)
  12. Cloze procedures 
  13. Possible sentences / use in context / extended discussions
  14. Utilising links to first language for English language learners


READ ALOUDS - Encountering Literacy in Rich, Meaningful Ways

  1. (Where possible) Link Read-Alouds that take advantage of prior knowledge and shared experiences 
  2. (Where possible) Utilise links to first language for English language learners
  3. Read alouds should be a vehicle to (a) address comprehension-related instructions and support vocabulary, (b) target code-related instruction, (c) support oral language and early writing (e.g. path rough story extensions), and (d) be a catalyst to create a supportive book-reading environment. (Zucker & Landry, 2010)
  4. (For meaningful reading) Link read aloud questions to the QARS Techniques (Raphael & Au, 2005)
  5. (For meaningful reading) Include read aloud questions that prompt readers to summarise, paraphrase, clarify, identify, interpret, predict, and express opinions (Palinesar, 1987)
  6. (For picture books) take advantage of vivid, engaging "picture walks" to build a rich platform for shared, guided reading.
  7. Focus on bringing the text to life, exploring rich vocabulary (see vocabulary section), engaging in interpretive questioning, and encouraging enthusiastic shared reading.
  8. Encourage post-reading comprehension and composition activities, such as summarisng, retelling, analysing, appropriating, representing and/or responding to the text.
  9. Encouraging post-reading word and vocabulary studies.


LANGUAGE EXPERIENCES - Encountering Language & Literacy in Rich, Meaningful Ways

  1. Facilitating a rich, meaningful experience;
  2. Emphasising target language in context (see Oral Language Development)
  3. Documenting experience thoroughly and vividly
  4. Revisiting the experience in a jointly constructed recount
  5. Display / reinforce vocabulary through word walls, class glossaries, and similar / further activities (see Vocabulary Development)
  6. Use written recount as a tool for fluency and revision
  7. Expand written genres to include relevant formal genres (e.g. procedural texts)
  8. Use shared experience as a launch pad to expand knowledge by reading related material
  9. Utilising links to first language and cultural practices for English language learners


FLUENCY - The oft-neglected skills that helps learners move toward independence

  1. Practice, practice, practice with texts that are 95% to 98% decodable
  2. Use visual and other cues/prompts to assist decoding
  3. Use a Vocabulary Assessment Scale to assess unknown words in a text
  4. Pre-teach relevant vocabulary to assist with decoding words in context
  5. Use running records to document common errors
  6. Using word hunts as a pre- or post-reading reading activity
  7. Utilising links to first language for English language learners
  8. Partner reading
  9. Choral reading / echo reading / lead reading / whisper reading
  10. Readers' Theatre / performance-based reading
  11. Fluency practice with think alouds (for comprehension monitoring)
  12. Tape-assisted reading / recording reading to tape
  13. Always include brief comprehension questions so attention to meaning is maintained.


COMPREHENSION - Deep, Thoughtful Work

  1. Remember that "An engaged reader is one who is motivated, knowledgeable, strategic and socially interactive. The engaged reader is viewed as motivated to read for diverse purposes, an active knowledge constructor, an effective user of cognitive strategies and a participant in social interactions.  (Rueda et al., 2001). 
  2. Refer to techniques mentioned in the Read Aloud schedule.
  3. Utilise links to first language for English language learners.
  4. Utilise elements of the Reading-to-Learn Cycle, including Preparing for Reading, Joint Pre-Writing, Individual Pre-Writing, Detailed Reading, Joint Reconstruction, Individual Reconstruction, and Responding to the Teach (Rose & Martin, 2012)
  5. Encourage collaborative teaching g techniques, such as Reciprocal Teaching, Jigsaw Teaching, Book Circle, Reading Workshops, Directed Thinking, and Literature Discussion Circles.
  6. Foster the range of comprehension skills: Planning & Goal Setting, Tapping into Prior Knowledge, Asking Questions, Making Predictions, Visualising, Making Connections, Forming (initial) Interpretations, Identifying Main Ideas, Identifying Cause and Effect, Organising Information, Adopting a Perspective (Point of View), Reflecting on Cognitive Processing, Revising Perspective, Seeking Evidence to Justify Viewpoint, Analysing Text Closely, Analysing Style, Taking Stock of Knowledge, Relating the Text to Experience, Evaluating Practice and  Forming criticisms (Olson, 2007)
  7. Provide specific scaffolding to encourage disciplinary reading and/or concept formation (Goldman, 2012)


