Magic Summer Literacy and Numeracy Moments part 2

Faculties and teaching assistants have continued to share strategies they have been using to support literacy and numeracy across the curriculum. Our scientists provided these current tactics for me to share.


Holly – Literacy in Science

I use the dot method – dot over the spelling, they have to find the correct spelling, then write it out 3 times.

I also put a star over a sentence that has a grammatical error, for them to copy out again.

Trialled (and now regularly) use ‘the story of…’ or comic strips with year 7 to explain processes. They really liked this idea as they can be creative and/or draw. And now they’re used to including the keywords correctly and underline them without being asked to (I give them 0, even if it’s brilliant but has no keywords in – after the initial ‘that’s not fair!’ they quickly got used to adding in as many keywords as they could)

Trialled with year 8’s ‘making a dictionary’ – Bronze, write the definition of the word, Silver, put the word into a sentence, Gold, write synonyms for the word. They found it very tricky, but with practice they should get used to this idea. Should help raise attainment by not only reinforcing definitions, but also making them think a bit more about the meaning and any links to other keywords in science – deeper thinking should lead to deeper understanding.

Form time – silent reading twice a week, reading from the board for collective worship, daily Q&A discussions about theme of the week or news articles.

Main barriers – science contains MANY keywords, involving a lot of memory which the pupils struggle with.


Phil– My literacy moment of the term was with Yr7.1. For a starter in the lesson I gave students the keywords for the lesson and told them to find the definition of them. They all started heading for the computers until I informed them the only thing they could not use was the computer. It was like I had stolen the oxygen from the room and they all just stood there not knowing what to do. Until one girl shouted out that I had books in my cupboards. They ran over and started looking through each book at random but soon they realised to look in the glossary to find the words.

I am hoping to carry this on as I ideally want the class to use this without asking whenever they come to a word they do not know the meaning of literacy in Science.


Hannah – Numeracy can be common in science with focus on equations, graph and table skills.  Often students struggle with using a scientific calculator, especially with standard form. Giving them an example of how to enter the numbers correctly works well.


Then once all the students can enter the data correctly, completing a game such as “Fastest First”, this often highlights to students to double check their answer, as often we will hear, “but I put that in the calculator and that’s the answer it gave me, there must be something wrong with it.”  This is usually due to an error inputting the data.

Literacy- many in the science department have been trailing dot marking themselves and with peer assessment.  A dot (or a mark of some sort) is place above an incorrectly spelt word. During extended writing or 6MQ practice marks are always awarded for quality of written communication.  During peer and self-assessment students will make sure the work reads correctly in a logical and concise manner to be able to award full marks. A planning frame is often given to help students with these questions (fish bone):


The main issue I have found with literacy in science is the general vocabulary in some exams which students don’t know, for example, in a year 9.4 test there was a GCSE past question asking for the student to get another 2 methods of harnessing the suns energy.  A student asked what harnessing means, however I do wonder how many other students would not have asked.  This problem crops up for us in exams.  However there is no set vocabulary for the exam except the command words.


Complete language use in science:

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Literacy issues in science-Wendy


Can you spot what made this GCSE question so very difficult for our Foundation students?

The answer may be obvious if you are under 30 – what is an anorak? To many young people an anorak is a train spotter/ boring/ intellectual type person. This unknown word put them off and a number of candidates therefore left out the question completely.

This highlights some of our issues in science, when use of higher level language disadvantages our learners, not due to a lack of science understanding, but an inability to comprehend the meaning of the question.

Clearly it is my job as a science teacher to make sure that they know “function” means “job” and “emit” means “to give out”, as these are scientific terms, but often the phraseology used by examiners can be a real barrier even when explained.

In a Year 9 set 3 class, the following question proved very problematic. The students correctly interpreted the trend as being as the x axis increases, the y axis increases, however, they were stymied by the use of the word “severity” and even when I explained that it meant “more severe”, there was little understanding and I had to resort to using “getting worse” to get the idea across.



Also we get the same word used in different contexts, one scientific, and the other more descriptive.



Here, “remote” is used to describe a location and as an object. Remote part of the country is complex vocabulary for many students, whereas they are obviously familiar with a remote control. Other examples the department has come across; “How do you harness the Sun’s energy?”

“What is the nature of alpha radiation?” What characteristics……….”

Several years ago the trend was to write objectives and information in “pupil speak” – are we now reaping the consequences of this strategy as examination board question setters appear to be using vocabulary beyond our common parlance?

The issue is: where does subject specific start and what can we expect is likely to be heard and used in their everyday life? For the sake of science and no doubt other subjects, please do not dumb down your vocabulary, nay elevate the students to a much higher level by using and explaining more complex expressions.

To leave you with something to ponder, evolution of language over time is also a consideration. Whilst teaching about the blast furnace and the reduction of iron oxide by carbon, I was blithely wittering about using coke as the material supplying the carbon.

An unnamed student in year 10-1 quite seriously put up his hand and asked “Would it work with Pepsi?” At that point I realised that few of the class would ever have seen a coal/coke fire and all their experience of coke revolved around soft drinks. A change in the meaning of a word over a period of time – it makes me feel really old. Needless to say, this point is has now been disseminated around the department and is emphasised so this misconception can be addressed!

So where does it leave me now? I have reflected on this and am trying to make a point throughout my teaching and interactions with students both as a science teacher and learning tutor, that it is my job to educate expansive literacy at every opportunity and I am looking throughout the coming months and years to look for openings to encourage students to write with more ambition and fluidity as the English language is a beautiful thing.

This approach has caused much discussion within the department and another colleague has quite legitimately spoken from a completely different perspective, where it is felt that we should modernise ( not dumb down) our language, including exam statements, and that the beauty of science should be accessible to all people irrespective of literacy standards. A question of debate!

