Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Why a Knowledge-Based Curriculum Could be the Future

Last November at Durrington, we dedicated some of our INSET day to thinking about knowledge organisers: what they are; why they should play a major role in teaching and learning; how to create them; and how to use them most effectively to maximise students’ learning. Since then, departments have been working collaboratively to produce and implement knowledge organisers, and this in turn has brought to light some complex questions and many hours of deliberation. In particular, the process of creating knowledge organisers has meant that teachers have had to consciously justify what knowledge should be incorporated, and inevitably what gets left out. This is proving to be no mean feat.

A golden thread through the labyrinth is offered in a recent addition to the Durrington Research School library. Knowledge and The Future School is a collection of papers written by head teachers and curriculum theorists in which they argue for the merits of a Future 3 curriculum. The Future 3 curriculum rejects the traditional Future 1 knowledge-as-a-given model associated with grammar and public schools, and often cited as a more academic route for higher-achieving students. Likewise, the Future 3 model veers away sharply from the Future 2 instrumentalist curriculum in which the knowledge taught in schools is based on learners’ interests, contexts and future employment. This approach is closely associated with vocational and thematic-based curriculums. Instead, the Future 3 model promotes a curriculum based on teaching powerful knowledge.

The principle tenet of the Future 3 curriculum is the belief that all students have an entitlement to knowledge that takes them beyond their own experience. This means that knowledge is seen as an end in itself rather than a means to solving social or economic issues. Consequently, the primary purpose of schools is to ensure that every student, irrespective of background or starting point, receive their entitlement to this knowledge. The school’s curriculum is the body of knowledge that the school has agreed it wants all of their students to acquire, and pedagogy is how teachers enable students to access that knowledge and make it meaningful. Furthermore, the knowledge that makes up a school’s curriculum must be based on the ‘best’ knowledge that we have, or what the authors term ‘powerful knowledge’.

Powerful knowledge comprises three features that make it distinct from the knowledge taught in Future 1 and Future 2 curriculums:

  1.  ‘It is distinct from the ‘common-sense’ knowledge we acquire through our everyday experience’. Common-sense knowledge develops in our daily lives, and is therefore tied to specific contexts.
  2. Powerful knowledge is ‘systematic‘ in that it is based on concepts that are related to each other in groups we call disciplines, rather than rooted in real-life experience. This is important as it means that powerful knowledge can be used to make generalisations beyond our own experience.
  3. Powerful knowledge is specialised as it is developed by experts in clearly defined subject groups who work within fields of enquiry with socially and historically fixed boundaries. This is what makes powerful knowledge reliable, but also difficult to acquire, and why we need specialised teachers to help students with the acquisition process.

A frequent opposition the Future 3 curriculum is the claim that this model further entrenches social divides by privileging a fixed canon of knowledge that supports the inequitable social structures that are already in place. However, advocates of Future 3 argue that, far from embedding social injustice, this model levels the playing field for two main reasons. Firstly, by insisting that all students learn powerful knowledge that is rooted in subject-based concepts rather than experience, those students who come to school with limited experience are not restricted in what they learn – the knowledge enables them to go beyond their starting points. Secondly, powerful knowledge is not a continuation of the fixed past: discipline specialists working in subject communities are always developing and adding to the subject knowledge, and so the content is contextually shaped but still the best knowledge to be had. Furthermore, as powerful knowledge is not dependent on experiential knowledge but theoretical concepts, there is nothing to stop any student becoming a subject specialist – an identity-forming opportunity that is particularly critical for those who come from disadvantaged homes.

Further Thoughts and Questions

Where does this leave us in terms of knowledge organisers? As ever, the research does not provide clear-cut solutions to the manifold questions that surround decisions about what to teach, and how. For now, these are just three thoughts to take away and ponder next time the knowledge organiser boxes need filling.

