Reading at Key Stage 1 – What might we do and how might we do it?

    Published: 29 September 2020

    In this blog, Kathy Roe, Primary English Adviser for HfL, provides some strategies for supporting children in Key Stage 1 with reading, and outlines how the Key Stage 1 Reading Fluency Project might offer support children returning to school this term.

    Writing as a parent, it’s been truly wonderful to send my children off to school this week. Don’t get me wrong, we actually like each other – quite a lot in fact. I am very fortunate that lockdown has happened for me with children who are young enough to still enjoy the company of each other and their parents, and who don’t mind being at home. Nonetheless, they have literally skipped in each day and are overjoyed to be back in the company of their friends and teachers.

    The adaptations that teachers have had to make to comply with safety in the current climate have been meticulously planned, and thoughtfully carried out by this amazing profession and the children are responding with slight bemusement at most. “We all sit on our own table and face the front!” Schools have done a fantastic job of making the return to school as welcoming and consistent as possible for our children.

    One of the questions that we are being asked by our teachers at the moment though, is how to assess and teach reading effectively, especially for our younger pupils in Key Stage One, when standard practice might have involved moving staff between classes for support, for instance. This concern is, of course, exacerbated by the fact that many of our children missed huge swathes of phonics and reading instruction last academic year. Unfortunately, some of our pupils have had very little, if any, opportunity to read over the last few months. Without very regular reading practice, young children will struggle to apply their phonic knowledge with automaticity, and comprehension will suffer. Both word reading, and comprehension need to be attended to in fairly equal measure for young children, to enable them to read successfully, and understand what they are reading. This will need to be underpinned with activities which promote a love of reading. Both learning to read, and fostering a desire to read, in other words.

    The government document ‘Guidance for full opening: schools’ tells us ‘For pupils in key stages 1 and 2, school leaders are expected to prioritise identifying gaps and re-establish good progress in the essentials (phonics and reading, increasing vocabulary, writing and mathematics), identifying opportunities across the curriculum so they read widely, and developing their knowledge and vocabulary.’

    We hope to provide a few useful and practical activities here which will support you to meet the requirement above to identify the gaps, and to support with providing high-quality reading instruction which attends to the key components.


    In order to create that will to read, it will be important to make it really clear that we read because books are wonderful. We spend time breaking that code, and practising daily because stories are magical and, if we understand what we’re reading, they take the reader somewhere where catharsis and transportation through visualisation can take place. This sounds so obvious, but time and again, I have supported children who have managed to make it almost all the way through primary school without realising this – some think that reading is a chore that we must undergo for little or no reward. This motivation can be fostered through activities such as: reading aloud to them daily, from well-chosen and rich literature; reading poetry and learning it by heart; re-reading well-loved texts and performing them, and re-writing them; reading outside; using drama to act stories out or to improvise in role; making personal recommendations to each and every child in the class; bringing library sessions to life with story-telling and suggested reads.

    Reading assessment

    Accurate assessment in reading will underpin successful teaching. Effective systems to assess word reading, and comprehension along with fluency will need to be in place but we certainly don’t want to subject our young pupils to a barrage of tests upon their return to school as we are, quite rightly, prioritising their well-being and settling them back into routines.

    Ensuring that the book-stock is very well-matched to the chosen phonic programme will be an essential starting point. For more guidance and support with matching book-stock, please read this blog

    Using a well-matched text, spending time 1:1 with each child, listening to them read, reflecting carefully on that process, even carrying out diagnostic assessments as they read, asking some comprehension questions, gives great insight into what each child’s specific next step might be. For instance, do they substitute whole words when reading, rather than making attempts to blend? Do they have an overreliance on sounding out and blending, rather than reading some words with automaticity? Do they sound reasonably confident when applying their phonics, but demonstrate a lack of comprehension? Do they sound stilted and staccato to listen to, often not paying attention to the punctuation? Do they lack the ability to phrase correctly, taking odd breaks within and across sentences? Each of these difficulties will require a different approach, and having that precise knowledge as a teacher allows you to effectively group the children according to next step, and to provide appropriate and precise intervention. The HfL reception to KS1 guided reading toolkit can support with this.

    Teaching of reading

    Daily, systematic phonics instruction gives children the skills to encode and decode our written language, and in addition to this, children need plenty of opportunity to apply that knowledge into reading. Systems which support that independent application for young children, so that the teacher is freed up to target smaller groups for intervention can be helpful. Simply reading from a well-matched text is a perfectly valid and useful activity. This can be done in pairs, with children reading to each other. Children can be asked to read and re-read either a familiar book or one that that is easily and smoothly accessed based on their current phonic knowledge and progress in reading. This supports with reading confidence and fluency. You’ll notice that reading prosody, or expressive, phrased reading improves, when reading a book that is marginally too easy. Providing well-known and well-loved story books and modelling retelling those stories, perhaps with the use of puppets or small world supports children to develop their literary language. Listening stations are a useful and enjoyable resource; carefully tracking a text whilst listening to it being read can support reading automaticity. Phoneme spotter stories support children with both consolidating known and taught grapheme phoneme correspondences, but also support them with spelling as they begin to infer the ‘best-bet approach’. Adult-led reading groups will be most successful when the three elements of word reading, comprehension and promoting a love of reading are all attended to.

    Shared reading allows the teacher to model the thought processes which we, as expert readers employ (such as visualisation, chunking longer sentences into phrases, re-reading for sense, self-correcting) on a text which is pitched slightly above that which they might read independently. This also allows the teacher to explore new vocabulary, teach comprehension skills, and foster a love of reading. The use of carefully chosen, high-quality literature, which both reflects reality, and transports away from reality is vitally important. Shared re-reading of these lovely books will allow the literary language to leave a trace and be replicated by children into their writing.

    In addition to the independent, group and shared reading, children will also hugely benefit from being read to. There are some wonderful systems in place across our schools to ensure consistency and quality of the read-aloud. Again, high-quality literature and infectious enthusiasm on the part of the teacher are key. 

    Reading Intervention

    The EEF, in their summary of recommendations for Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1, recommend that schools ‘use high-quality structured interventions to help pupils who are struggling with their literacy’. As mentioned earlier, this will be underpinned by accurate assessment in the first instance. Where assessment reveals that reading fluency is the next step for children, HfL’s Key Stage 1 Reading Fluency Project supports and empowers teachers, through extensive CPD and bespoke support, to raise reading achievement for groups of children in a short space of time.

    The project focuses on: accurate and supportive assessment of the chosen pupils, both before and after the 8 week intervention; modelled fluent reading of ambitiously pitched, real books; strategies to facilitate repeat reading and internalising fluency, improving accuracy, and improving comprehension.

    To find out more about the project’s powerful impact on past cohorts, or to book one of our limited places on the upcoming project, please visit our project page

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