Comprehension is an essential part of the literacy equation

By Annie Facchinetti

Imagine that you were lost in Turkey and the only directions you had were written in Turkish. You could probably read them out loud with reasonable accuracy, even though your phonological awareness of the language may not be perfect, but unless you can speak Turkish, your understanding would be limited. Reading the directions is therefore unlikely to be a valuable activity for you. So, while phonics and decoding are critical skills, without comprehension, the whole point of reading is lost.

Seminal research by Gough and Tunmer (1986) proposed the Simple View of Reading, which places equal value on decoding and comprehension using a mathematical equation: Reading = Decoding x Comprehension or R = D x C. In this equation, if there is no comprehension, and therefore the C has a value of 0, the R will also equal 0. In other words, if comprehension is not happening, reading is not happening.

A more recent comprehensive study by the US National Reading Panel (NRP & NICHD, 2000) identified five areas as being critical to reading instruction: phonemic awareness; phonics; fluency; vocabulary; and text instruction.  Often referred to as the “big five”, the NRP concluded that each component is necessary for successful reading from the earliest stages of school. This represents a shift from traditional thinking, whereby phonics was the main focus for early years students and comprehension was introduced later.

The view that comprehension should be an integral part of reading instruction has garnered much support in the research literature. Cunningham and Shagoury (2005, p.4), for example, contend that emphasising decoding too heavily in lower grades can lead to a lack of understanding when reading by the time students reach the middle years. They advocate explicit instruction in a range of comprehension strategies, including visualising, inference and synthesising skills.  Reed (2016) takes this one step further, asserting that:

Teaching comprehension while students are still mastering foundational reading skills will not only allow for students to demonstrate age-appropriate skills, but it also will help reinforce the reasons we read in the first place: to derive meaning, understanding, and enjoyment from a book or other text.

This suggests that not only are students capable of text comprehension as soon as they begin reading (Gregory & Cahill, 2010), ensuring that they have the skills to access meaning as they read is vital to help students become successful and willing readers.

While instruction in some of the foundational skills of reading, such as phonological awareness, will gradually become less necessary as students’ reading proficiency increases (Reed, 2016), comprehension remains important right through the primary years and beyond. A lack of comprehension skills will affect not only a student’s academic results, but also a whole host of areas in their adult lives, including opportunities for future study and employment prospects (Marshall, n.d.). Consequently, it is necessary to provide continued support for students to develop and refine strategies to understand and critically analyse what they read throughout their school lives.

There is general agreement that while decoding is necessary for successful reading, by itself it is not sufficient (Gough & Tunmer, 1986; Van Kleeck, 2008). Incorporating targeted and explicit comprehension instruction into daily literacy programs is therefore essential to support students as readers and learners.

Annie Facchinetti is a leading educator and author of OZBOX: Learning through Literacy and Oxford Literacy teaching notes.

Learn about building comprehension skills in your classroom 

Further reading

Cunningham, A., & Shagoury, R. (2005). Starting with comprehension. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers.

Gough, P., & Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial And Special Education7(1), 6-10.

Gregory, A., & Cahill, M. (2010). Kindergartners Can Do It, Too! Comprehension Strategies for Early Readers. The Reading Teacher63(6), 515-520.

Marshall, P. The Importance of Reading ComprehensionK12 Reader. Retrieved 15 July 2017.

National Reading Panel (U.S.), & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.). (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.

Reed, D. (2016). Comprehension Skills Are Important for Readers of All AgesIowa Reading Research Centre.

Van Kleeck, A. (2008). Providing preschool foundations for later reading comprehension: The importance of and ideas for targeting inferencing in storybook-sharing interventions. Psychology In The Schools45(7), 627-643.


Catering for mixed abilities in the English classroom

The term ‘mixed ability class’ is one that teachers often react to with an inward groan, but it’s a reality in most Australian classrooms. When I consider my Year 8 English class, there is a gap of around three years between the highest and lowest performing students, and I’m sure that this isn’t too unusual a situation. Teachers are generally expected to differentiate (another word that provokes an inward groan) but often struggle to know how to do so effectively — and no wonder, when this means that they need to teach to several different standards while also generally working towards common assessment. So how to best cater to the very broad range of abilities that teachers are likely to encounter in the English classroom?