Performing Arts


We put an emphasis on higher level keywords in both music and drama, linking the GCSE spec to KS3 lessons. We use keyword cards and have word of the week in every music lesson. These are subject specific.

We manipulate schemes to create opportunities for other literacy strategies with extended writing with stories and scripts that persuade/inform/entertain/are formal. We have worked on developing marking strategies in line with the rest of the school (in photos you can see students peer mark in red using codes such as ‘sp’ for spelling ‘//’ for paragraphs. In this task they have highlighted Chinese references in yellow, metaphors in blue and similes in orange, then given feedback which has been responded to. When a colour is clearly missing, the feedback was fairly clear to see!) This was most informative to me as I was really impressed by how good the students were at it, even in lower sets. It is clearly routine to them and they gave excellent feedback.

It’s easier to use numeracy in music rather than drama because really, when doing music theory it is in fact all maths! Teaching note lengths and values are actually enhanced by numeracy questions as you can see in some photos. In addition to this most activities are timed.

In drama everything is done verbally and mostly done through emphasising keywords. I was really pleased when this was picked up on in the assistant head interviews where literacy concepts such as ‘stereotypes’ were actually used to enhance acting and skills selected by students. Even feedback is done verbally by students in drama which enhances speaking and listening skills. This really enhances students’ confidence in their own knowledge. A range of strategies such as ‘numbered heads’ are used to ensure all students speak and verbalise viewpoints.

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At the beginning of every lesson students listen to Song of the Week and are each given a key musical word. They are randomly number and one from each group must define the keyword and then describe how this was used in the chosen songs. This allows students to analyse key areas of the music using the correct terminology and also means GCSE key words are taught from the offset in KS3. The words rotate each week.

Current year 8 students have been studying the Orchestra and pushing literacy further, the students are required to use Italian terms to describe the music e.g. forte = loud allegro = fast. They have been completing listening tests each week with new words added in each lesson. By the end of the term students should have a vast knowledge of Italian terms used in music.

All students peer assess each term. When this involved lyric writing, students use highlighters and different coloured pens to pick out key literacy features such as rhyme, metaphors and similes. Key terms to do with the topic and subject comment are highlighted in another colour. They also correct punctuation and grammar in Red with the student feeding back to their peer in blue. This is verified by the teacher in green and with a stamp.

Literacy in KS4 revolves around key musical terminology. In addition to written tasks students complete revision games that focus on this such as ‘splatagories’ – where students must use a key word to win again their partner e.g. harmony (chromatic/diatonic) key words go fish – students have to match 3 cards from each AOS and to play the hand must be able to define all of the words they have on their cards correctly.


Numeracy revolves around time signatures and the counting of beats/rhythms. Students have to find the pulse in the music and decide if it is counted in 4 (4/4) or 3 (3/4) Rhythm games help to focus on this such as passing a ball on a certain beat number, silent counting in time and clapping on a defined number as well as movements in counts of 8.

Form Time

The form time ideas website is excellent for a variety of numeracy and literacy tasks. As students are in GCSE we have been watching revision videos that highlight key areas of each book’


At KS3 I have been reflecting on the needs of individuals and differentiating the focus of class discussions and activities. For example; 7.1 are a very keen and creative class and have been working towards more higher level learning- I have been pushing them to consider style, target audience and genre and how they are all linked through both discussions and the success of their performances- The impact of this is that they can talk in a much more sophisticated manner about their work and consider the ‘bigger picture’.

8.6 I have noticed are lacking in their ability to analyse characters and what their acting skills tell us about their emotions or their personality so this has taken a much bigger focus in our lessons.

Yr10 have been struggling with getting detail into their work and describing exactly what they are doing. We are working towards improving this by re-watching our work. I have provided them with body language cheat sheets that I have found online to help with this as attached!

In terms of numeracy students must consider the sequencing of their work each lesson- yr10 have been using beats of 8 in their practical work as they are using music with physical theatre.

Boby Language Cheat Sheets


Katrina found the body language sheet on Pinterest and finds it useful.


A quick idea to support colleagues in other faculties from Jen.

“Something I’ve always wanted to share with staff and thought I’d take this opportunity, is a method of how to calculate and fraction into a percentage.

I’ve just stuck with CALC for the moment as I think this is the one that people across the school use first… I want to develop conversations with staff ‘if you’re scoring a 5 marks questions make sure you just double to help turn into a percentage’.”



Couple of ideas Alex found on the internet.


I used this as a noughts and crosses but erased some boxes.

Students have to write a new question in the blank boxes and then they swap and their partner answer the questions.

Then they take it in turns to answer one, if they get it correct they claim that box.

Whoever gets 3 (or 4) in a row wins


I used this as a card sort. They students cut them out and have to take the information to process to decide whether to make or buy the cake.

Solving Equations Thoughts and Cross

Proportion Mystery

Jen about Beth!

Thought this was a nice twist from Beth which really got some of the more ‘reluctant’ learners thinking.

Beth tried this with her 9(2) with some interesting results!

Might be worth trying every now and again, good twist to the 5 a day.

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5 a day is used mainly in maths and science to begin the lessons with a re-cap of long and short term memory-Beth here is asking the students to come up with their own questions rather than using the usual teacher ones. I like this!



Like to use this as a starter activity sometimes, to build in the literacy of a topic before we get started.





Has been making some ‘follow me’ cards to encourage both literacy and numeracy.




One thought on “Magic Summer Literacy and Numeracy Moments part 2

  1. wendy

    Interesting points about the science exam. Our students were stumped by the ‘immersion heater’ questions as they all have combi-boilers! The stove question is another one, as in Liverpool the stove is another name for the cooker. I think exam boards need to bring their scenarios up to date.


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