  1. What should be the agreed ‘powerful knowledge’ in your subject that all students are entitled to access? For the sake of parity, this should be conceptually based rather than using referents from real-life experience.
  2. How can teachers use pedagogy to enable all students to access the ‘powerful knowledge’ that appear on the knowledge organisers? Pedagogy uses the student’s own world to engage in knowledge and concepts, but pedagogy must not be conflated with curriculum – it is only when the two remain distinct that students can go beyond their own experiences.
  3. Subject specialism means that ‘powerful knowledge’ is the best of its kind. How are teachers ensuring that they are part of their subject communities, and thereby enabling their students to access the most reliable and up-to-date knowledge available in the field?

Fran Haynes


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Setting up for successful questioning

This week’s Teaching Forum focuses on how PE teacher James Crane has worked to create a classroom climate conducive to successful questioning.  During our conversation he revealed how he identified and developed three key components that work together to provide an atmosphere in which questioning works.

He has defined the three elements as preparation, culture and knowledge of your students.  While these inter-dependent elements distil his personal thinking on questioning, they also tie-in with much of the research evidence in this area.



In a relatively unusual step James limits his questioning during the teaching of new material.  His uses strategies based more in direct instruction as he develops students’ surface understanding of knowledge being studied for the first time.  This could take him up to three lessons depending on the topic and its complexity.  Then, he will spend almost an entire lesson interrogating and deepening this newly acquired knowledge largely through questioning and discussion.  James recently read the Rosenshine paper,  Principles of Instruction, and, without wishing to make an assumption, Rosenshine may advise a similar structure to this but with more regular interruptions for bouts of questioning as new knowledge is acquired.  However, this system has worked for James, in his subject, in this context.  He plans carefully for the lessons that will involve the discussion and questioning.  He priorities open questions, that particularly focus on linking ideas together.  Students will begin by writing down the tier 3 vocabulary linked to the topic on a blank sheet and finding their own connections between them.  In this way he uses the principle of elaboration (as explained by the Learning Scientists) to deepen students’ understanding of the concepts they have been learning.  The success of these lessons is based on the culture he has created.


In order for the preparation to yield successful outcomes, James has worked hard to establish a classroom culture in which all of his year 11 PE studies students feel confident to contribute.  This has been a long-term venture and has only been possible by involving the students in the process and having clear expectations.  James varies his questioning techniques using a combination of cold-calling and hands-up.  He finds both have a place in his classroom as when he wishes for particular arguments to be challenged or supported students self-selecting through hands-up can lead to a better discussion than if using purely cold-calling.  However, all students answer questions, no matter their predisposition to contributing in class.

Knowledge of your students:

James puts substantial stock in having an in-depth knowledge of the characters in his class.  He believes it is essential to know his students beyond the undoubtedly important aspects such as prior ability, disadvantage, SEN status and all the other columns we include on our seating plans and mark books.  He believes questioning works best when you know the character of your students and their strengths and weaknesses within each topic.  For example, there is one student in the class who he knows is by nature oppositional.  Therefore, he will drawn on this when he wishes to stimulate a debate.  Similarly, he ensures that he knows which topics students are most well-versed in, through the assessment he does and the feedback he gives.  This allows him to know where in the class he can go to for elaboration of a basic answer, and also where he needs to probe to help undo a misconception.  He believes in setting up his students to succeed rather than fail and will use his knowledge of the students to do so.  The question I posed was whether this may mask a lack of knowledge and understanding as students would only be asked questions that they could confidently answer.  However, James said that he questioned areas of weakness as much as strength, but used scaffolds within his questions to allow the respondent to answer.

Ultimately, James’ approach is largely based on his own intuition and experience supplemented with some initial reading and engagement with research evidence.  It is context dependent and based more on a long-term investment than strategies that can be dropped into a lesson tomorrow.  What is clear though is that for questioning to be effective we need to have a coherent strategy for how we wish to use it in our classrooms.  We need to know, when, why and how we will question, and like James’ year 11 class, our students need to be prepared to give the answers.