My Year 8 class has recently started studying a new novel. There are varying levels of engagement with this text. Some students love it and have already read it multiple times. Others are struggling to get through it on their own, although they seem to be capable of summarising and analysing key plot events with support. On a sunny Tuesday afternoon, students are working through a series of comprehension actives at their own pace. As they work, I give the class some general reminders about the need for detail in their responses, and then move around the room to check on their progress. Some students need to be reminded to write their responses in full sentences. Other students are asked to re-read the relevant passages and check the accuracy of their answers. I redirect my more capable students to be less concerned with forging ahead, and to take more care with adding sophistication to their written expression. In one corner of the room, we have an impromptu tutorial on nominalisation for those students who would really benefit from being a little more thoughtful with their word choices. Others are asked to focus on analysing why a character behaves in a particular way, rather than just describing what takes place. In this way, students are able to work on a common task, but develop their reading and writing skills individually. The range of abilities in the room is broad, but everyone has the opportunity to improve these abilities no matter where they lie.

This kind of differentiation is nothing new. Many English teachers will do this naturally, without giving it too much thought. But at the end of the lesson an additional challenge is thrown my way. Two of my most capable students excitedly show me that they have completed all of the work I’ve set. They love the novel and have both read it twice. Their answers are detailed and well-written. I’m thrilled that they are so engaged and motivated, but also a little surprised — I know that the majority of the class will need at least another period to finish this work, and I don’t want to worry the weaker students who really need to focus on reading carefully and writing well-constructed sentences, rather than hurrying through the task. I start to think about how I can extend my fast finishers without disadvantaging the rest of the cohort, and my thoughts turn to the VCE Study Design for English. While it may seem a bit unusual to be guided by VCE curriculum when teaching Year 8, I realise that the ‘Reading and Creating’ Outcome in Units 1 and 3 can help me create a challenge for my capable students that will allow them to consolidate their text knowledge without leaving the rest of the class behind.

I enter the classroom the next day armed with some freshly-designed activities. Students are told to continue with the work from the previous day, and then move on to new activities when ready. One activity is designed to consolidate their knowledge of the plot of the entire novel, while the second is a creative response task that gives them the option of writing from a variety of different characters’ perspectives. I set some expectations in terms of what must be completed by the end of the lesson, and what is optional, and they get to work. Once again, I move around the room and give students personalised feedback on their work while also checking on progress and explaining the new tasks. There’s a definite energy in the room — my more capable students are pushing themselves to get ahead to the ‘fun’ creative tasks, and some students who have generally struggled with comprehension tasks seem to pick up the pace as they notice those around them moving on to different work. At the end of the lesson, the two students who inspired me to create the additional tasks present me with completed creative responses and tell me how much they enjoyed the task. Counter to my expectations, some of my less able students have also attempted the creative tasks and proudly ask me to read their work.

When I think about teaching mixed abilities after this lesson, I’m less inclined to groan about it. My students have definitely benefitted from having access to a range of tasks, and I’ve discovered the value of presenting a challenge above and beyond what might be expected, not only for my students, but also myself.

Rachel Williams is co-author of the ‘My English’ series, which offers a differentiated solution to teaching language skills from Years 7-9.

Oxford MyEnglish 7 to 9 Victorian Curriculum has been shortlisted in the Student Resource – Junior – English/Humanities/Languages/Arts/Technologies/Health and Physical Education category of the Educational Publishing Awards Australia. The winners will be announced in September.


Help us find the Australian Children’s Word of the Year!


Do your students talk Trump or Turnbull, fidget spinners or footy cards? Oxford University Press want to learn more about the way children communicate, and to help us do this we are launching the Children’s Word of the Year free writing competition.

Primary school-aged children are invited to nominate their ‘Word of the Year’ and submit a 500 piece of free writing based on that word. The piece can be creative or factual, funny or serious – it’s up to the student.

To help teachers inspire their students, we have developed a lesson plan that we hope will help generate ideas and discussion. It includes tips on how to write a story that is engaging and original, advice about building characters, and ways to use language to enliven their writing.

The Children’s Word of the Year will be the word that best reflects the lives and interests of Australian children today, whether in the playground or the wider community.

Prize packs of Oxford learning resources will be presented to class and individual winners, and the best entries will be published on the Oxford University Press website.

The competition is part of Oxford’s dedication to improving communications through an understanding of, and a passion for, language around the globe.

Find out more about the competition and download the lesson plan, entry form and writing templates.

We’re looking forward to exploring the language of Australian primary school students and discovering the Children’s Word of the Year!


Forget about Maths experts, Australian schools need well-supported teachers

By Brian Murray

Hardly a year seems to pass by without some survey or other exposing a slip in numeracy standards in Australian schools.

In late 2016, Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, said he was “embarrassed for Australia” because of the way Year 4 students had fallen behind other countries in Maths.

Bodies such as the Australian College of Educators suggested that the solution was the introduction of Maths specialists in primary schools. Simon Birmingham agreed, even suggesting that one way to attract these specialists would be to recruit them from overseas.