COMPOSITION - Diverse, Explorative Work

  1. Utilising links to first language for English language learners
  2. Emulating the themes of modelling, joint construction, guided construction, independent practice, and reflective practice.
  3. Understanding the diversity of purposes (e.g. describing, recounting, narrating, analysing, explaining, etc), and apprenticing learners into competence at the sentence, paragraph, textual and pragmatic levels.
  4. Understanding that any act of composition involve (a) building the field/content of the message, (b) deconstruction the mode of communication, (c) deconstructing the situation/context/audience of communication, and (d) cycling through joint construction, guided construction, independent practice, conferencing, publishing and reflecting. (Martin, 1999)
  5. Understanding the writing/composing is multifaceted skills that requires time and guidance.
  6. Understanding that writing is a social practice that involves goal-orientated action to purposefully participate in an activity system (or community of practice).
  7. Using Writing Workshops and Writing Portfolios approaches can provide learners with opportunities to practice in a range of genres.
  8. It is also important to see how experience in writing can be a vehicle for deeper reading ... and visa versa.
  9. Recognise that a written task is always an ill-structured task, since a written tasks always requires one to interpret and deliberate over content, context, purpose and audience.
  10. Overall ... shaping discourse.


REPRESENTING & REMEMBERING KNOWLEDGE - Isn't this what education is for?

  1. Remember that “our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.” (Wittgenstein, 1969)
  2. Using graphic organisers and progressive brainstorming as tools for representing knowledge.
  3. Organise and categorise information through information grids.
  4. Make explicit the disciplinary questions that guide inquiry in important semiotic domains.
  5. Provide learners with ample opportunities to retrieve and apply important knowledge and concepts (e.g. pause-prompt-praise)
  6. Provide “message abundance”. In other words, reinforce knowledge in a range of media and contexts. Learner should be able access knowledge through a rich reservoir of experience.
  7. Foster interests and budding expertise, which is particularly important as children transition into adolescence (Alexander, 2005)
  8. Deepen knowledge by adding to a learners' expertise and by providing opportunities for learners to render, process, represent, and extend their knowledge in many, diverse ways.

That's it for us today. In the next entry, we will provide recommended readings in each of the above areas. And - in the future - we will provide examples of integrated teaching and learning. Please explore and enjoy!

Alexander, P. A. (2005). The Path to Competence: A Lifespan Developmental Perspective on Reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 37(4), 413–436.

Goldman, S. R. (2012). Adolescent literacy: learning and understanding content. The Future of Children, 22(2), 89–116. Retrieved from

Martin, J. (1999). Mentoring semeogenesis: “Genre-based” literacy pedagogy. In F. Christie (Ed.), Pedagogy and the shaping of consciousness (pp. 123 – 155). London: Cassell.

Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. Retrieved from <Go to ISI>://WOS:000244438000003

Palinesar, A. S. (1987). Reciprocal Teaching. Instructor, 96(2), 5 – 60.

Raphael, T. E., & Au, K. H. (2005). QAR: Enhancing Comprehension and Test Taking Across Grades and Content Areas. The Reading Teacher, 59(3), 206–221. doi:10.1598/RT.59.3.1

Rose, D., & Martin, J. R. (2012). Reading to Learn. In Learning to Write/Read to Learn: Genre, Knowledge and Pedagogy in the Sydney School (pp. 133–234). Sheffield: Equinox Publishing.

Rueda, R., MacGillivray, L., Monzo, L., and Arzubiaga, A. (2001). “Engaged Reading: A multilevel approach to considering sociocultural factors with diverse learners”, CIERA Report #1-012, University of Michigan: Centre for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA).

Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty. (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds.). New York: Harper Torchbooks.

Zucker, T. A. & Landry, S. H. (2010). Improving the quality of preschool read-alouds: professional development and coaching that targets book-reading practices. In McKenna, M., Walpole, S. & Conradi, K. (Eds), Promoting early reading: research, resources and best practices. New York: The Guilford Press.

Getting to the Rough Ground of Language and Literacy Learning Through the Language Experience Approach

Early language learners benefit from rich tasks that provide learners with ample opportunities to hear, see, use and manipulate language in contextualised, purposeful ways. The videos to the lower right provide compelling examples of the multiple learnings achieved through a humble kitchen garden project for newly arrived refugee children at a primary school in an urban Australian community. The project illustrates the potential for deep learning when the learning develops from authentic, engaging experiences.