Posted by Chris Runeckles

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The Best of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, we bring you the best of the blogs that have been shared on classteaching.  It’s been another great year for educational blogging, with an increasingly sharper focus on evidence-informed practice.  As a profession, we are all indebted to the hundreds of colleagues who use their own time to very generously share their own thoughts and reflections through blogging.  It really is such a rich and varied source of CPD.

So here we go, for every month we have picked one blog from the classteaching archives and one ‘blog of the week’.  Enjoy!



The value of pausing by Ben Crockett looks at how we can use pause lessons to help students embed the core knowledge that they need.

Is all practice good? by Daisy Christodoulou explores the importance of thinking about what we ask our students to practise.


In this post about homework, Chris Runeckles talks about how we have tried to make homework more purposeful at Durrington, by being explicit about what we want it to achieve.

Content, thinking and shaping by Andy Tharby provides a great way of framing our approach for our more able students.


Is it really a low stakes quiz by Tod Brennan explores how we can really ensure that when quizzing students to develop retrieval practice, we are making it low stakes fro the students.

Why formative assessment matters by Harry Fletcher-Wood discusses why the prior knowledge that students bring to our classrooms is so important and how we should use it.


‘Now that’s what I call CPD’ describes how our science department are effectively implementing our subject-specific approach to CPD this year – Subject Planning & Development Sessions.

‘Good Direct Instruction’ by Ben Newmark is a great examination of the most effective features of direct instruction.


‘Why playdough is not the best way forward when teaching geography’ by Hannah Townsend is a brilliant guest post, where Hannah reflects on the importance of not dumbing down your subject and having the highest expectations of what students can achieve.

‘Five things I wish I knew when I started teaching’ by Carl Hendrick is just fabulous.  It explores some common misconceptions about teaching and learning and is a ‘must read’.


’10 simple things to try and have a better work life balance’ by Becky Owen is a very practical blog by a very successful teacher, about how she maintains a healthy work-life balance.

‘What is not working in education (and what we can do about it)’ by Sarah Donarski gives some great advice about what we can be doing to become evidence informed as teachers.



‘Using storytelling as an explanation tool’ by Russ Shoebridge explores one of the forgotten arts of teaching – explanation – and the important role storytelling plays in explanations.  This is also marked one of the last 15 minute forums at Durrington, after a run of about six years.  They had been brilliant for building a culture of teachers talking about their teaching, but it was time for a different approach.

Mark Enser has been one of the most prolific bloggers of 2017 – and one of the best.  In this post, he reflects on how his geography team are developing assessment.


Just the one post in August – Getting off to the best start with a new class.


The new academic year kicked off with the opening of ‘The Durrington Research School’.  In this post, we set out what we want to achieve with this exciting new project.

Memory not memories by Claire Sealy was an excellent exploration of how some of the key ideas from cognitive science about supporting memory can be applied to the classroom.


More questions = fewer pointless powerpoints by Alex Mohammed was one of the first new ‘Teaching Forums’ at Durrington.  Rather than teachers having to attend 15 minute forums after school to hear about the effective practice of their colleagues, we interviewed them and wrote it up as a blog.  This meant that teachers could still hear what their colleagues had been up to in their classrooms, but at a time that suited them.

Rethinking boys engagement by Mark Roberts is a really important blog.  It dispels many of the myths around addressing boys underachievement and gets to the root of the problem.


During our INSET day Fran Haynes talked about our new literacy focus – explicit vocabulary instruction.  This blog outlines our approach.

Making his second appearance in this list, Harry Fletcher-Wood was on fine form with ‘Planning lessons using cognitive load theory’.


Making spaced practice count by Morwenna Treleven is a great example of a teacher mobilising research evidence to great effect in their own classroom.

‘Tips and tricks for spaced learning’ by Paul Kirschner and Mirjam Neelen is also a great example of how to take education research into the classroom.