But are experts in Maths necessarily best suited to improving standards in Maths?  The answer is a resounding ‘NO!’

We only have to look back through the years to our own experiences as students to see that the subjects in which we performed best were the ones in which we were taught by:

  • teachers who liked us;
  • teachers who we liked;
  • teachers who saw their job not as imparting knowledge, but as helping us to understand the subject matter;
  • teachers who were fun;
  • teachers who did not try run a regime of fear;
  • teachers who saw a lack of understanding on our part as likely to be a failure on their part to have explained the subject matter successfully.

Such a teacher was not necessarily one who was an expert in her or his subject area, but whose skill was in knowing how to help the students to learn. That was what made them good teachers.

This is why the most effective primary school teacher is a ‘jack-of-all trades’, not a master of one. A teacher who hangs a virtual sign in the classroom saying, “My job is to help my students to learn” is far more likely to succeed than one who has a dozen diplomas in a particular subject area.

One of the best Maths teachers I know confesses willingly to being ‘hopeless at Maths’. What would Mr Birmingham do? Toss her out of the back door and not let her near a Maths lesson, I suppose.

But he would be completely wrong. This teacher could, given the right tools, help her students to learn anything – from learning a foreign language to the principals of welding. Why? Because, no matter what the subject area, she would not let the fact that she is not an expert put her off. She would succeed because she has the attributes of a good teacher listed above. She would see the learning experience as a shared journey, furnish herself with the necessary equipment and get on with the job.

If we wish to improve standards in numeracy, the starting point is to make sure that we encourage teachers to become confident in their ability to teach Maths instead of condemning them because ‘standards are slipping’.

To begin with, we should do away with the notion that being good at teaching Maths is dependent on being an expert. If I wanted to improve my poor cooking skills I would far prefer the guidance of an everyday cook who wanted to help me to make progress over a Michelin Hat chef who expected me to become an expert simply because he gave me a set of instructions.

Does this mean that every teacher has the capacity to be a good Maths teacher? Well, no, because there are some teachers who we all know would be better suited to a different profession. However, what is certain is that a teacher who has the attributes of a good teacher listed above, who is good at teaching reading, art, spelling or whatever, has the capacity to be good at teaching Maths. There is no hidden secret to being a good Maths teacher.

One of the reasons for falling standards in numeracy is the somewhat ‘snobbish’ attitude put forward by some Maths experts that teachers should shy away from commercially produced student workbooks for Maths in the primary classroom. These ‘experts’ seem to believe that they are unsuitable for helping students to learn.

Using an effective Maths resource such as Oxford Maths is, of course, just one (not the) tool that a teacher needs, but, providing that it is used in the right way, it is a priceless tool indeed. That said, it cannot be denied that in many schools teachers are made to feel inadequate if they do not spend countless hours producing their own ‘tailor-made’ maths material. What a waste of precious time! Having a good student Maths workbook available is as valuable a tool for a teacher as is a good saw for a carpenter.


“Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job,” said Winston Churchill. Unfortunately the popular feeling in some quarters seems to be “Make you’re your own tools and try to finish the job, but if you fail, watch out!”

To summarise, there are only two things that are needed to prevent Mr Birmingham from becoming embarrassed again:

  • Encourage good teachers rather than berate them.
  • Equip teachers with the tools that will help their students succeed in Maths.

Brian Murray was an author of Oxford Maths Student and Assessment Books, shortlisted for the Educational Publishing Awards Australia Student Resource – Mathematics (Numeracy) category. Winners will be announced in September.




Grab the students’ hearts and then sneak the information into their brains – An engaging approach to learning about ageing.

As editors of Healthy Ageing and Aged Care, Maree Bernoth and Denise Winkler aimed to provide students with an engaging resource to encourage students to read and learn about ageing.

The authors appreciate the most valuable sources of information about ageing come from those who have lived life and experienced what it means to age. So, the foundation of the text is stories, which relate the experiences of older people and are then captured in text, on videos and in a podcast. These stories and experiences demonstrate the variety of lives lived and focus on the strengths and contributions older people have made and continue to make to their families, communities and their countries.

Taking such an approach debunks stereotypes and ageist attitudes that can negatively impact on the quality of interactions between older people and health professionals. Dr Bernoth said it was important to understand the individuality of older people and that they are still living lives and contributing. In this case, they are contributing to student learning by sharing their experiences in the text and media resources.

“One of the really valuable things is having older people themselves contribute. You can engage with real older people telling their real stories. They’re sharing honestly and generously their experiences with you,” Dr Bernoth said.

