English sits at the heart of our curriculum – it is through language, story and text that children learn to form concepts, connect ideas and express themselves. Through literacy, in all its forms, children learn to both make sense of the world and shape their place within it.
Across both writing and reading, we place a heavy emphasis on developing a child’s vocabulary. By the time children leave Charles Dickens in Year 6, the limited word hoard they arrived with in Reception will have expanded enormously, giving them the language they need to understand sophisticated texts and express themselves in a wide range of contexts.
In all year groups, we teach writing through high-quality texts – ranging from picture books to Shakespeare, immersive real-life experiences, such as school trips, or a combination of both.
Over their time at the school, children will write a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts, including recounts, news reports, explanation texts, poems, plays and stories of all kinds. We use drama, role-play, storytelling and discussion to engage the imagination, before moving on to vocabulary exploration, sentence craft and creative writing.
Throughout the Early Years and Key Stage 1 children are taught the key principles of writing in order to lay a solid foundation for developing their skills later on. An emphasis is placed on developing clear handwriting with ‘finger spaces’ between in each word. Children are taught to apply their knowledge of phonics to help them spell accurately, and to structure their work, whether it be fiction writing or a set of instructions. Our curriculum teaches the children to add variation and description to their work by developing their vocabulary, including the use of interesting adjectives and adverbs and developing sentence structure using conjunctions and sentence openers. By the end of Key Stage 1 children have been taught the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar. This structural and technical knowledge is fostered alongside developing a love for writing as a lifelong means for communication and expressing oneself.
First and foremost, we want all children at Charles Dickens to develop a life-long love of reading. As a result, we approach the teaching of reading from all angles, so as to miss no opportunity to spark a child’s interest.
Twice weekly, Guided Reading lesson focus on the skills of comprehension, first through unpicking vocabulary, then moving on to unlocking the meaning of whole texts and critical appreciation.
Teachers read a huge variety of written material regularly with the children, fiction and non-fiction, stories, reports, diaries and poems. Each year group has access to a ‘Class Book Library’ containing challenging and interesting novels for teachers to read to their classes, exposing children to language and classic stories which they may find too challenging to read independently.
We have a home-school reading system (up to Year 6), which requests that children read a book at the appropriate level for them, for at least ten minutes each day. In Reception and Key Stage 1, children follow The Oxford Reading Tree Scheme, giving them a thorough grounding in the fundamentals. Moving up into Key Stage 2, children follow ‘book bandings’ ensuring they are making progress.
We have a fantastic library, The Old Curiosity Shop, where children go once a week to take out books and read with their teachers and each other. The library is also open after school for children to change their books and read with their parents.
Each term we launch our Reading Passports. They encourage children to read a range of texts in return for a certificate at the end of term. The texts on the passports challenge the children to read ambitious books they might not normally read, including classic books, non-fiction (linked to their history learning) and poetry.
Alongside this, we have regular author visits, books fairs and World Book Day – one of the highlights of the year!
Phonics is a way of teaching children how to read and write by developing their phonemic awareness—the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate different sounds used in the English language. Children learn the correspondence between these sounds and the spelling patterns (graphemes) that represent them. At Charles Dickens, we place a strong emphasis on the teaching of phonics in the early years of reading and writing in order to give all children a solid foundation for learning. Because not all words in the English language comply to the rules of phonics we also teach so-called ‘sight words’ by repetition and retrieval.
The Teaching of Phonics
Phonics lessons at Charles Dickens are taught daily from Nursery up to Year 2. The sessions are short, engaging and memorable with an emphasis placed on revising a previously learned letter-sound correspondence, learning a new one, practicing this, and applying it to sentence level work.
The teaching of phonics begins in Nursery and Reception using the ‘Jolly Phonics’ scheme. Sounds are introduced at a rate of one a day throughout the Autumn and Spring term. Children consolidate these sounds in the Summer term whilst learning to blend the sounds together to read and write words. In Years 1 and 2, the children follow the DFE’s ‘Letters and Sounds’ scheme, learning alternative spellings of the previously learned sounds and refining their knowledge to become more fluid readers and more accurate spellers.
The Phonics Screening Check
During the Summer term in Year 1, children nationwide are tested on their phonic knowledge. This test helps us to identify children who have gaps in their phonic knowledge and may need further support in Year 2. The test is low-key and we endeavour to make it stress-free for the children. Essentially, the children are asked to read 40 words from a list, using their phonics to ‘sound out’ the word and then blend it if they need to. Parents are informed as to whether their child has achieved the national expectation within the child’s end-of-year report.
Practicing Phonics at Home
The best phonics resources are ordinary reading books. Alongside the books your child brings home seek out books that you and your child enjoy reading. Discuss words that present a challenge, breaking them down into their component sounds in order to read them if necessary. Make sure you set aside quiet time for reading and enjoying books together.
In addition to books, your child will bring home packs of words that can be decoded using their phonics knowledge. Practice reading and spelling these words. Play fun games with them such as thinking of words that rhyme. Finally, your child will receive a word fan displaying ‘high-frequency words’ – common words that appear very often in written texts. They are a mixture of decodable words (words that can be sounded out) and sight words/exception words (words in which the English spelling code works in an unusual or uncommon way, which means the words have to be learned and recognised by sight). The expectation is that by the end of Reception children should be able to read most of these words, and by the end of Year 1 they should be able to spell most of them. Try to practice one word with your child from the list per day.
Handwriting, Spelling and Grammar
We use Oxford University Press’s Nelson schemes for all three of these areas.
Handwriting is taught weekly from Reception to Year 6, beginning with mark making and patterns in Early Years all the way up to legible, joined handwriting in Year 6. When a child is deemed to have legible, joined writing they are awarded a pen license and badge to wear with pride!
Spelling is taught from Year 2 – 6 every week, following the Nelson schemes, which build on the National Curriculum’s statutory word lists. Spellings are sent home as part of homework and children are tested each week.
In Years 5 and 6, Grammar becomes an explicit focus and is taught weekly using the Nelson scheme. In the years prior to 5, grammar is interwoven in English lessons.
This process continues into Key Stage 2, by which time children have mastered simple sentence structure enabling them to develop their writing style.
As they progress towards Year 6, children are taught to write for a range of purposes – to entertain, inform, explain, persuade and discuss – using explicit sentence models and ambitious vocabulary. They then learn to shape these sentences into coherent paragraphs before planning and creating their own original works of fiction and non-fiction.
Children also apply their writing skills across the curriculum: writing up experiments in Science, recounting events in History and describing processes in Geography, for example.
When children leave Charles Dickens, they consider themselves to be skilled writers, confident in their ability to express themselves through language.