The Literacy Look-arounds: Part 1 – so many words

1 March 2018

Author: Marcus Jones

If you are interested in strategies to tackle vocabulary and the wider literacy challenges of the curriculum, then book a place on our 3 day Literacy programme.

‘Jem’s got the look-arounds’

To Kill a Mockingbird, chapter 15

One of my favourite lines from my favourite book. I love the innocent inquisitiveness of ‘look-arounds’, and handily it seemed far more apposite a term for my recent wanderings around school. This was no ‘learning walk,’ just some casual pop-ins to see how our disciplinary approach to vocabulary was being adopted and adapted by Huntington staff to suit their classroom context.

My first round took me into some Key Stage 4 Maths and Geography, Key Stage 3 English and Key Stage 5 Psychology. In total, I spent around 90 minutes in classrooms and here is a selection of the subject specific (tier 3) vocabulary I encountered:

irrational, cognitive, dispute, utopianism, empirical argument, cognitive behavioural therapy, detect, fiction, simplify, decimal, fraction, common factor, pitch, migration, personification, zoomorphism, metaphor, method, effect and SOHCAHTOA (which is nine words in one!)

And this was with me paying close attention to vocabulary in the classroom, something that we cannot guarantee from every pupil, every lesson of every day. With all these words flying everywhere how can we begin to latch staff and students onto a select few? How do we start to develop word consciousness in our learners?

Staff at Huntington have been sharing some of the resources they have used to prompt more explicit and detailed delivery of vocabulary content. There is no centralised expectation that words be taught in a certain way, instead staff have been introduced to a range of strategies and asked to trial different ones to see what works best for their subject. Examples include:

Unpicking command words in Maths


Checking prior knowledge of the word Holocaust through hints at its morphology and etymology:


Setting Extended Learning in Art:


Have we closed the vocabulary gap? Not even close. However, these resources show practical steps in the right direction, as expert practitioners take ownership over the vocabulary challenge in their subject domain, and create quick but meaningful hooks that will give more pupils more chance of understanding and engaging with curriculum content.

Marcus Jones, Literacy-lead, Huntington School


* With thanks to Huntington staff for their permission to share resources

Posted on 1 March 2018
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