Dr Bernoth went on to say “one of my particular passions is in having nurses engage with older people and see them as the complex beings they are and understand that working in ageing is complex, requires sophisticated clinical skills, and there is so much to learn.”

She said that after more than 30 years working in aged care, she remained excited by new research and learning about new ways of working with older people. This excitement and passion is reflected in the book.

“The other really valuable thing about learning about ageing is that you’re learning about yourself. You’re learning about the consequences of choices that you’re making, and you’re learning about how they impact on your ageing, so this is a really exciting field to be involved with.”

It is Dr Winkler’s expertise in storytelling and in the refreshing approach she has to presenting information that adds a new dimension to the text and captures hearts and minds. This is a novel and courageous way to write a text but it adds to the life in the book and engagement of the readers.

Some case studies detail the complexity of living with multiple chronic conditions, diverse family relationships and coping with grief. Contemporary issues such as ageing prisoners, homelessness, senior entrepreneurs, information technology and elder abuse are included in complete chapters.

There is not one way of ageing and it is crucial that future health care professionals are armed with attitudes, understanding and knowledge of the diverse experiences of those with whom they will work.

Healthy Ageing and Aged Care has been shortlisted in the Tertiary (Wholly Australian) Student Resource category of the Educational Publishing Awards Australia. The winners will be announced in September.

Listen to Dr Bernoth and Dr Winkler introduce Healthy Ageing and Aged Care.


Literature and the everyday

By Rosemary Ross Johnston (Please note: Some parts of this appeared in an earlier blog for the Australian Association for Educational Research 

Contemporary research is increasingly showing the benefits of reading.

Such benefits – exposure to unremitting flows of ideas and multiple stories – extend way beyond the conventional; they include benefits to health, wellbeing and creativity. A recent article in The Guardian featured research showing that the one thing creative people have in common is that they are readers.

The benefits spill across disciplines. Bob Dylan, in his long-awaited Nobel Prize in Literature Lecture, noted the significance to his songwriting of the books he read whilst at school. He mentions Don Quixote, A Tale of Two Cities, Gulliver’s Travels and Robinson Crusoe, and describes at some length the influences on his music of Moby Dick, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Ulysses, from which he quotes:

Sing to me, O Muse,

And through me tell the story.

Dylan notes the importance of the great themes of literature; he says they have given him both ‘standards to measure things by’, as well as ‘principles and sensibilities and an informed view of the world’.

Never have we needed an informed view of the world more than we do now, beset as we are by avalanches of social and other media, and with claims of ‘post-truth’. We are living in a connected environment (I’m writing this from Dubrovnik, in Croatia; yesterday I was in Montenegro, and in a day or so I start the journey home via London to Sydney), but we are certainly not living out – or living up to – the ideals of a global community.

And we are kidding ourselves if we think that living in faster proximity to each other brings us closer together in thinking. Surely recent terrible and gut-wrenching events have demonstrated this. (And what a tragic overlay they have given to Wordsworth’s words: ‘Dull would he be of soul who could pass by …’)[i].

Croatia and Montenegro, their forebear Yugoslavia and their relations, Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, are part of what were commonly called the ‘Balkan States’, places that seemed – and were – a world away from the girl who long ago studied the ubiquitous ‘Causes of the First World War’. That very name – the Balkans – seemed somehow so dark and forbidding to me then, harsh and stormy; it’s hard to understand as I look out now at the exquisite beauty of the Adriatic.

Reading beyond the textbooks and beyond one’s culture helps to create an informed view. Arguably Dylan’s reading is all part of a Western tradition (although they do come from different countries and periods). However he says that their powerful themes and ideas ‘worked their way into most of my songs’; that is, they are interpreted into a different genre – music, in a propinquity that includes Buddy Holly, Country and Western, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock ’n’ Roll. He has created a medium of expression that in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries has a cross-cultural and inter-generic currency. His music and lyrics have been inspired, in his words, by a deep engagement with reading.

The point is that in this oddly changing, differently configured world, we need to read. Our children need to read – to explore sameness and difference, ambiguity, and, if you like, the idea of that Oxford word of the year, ‘post-truth’. Uninformed impressions are not only often wrong, but dangerous.

As Dylan points out, the intensive study of rich texts has made available to him a way of thinking that has enabled and indeed inspired him to translate literary experience into the rhythms of everyday life – being caught in traffic for example, and having (like Ulysses), trouble getting home. There is no high-brow/low-brow distinction in the metaphors and allegories that this reading has afforded him.