I'd like readers/viewers to notice how the kitchen garden becomes a central device to develop language, literacy, culture and knowledge. You should notice how language is reinforced through practical activity, how language is assisted visually in the classroom, and how it is transformed into knowledge through writing.

This is an example of a teaching method known as the Language Experience Approach (LEA), which is a catch-all term for teaching that anchors literacy and language learning in shared experiences. In most cases, the “experience” is a physically, shared experience, but there is a more and more avenues to share experience virtually through video, interactive tools and online content (such as web quests). 

The Language Experience Approach emphasises language learning through carefully scaffolded and reinforced language in context and through activity. Teachers and learners diligently document the experience, so the experience can be revisited and developed through further reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing and representing in the classroom.

The following are a number of questions to consider when building language and literacy through authentic, mutual practices. Even though we will elaborated on the teaching method in the future, these initial questions illustrate the significance of a number of essential practices in the LEA, such as scaffolded talk, documenting the experience, revisiting the experience in the classroom, pulling out rich vocabulary, expanding the experience through writing, and using the experience for further comprehension and [content] learning. In this system, the teacher must be adept at orchestrating, sequencing and extending a variety practices (often within a tight timetable).

Before and During the Experience

  1. What is the experience? Is this an actual or virtual experience?
  2. How is joint attention achieved and how is language being scaffolded?
  3. How is vocabulary emphasised/reinforced/introduced/recorded during the experience
  4. How is the experience being documented (digital cameras, information scaffolds, graphic organisers, scaffolded questions, etc)?
  5. How do the instructional conversations that take place throughout the experience build a common discourse and assist learning?

After the Experience

Students benefit from a variety of activities that reinforce language and literacy in the classroom: word walls, flow charts, exemplary texts and further hands-on learning.

  1. Are word walls / glossaries / semantic maps / flow charts / storyboards developed from the experience? Are they prominent, accessible and rigorous?
  2. How is the documentation used to help the class jointly and/or individually re-construct the experience? Is the sentence cycle used to generate rich, juicy sentences?
  3. How is the joint construction phase used to refresh people’s memory and knowledge of events?
  4. Can the newly constructed text(s) be used as “familiar text(s)” that can be re-read as fluency practice?
  5. Has the teacher selected a portion of words to use for further word study?


Extending the Experience

  1. Can you link new readings to the shared experience? For instance, now that we have explored the world of the garden, can we explore:
    • poetry about gardens or which use gardens as a motif;
    • procedural/information texts about gardening;
    • stories and/or picture books which takes place in a garden; and 
    • news articles about community gardens?
  2. Can the writing be extended to the inclusion of the writing of recognised genres related to the experience? (procedural texts, brochures, etc)
  3. How have non-verbal knowledge, expertise and attitudes been fostered through the activity?


Final Note

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) does not replace systematic, intensive instruction in word study, nor does the LEA replace the importance of regular shared and guided reading of age- and skill-appropriate texts. That said, shared and guided can be incorporated into the LEA. The LEA provides an important avenue for the exploration of guided and extended writing and language learning. Within the LEA, there are many micro-teaching moments which should take advantage of best practice language and literacy methods.


Further Reading

Au, K. H. (1979). Using the Experience-Text Relationship Method with Minority Children. The Reading Teacher, (March), 677–679.

Labbo, L. D., Eakle, A. J., & Montero, M. K. (2002). Digital Language Experience Approach: Using Digital Photographs and Software as a Language Experience Approach Innovation. Reading Online, 5(8), 1–19. Retrieved from

Landis, D., Umolo, J., & Mancha, S. (2010). The power of language experience for cross-cultural reading and writing. The Reading Teacher, 63(7), 580–589.

Moustafa, M. (2008). Exceeding the standards: a strategic approach to linking state standards to best practices in reading and writing instruction. New York: Scholastic.

Nessel, D. D., & Dixon, C. N. (2008). Using the language experience approach with English language learners: Strategies for engaging students and developing literacy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wurr, A. J. (2002). Language Experience Approach Revisited: The Use of Personal Narratives in Adult L2 Literacy Instruction. The Reading Matrix, 2(1), 1–8. Retrieved from