A very big thank you to the staff at Durrington and the many bloggers out there, whose work has featured on, or influenced this blog.  Have a great holiday and all the very best for 2018.

In loving memory of Martyn Simmonds 1981-2017.

An excellent teacher, leader and frequent contributor to this blog.





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Making Spaced Practice Count

This week’s teaching forum was with maths teacher Morwenna Treleven. Morwenna has been thinking about how to tackle the issue of having to get students to remember a large amount of content, in preparation for terminal exams.  This has coincided with completing the first year of a school-based masters and thinking about an area of interest for her dissertation for year 2.  Following a presentation last year by science teacher Phoebe Bence on using ‘Ankiapp’ to support spaced practice, Morwenna introduced ‘pause lessons’ every week, to review previously covered material – but she wanted to go further with this.

In their blog ‘Tips and Tricks for spaced LearningPaul Kirschner & Mirjam Neelen describe spaced practice:

“This is what it comes down to: Tackling learning in various short sessions works better than learning that same thing in one long session.”

In 1885 Hermann Ebbinghaus ran a limited study (on himself) where he taught himself nonsense syllables and then tested himself on them days after the initital exposure to them, recorded how many he remembered, reviewed them again and then repeated the process over time.  This resulted in the now-quite-famous ‘Ebbinghaus forgetting curve’ (see above).  Essentially this suggested that spacing out the reviews, with an increasing gap between them, helped him to remember the syllables.

Morwenna has looked at using this ‘spacing effect’ in her maths teaching.  She has been exploring ways of working out when is the optimal time to return to topics once they have been taught and in relation to the test in that topic, in order to maximise the spacing effect and help support recall.  She describes how she has done this:

(Wolf, 2008)

“Ebbinghaus  used 7 time intervals when recapping, 20 minutes, 1hour, 9 hours, 1 day, 2 days, 6 days and 31 days. The first 2 intervals apply to learning in lesson time; the third is irrelevant when teaching as lessons do not fit into the 9 hour time frames. We can start from the 1 day interval, though this is rarely possible.  2 days, out of Ebbinghaus’ 31 days, calculates to 10% of the total days, 6 days calculates to 20% of the total days. However, by elongating Ebbinghaus’s ‘review time frames’ to plan in the recap sessions and by using Wolf’s (2008) graph (above) of the forgetting curve, using a 60 day time frame, Glienster (2017) gradually increases the ‘percentages of the total days’ each class will have between tracking point tests. The exception to this is this first review; this comes 3 days after the first taught lesson, to compensate for 1 day rarely being possible with the timetabling of lessons. The second review takes place ‘15% of the total days’ after review one, elongating Ebbinghaus’ 10% and compensating for the first review taking place after 3 days and not 1. The third review is ‘25% of the total days’ after review two and the fourth is ‘35% of the total days’ after review three. This will take the class to just over 75% of the time between the initial teaching of that topic and their test. There will need to be a degree of flexibility to adjust these percentages to fit to each class and their lesson timetable.”

In order to implement this somewhat complex approach in a manageable way in the classroom, Morwenna has been using a spreadsheet that calculates from the day of initial teaching, when the review should take place (using the calculations outlined above i.e. when should the review be as a percentage of the time between initial teaching and the test on that topic).  She is currently trialling this with a Y7 and Y9 class and has been doing it since September:

The spreadsheet does this for all new topics that are started (this extract just shows one – product of prime factors).  As can be seen, sometimes the review will be covered as a quick quiz at the start of the lesson, on other occasions it will be a homework and towards the end of the period and closest to the test, as a whole review lesson.  Each topic is reviewed four times, with an increasing space of time between each review.   Morwenna is finding this spreadsheet useful in terms of her planning, as it reminds her when she should be reviewing each topic – keeping this in your memory as a busy teacher would be difficult for most busy teachers!

