Research School Network: KS1 Literacy – The importance of reading

KS1 Literacy – The importance of reading

by Meols Cop Research School
on the

Since joining Meols Cop High School this September, I have thoroughly enjoyed developing my knowledge of the Key Stage 3 curriculum[1] but considering the learning journey from nursery to university, it puts into perspective how much is achieved in their primary years. Critically, it highlights the importance of having those solid foundations. One key skill that emerged as crucial to all secondary lessons (and of course in primary too) is reading: skills in reading such as decoding, comprehension and developing vocabulary, leading to reading for pleasure, with students taking active ownership with their reading.

It came as quite a surprise to me that over 50% of students in each of my lower KS3 classes said that they do not like reading; said they hated’ reading and when I announce that the next task was around reading, some of the children physically slid under the desk at the thought of having to read. But why? How have we let these students down and what can we do to make sure that it does not happen again? Having taught in KS1, KS2 and now KS3, I want to highlight to you the importance of getting reading right at KS1.


Reading is a bit weird, isn’t it! Wobbly lines on a page that turn into incredible things inside your mind. Try it and see what magic happens.” Chris Callaghan

The National Curriculum clearly states that children should become skilled in word reading which involves both the speedy working out of the pronunciation of unfamiliar printed words and the speedy recognition of familiar printed words’[2] (also known as decoding’).

There are many schemes out there for developing decoding skills. Some expensive, some not so, but whatever you use, measure the impact and make changes if required. Perhaps an alternative method or intervention group? Whichever you do choose to use however, make sure that ALL your staff are trained, ensure that time is given, really given, to ensuring that it is implemented well.


Everyone should read to find out who they are and what they believe in.” M G Leonard

What is Comprehension? Reading comprehension is the ability to read a text and understand its meaning’ according to Oxford University Press. However, the precursor to comprehension is discussion and talk around the book. When you are reading a book with a child, any questions that you ask are developing their comprehension skills. Encouraging them to think about the book, what has been read, what might happen next or why an event happened are all key skills that need to be developed and promoted and will also encourage non-readers to feel part of a text.

Be explicit in saying that texts have meaning, words paint pictures and that reading can open doors to the world. If you find you have children who continue to struggle with comprehension, it may be that they have underlying needs; it is definitely worth a discussion with your school SENDCO.[3]

Reading for pleasure

Because books are an invitation to the ball. They let you live 100 lives and visit a million places: world after world.” Katherine Rundell

A report produced by the National Literacy Trust March 2020[4] found that levels of reading enjoyment is in decline, daily reading levels are at their lowest. However that have also found that young people who enjoy reading are three times more likely to read above the expected level for their age than children who do not enjoy reading. Reading is such a fundamental skill, it impacts on all learning, in all subjects, in all key stages and as such cannot be seen as another objective or simply a hoop to jump through to achieve in KS1.

Skills lead to pleasure

If children are not where they should be at the end of Y2, primary schools must ensure that reading interventions at KS2 and KS3 have a focus on building self-esteem along with decoding skills or comprehension skills. It is imperative that we support our children in KS1 and provide additional or alternative strategies as soon as possible. Give them that love of reading and go above and beyond to ensure that each child leaves KS1 being able to decode or at least confident in the knowledge that they will get there, build up their confidence and resilience.

Whilst there are many schemes and interventions available for reading, decoding and comprehension I do love that Ruth Miskin’s mission is for every child to read and write, and to keep them reading. No exceptions’. And Jane Considine wishes to support teachers to discover how to build a reading culture and community that cares about reading’. Reading for pleasure urgently requires a higher profile in primary education[5] a research paper written by Teresa Cremin et al. a professor of education – follow her on twitter!

Children need to experience reading as a pleasurable activity, not something that has to be done every Monday morning with Mrs B because you are on her list. Treasure the 1:1 time needed for reading in KS1, allow the child to enjoy your full attention, develop a bond over books. Think about the experience of reading rather than getting through four pages of Biff, Chip and Kipper (although the KS3 students still love those books!)

Knowing what is age appropriate is not always easy and if parents ask what books they should be giving their children there is a great wealth of advice on several websites or individual blogs, here is one that I find particularly useful:

Selecting the right book

Pleasure reading has undergone a drastic decline among students while time spent on electronic devices has soared. In order to promote literacy in an age of digital entertainment, educators must reinvigorate student interest in reading for fun’ – David O’Brien

We know that there has been a rise this year in BAME books but sharing books with children to highlight religious differences or special needs is a way of developing acceptance. This is especially true for teaching our children empathy and why it helps children with understanding the world around them. For some children social stories are a great way of helping them[7]. Mr Men and Little Miss Books are great for exploring characters and individual personality traits. Why not simply select a book that has their name in or the main character has similar features or personality traits to engage them in reading? My daughter is called Sophie and loves it when we find her name in books: The Tiger That Came for Tea or The BFG for example.

Paper books not working? Try online! Sharing books online is still developing their reading and comprehension skills and is also a way of giving access to all children at home: Oxford Owl, Get Epic, Amazon Prime, Borrow Box through your local library and YouTube. Or why not try audio books, one of my personal favourites for car journeys, simply listen and be immersed in texts or buy the book and read along.

We know that the children are experiencing this pandemic, a traumatic experience, just like everyone else. So why not give them comfort in the day by choosing a book that takes them to a faraway land, which allows their bodies to rest but their minds to become indulged in pictures and imagination? Share this passion with home so that they too can build on their bond at home, experiencing quality time with care givers and improving mental health.

And of course we cannot ignore the research provided by the Education Endowment Fund[8] who have researched and provided evidence based advice and support on how best to improve Literacy in KS1 – points 1,2,3,4 and 8 all linked to reading and talking about books.

Top Tips

D’you want to know where real magic lives? It lives within the pages of books. Reading for fun can change who you are and who you can be. Malorie Blackman

Read to the class every day, ignite their fire and read about what interests them, not what book everyone seems to be reading as it is hot off the press. Read a book that you enjoy, as this will add the spark and the children will pick up on it.
Give as much time as possible to support those struggling readers – listen to them 1:1, model the vocabulary, discuss the pictures, develop that language.
Structured Interventions –if the phonics approach does not work do something different, like precision teaching. Children are all individual and what works for one may not work for another, don’t give up on them. Targeted intervention may be required for some students.

If strategies are not working you must speak to the SENDCO in school so that the right agencies can become involved, and the most appropriate interventions can be implemented, as we all know the benefits and importance of early intervention. If we do not support the child at this age then the gap will increase and self-esteem will decrease. We all want our children to be resilient and have the skills to access the curriculum and achieve those top grades at secondary school.

Talking about books is so vital to the enjoyment of reading. Time given here is an investment worth making as not only will it strength comprehension skills, it will promote well-being and develop a lifelong love of reading.

To conclude, show the children how much you enjoy reading. Share with them the joys of what being a reader can bring, open their world without leaving the classroom and enrich their lives with what the world has to offer. Whether it be the good old paper in the hand book, an online text or an audio book, I hope your children leave KS1 loving books, with every door open with the endless possibilities of what their future can hold.









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