After one term of trialling this, Morwenna is seeing some promising results.  Test scores have improved with the Y7 and Y9 classes that she is trialling this with, and the students appear to be more confident when it comes to remembering things.  Other teachers who are trialling the approach are also reporting the same effect.   These are very early days though.  The trial will be continued over the course of a year, with the results being compared to a control group of students, who are not experiencing this approach.


Spaced Practice – The Learning Scientists

Spacing effects in learning: A temporal ridgeline of optimal retention – Cepeda et al, 2008

Increasing Retention Without Increasing study Time – Rohrer & Pashler, 2007

Posted by Shaun Allison


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Bright Spots

This morning, Shaun Allison and I had the pleasure of popping into several lessons across Durrington High School. The school felt noticeably calm and purposeful, and the challenging and therefore engaging lessons that were occurring at this time undoubtedly contributed to this excellent learning atmosphere.

In geography, Ben Crockett was making his year 10 students ‘think hard’ with a knowledge quiz. This retrieval practice involved questions from different topics, and Ben challenged his students even further by interleaving questions about topics that they studied at the very beginning of the year with work they had covered in more recent lessons. Likewise, further along the Humanities corridor, Tim Brinded was making effective use of the six learning strategies in history by asking his students to draw images in order to help them understand and explain new information – a great example of dual coding.

Along the corridor in Business Studies, Pete Kelly’s year 10 class were also retrieving knowledge from their prior learning with some targeted questioning. Pete then deepened the students’ thinking even further through elaboration, using prompts such as ‘why’ questions and asking students to explain why an answer is correct or how it can be developed. In drama, Tod Brennan’s class were benefitting from instant and pinpointed feedback in their rehearsal of a whole-group piece, thereby demonstrating some of the effective feedback strategies suggested by the EEF marking review.

Upstairs in MFL, the KS4 classes were busy preparing for assessments both in the near future and for next year.  Tim Gilbert was supporting his students’ preparation for their year 10 French assessment; this work had been carefully planned through reviewing what had been most challenging for students last year and thus making these areas the focus points for lessons. In Spanish, Dannielle Walters’ class were also preparing for assessments (this time for questions they will encounter in a year’s time), and were able to work independently due to the succinct and precise feedback they had received for the work in their books. By providing this feedback and giving clear opportunities to respond, the students clearly felt confident in organising knowledge and ideas so that it will be useful for their future learning. It is clear that the MFL department have planned their curriculum so that every lesson enables students to move a step closer to achieving their end goals.

Downstairs in PE a very vibrant and energetic Year 10 boys volleyball lesson was taking place in the gym. Tom Pickford explained to us how the boys had developed multiple skills through the short volleyball programme, for example how to control the power in their movements and think about their formation as a team. Although volleyball is in many ways a more complex sport to master compared to previous ones practised in PE, the boys were clearly engaged and able to rise to this challenge. This was a great example of how teachers’ high expectations enable our students to perform at their potential and beyond. It would also be remiss to not mention the gripping game of petanque in play just outside the gym. Always ready to model a task for students, Mr Allison limbered up and gave his best shot, but was easily ‘smashed’ out of the game with a killer bowl from Ms Haynes.

Finally, in English, Kelly Heane’s year 7s were working hard on a DIRT task following an assessment on an extract from Dickens’ Great Expectations. Again, the high expectations of students were clear to see in this lesson, not only in the choice of content but also through Kelly’s modelling of the level of writing that she was expecting her students to produce in the lesson. With challenges such as these being set and achieved early, it is evident that these students will have very successful futures at Durrington and beyond.

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Planning Extended Writing Step By Step

This week’s teaching forum looks at ways that teachers can support the planning of extended writing. I spoke with English teacher Emma Rose who has developed a number of brilliantly simple yet devilishly effective planning approaches.


Many students struggle to plan coherent and organised extended essays – even if they have secure knowledge and understanding of the content to be written about it. The problem appears to be one of transfer. In other words, how can students’ knowledge be adapted to meet the genre requirements of the extended essay and the assessment criteria of the task ? This is not only a blind spot for students. Many teachers struggle to articulate the micro-steps their students need to take – from reading a question, to generating ideas, to forming a coherent plan, to writing an answer. This is perhaps a symptom of the dreaded ‘curse of the expert’. As good writers ourselves, we forget what it is like to be a novice.

Emma has realised that the main solution to this problem is to teach each step clearly and to give students multiple opportunities to practise. The new English literature GCSE offers up some potentially tricky question types. For example, students are given an extract from a text – perhaps a couple of paragraphs from A Christmas Carol – and asked to write an answer that refers to the extract and elements from the rest of the text.

Emma has thought very carefully about the thought process students must go through to be ready to attempt the task. First of all, she has developed a scaffold that students use every time they approach an extract. This is the example her students use when approaching a Macbeth extract:

  1. Label any words which link to a theme e.g ‘Stars’ (Fate), ‘heaven’ (religion)
  2. Look out for imagery –similes, metaphors, personification
  3. Look out for symbols – light, dark, religious symbols
  4. Quickly annotate the lines you do understand in modern English
  5. First word and last word
  6. Repetition of words or ideas?
  7. Punctuation – exclamation marks, rhetorical questions to show emotion
  8. Make character notes – what do we already know about the characters in this scene?

Emma introduces this at the start of Y10 and uses it consistently for two years. She also adjusts the same scaffold when approaching questions about other texts – i.e. A Christmas Carol – and is thinking about how it could be further adapted for unseen poetry tasks. It provides a framework for generating ideas that, in time, her students begin to internalise for themselves.

Emma has also developed a simple approach to planning. Once they have generated ideas, her students create a two part plan – ‘in the extract’ and ‘across the text’:

Again, Emma has thought strategically about how her students sequence their thinking. They complete the ‘rest of the text’ part first as this is likely to open their schema on the text, giving them more ideas to write about when looking at the extract.

So, what makes Emma’s deceptively simple method so effective?

It is consistent. Students grow in confidence as they become more and more familiar with the scaffold. Emma sticks to her guns and resists the urge to change it each time as she knows that this is likely to lead to unnecessary confusion.

It is repetitive. Regular repetition over time allows for the spaced practice required for durable learning. Students also speed up over time too.

It is simple. Students have an awful lot of content knowledge to learn. Procedural knowledge scaffolds must provide a light touch so that they do not place too much strain on the limited capacity of the working memory.

It builds confidence. Emma never rejects her students’ planning ideas. Instead she shows them how to link and adapt their ideas to suit the question.

It shines a light on implicit processes. Emma has modelled out how her student think and has adapted her teaching to cater for this.


Emma’s ideas show, once again, the value of a less is more approach to teaching. The clarity of the strategies helps to increase Emma’s effectiveness as a teacher, but decrease her workload in the long run.

Written by Andy Tharby.

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Explicit Vocabulary Instruction as a Whole-School Literacy Strategy

Whole-School Literacy: Where to Begin

Last week at Durrington High School we spent a part of our INSET refocusing our whole-school literacy strategy. This began through comparing literacy to a toolbox that students can, and should, have available in every curriculum area. In order for students to be successful they need a wide repertoire of literacy skills, or many tools in their toolbox, and to be able to select and manipulate these appropriately for the task in hand. Literacy tools include skills such as spelling, punctuation, exploratory talk, reading comprehension etc. – in fact, the range of literacy skills that are imperative to success are myriad. However, in order for any literacy intervention to have impact the field has to be narrowed, or, in other words, we need to teach students how to confidently wield one tool at a time. When deciding the literacy tool that will be most effective at for Durrington at this time, and therefore the main focus of our whole-school strategy, the evidence seemed to point to one area in particular: Explicit vocabulary instruction.

What Vocabulary Should We Teach?

Over the past year, the staff at Durrington have spent considerable time getting to grips with the Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 hierarchy of vocabulary. Tier 1 vocabulary comprises words that are learned through everyday common language use, for example book, cat, and smile. Tier 3 words are those that are tightly associated with a specific domain and usually only acquired as the need arises. In schools, we often call Tier 3 words our subject-specific vocabulary. Finally, Tier 2 words are those that are more prevalent in written language, contain multiple meanings and are important for reading comprehension, for example measure, fortunate and tend.

When it comes to deciding which tier of vocabulary to use for explicit vocabulary instruction the research evidence does not offer any clear-cut answers, although there appears to be wide consensus that vocabulary instruction is of particular benefit to disadvantaged students. Marzano, for example, strongly advocates the explicit teaching of Tier 3 vocabulary as a means of increasing students’ background knowledge through secondary experience. Marzano argues that this is especially important for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds where exposure to knowledge and educational experience may be more limited. Conversely, Beck, McKeown and Kucan promote the explicit teaching of Tier 2 vocabulary, claiming that these are words that students are likely to meet in different contexts, and so can help them to layer different dimensions of meaning and understanding to a text or situation. Consequently, at Durrington, we decided to incorporate both Tiers 2 and 3.

Academic Word List

The next step in shaping our strategy was to help curriculum areas start to make judicious decisions about which Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary to teach. From previous dialogues and reviews we knew that Tier 3 vocabulary was already an integral part of lesson planning and delivery across the curriculum. Tier 2, however, was a murkier area for teachers, many of whom felt overwhelmed by the vast quantity of Tier 2 words at their disposal. At this stage, it was important to emphasise that the most effective vocabulary to teach is not prescribed, and so teachers have to make decisions based on their knowledge of what Tier 2 words students are most likely to encounter in multiple contexts in their subject and beyond. A further factor to consider is which words will support students in accessing more challenging conceptual ideas. A useful basis for these decisions is Averil Coxhead’s academic word list. In 2000, Coxhead published the findings from her research into the most frequent and widely-used words used in core academic vocabulary. Coxhead’s research is based on a corpus of 400 written academic texts, equalling about 3.5. million words in total. The texts range across 28 different subject areas and four disciplines: Arts, commerce, law and science. Included on the list are only the words that appeared at least 100 times in the corpus as a whole and at least ten times in each of the four disciplines. There are 570 words overall, for example analysis, estimate indicate and variable. Whilst there are a multitude of worthwhile Tier 2 words outside of the academic word list, this can be a useful starting point.

Explicitly Teaching Vocabulary is More than Just Using Vocabulary

Finally, for going forward and ensuring successful outcomes from this whole-school literacy strategy it was crucial to clarify what is meant by explicit vocabulary instruction. Often, vocabulary is introduced to students through modelling, most frequently through the teacher’s own language use. This modelling is vital and a necessary part of the students’ exposure not only to new vocabulary, but also privileged discourses. However, for explicit vocabulary instruction, students must also make use of the vocabulary themselves, practising using the words in different contexts and on numerous occasions both verbally and in writing. The three strategies that we are adopting to ensure explicit vocabulary instruction across the school are:

  1. Sentence stems: Students complete a sentence stem that contains the new word. For example, I used the evidence to… .
  2. Test sentences: Provide some sentences that make sense with the vocabulary and some that do not. For example, I followed the method to cook the pie or The pie was a method.
  3. Images: When introducing new words ask students to draw a visual image that will help to explain what the word means.

Drilling down into how well these three strategies have been embedded across departments will form the next phase on this whole-school intervention, with the ultimate aim being that when it comes to vocabulary, every student has the right tool for the job.


Bringing Words to Life, Beck, McKeown and Kucan, 2013.

Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, Marzano, 2004.

Fran Haynes


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