Reading can lift us into sharing global ideals – and we are curiously bereft of ideals at present. They seem too hard to achieve: really caring for each other, authentically wanting the best for each other. Corny perhaps but I want to believe that this is what we all want – that this is indeed a truth, and not post-truth.

And this is one of the greatest gifts that reading gives us. It gets us into the mind of another person, who may be separated from us by time, geography and culture. One of my first school-day ventures into such travel through space and time was reading Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart; another was picking up at a fete an old copy of Coonardoo, by Katharine Susannah Prichard.

Deep literacy

This was the beginning for me of what I call deep literacy – literacy that takes us way beyond skills but builds on and through them to influence how we respond to others – especially different others. I describe this in Australian Literature for Young People as using subjunctive modes of thinking, and recognising and respecting ‘the truth of the other’.

What exactly does that mean?

It is more than putting oneself in the place of the other (important as that is). It means not simply ‘How would I feel if it were me?’ but ‘How does he feel because he is he?’ or ‘How does she feel because she is she?’

Deep literacy is a continuous process; it evolves and thickens the more we read and are exposed to the minds (and as Martha Nussbaum says the ‘souls’) of others, and the more we engage with the world. It shifts boundaries and extrapolates moral and ethical understandings of self and others, of the implications of ‘here’ and ‘there’, ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. It is democratic. It promotes wise responses to difference and hesitates to attach simplistic labels.

Deep literacy is an elongation of mind, and mindfulness, and mind-fullness. It profoundly influences personal and communal behaviours.

So, back to Dylan and his lyrics, which were recognised by the Nobel Committee as literature – poetry.  As I have written in several other places (including a blog for the Australian Association for Research in Education[ii]), poetry[iii] exploits and liberates all the resources of words – their sound and look and rhythms and rhymes and assonances, their capacity for ambiguity and tagging others. It uses words like Russian dolls: open up one word and another one tumbles out, scattering other images along the way.

Poetry plays with the ways words are used against each other, the way juxtapositions can ignite complexity. Consider Paolo Totaro’s cry against war when a child picks up something that looks like a pomegranate: ‘Where did it come from, that winsome hand-grenade?’

This odd placement of words (‘winsome’ doesn’t usually associate with a deadly device, but transports us not only into the child’s eyes but into those of a despairing adult), was described by Shklovsky as a sort of ‘roughening’ and ‘impeding’ of language. It startles, and makes us stop to think.

Poetry is like a theorem; a few words can express a deep thought. Consider the following:


This world of dew

is but a world of dew,

and yet … oh, and yet.

Koyabayashi Issa (1763–1828)

The words are so simple, we know what each one means. But what is this famous haiku actually saying? It feels repetitive, unfinished. It’s like saying an apple is an apple, and the ‘and yet’ repeated at the end means – what? Is this a contradiction – a post-truth?

These words stand on the surface of a complex thought, above not just one idea but many (philosophical, creative, intellectual, universal, particular). We know what ‘dew’ is: the dictionary says it is ‘moisture condensed from the atmosphere especially at night’. But this simple definition unravels into other ideas pertaining to moisture: water, morning, dawn. These in turn tumble into thoughts about dawn as being a new day, as being either a fresh start or a despairing start (or both), and moisture and water as both that which assuages thirst and as the moisture of tears and sweat, sorrow and exhaustion, or sometimes of great happiness and pleasure.

So, almost subliminally, this invites the reader to take a thought-plunge into both the profound delights and the profound sadness of the world and indeed of human existence. And whichever way we read this, as delight or sadness, or both, or neither, there is always the ‘and yet’, the something else, the other side, the perhaps holy or perhaps unholy concomitance.

Our technological future will flourish in a creative and culturally rich climate. The same topics that fascinate and entice poets are those that fascinate and entice scientists. I love the work of Brian Greene, Brian Cox and Neil deGrasse Tyson. As Dylan does, they all use ‘story’ to talk out/sing out their complex messages.

Greene is an astrophysicist at Columbia who is studying time and the nature of reality. Time, he says, ‘is in the eye of the beholder.’ His work is the stuff of storytellers – he talks about black holes as possible ‘gateways to other universes’ – and he believes in the deep connections between science and the arts and philosophy and spirit. Indeed he is currently working with a rap artist, and rap of course is a mix of poetry and music. Greene writes that science is shifting from what he calls ‘the outskirts of culture’ into the heart of culture.

We are living in a world that values creativity and minds that can slide across disciplines – not only interdisciplinary but transdisciplinary. The Nobel citation for Dylan’s prize read: ‘… for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.’

I am currently working on a paper about possible future directions for the Humanities, and am thinking, simply, that the essence of the Humanities is just that – our human-ness, our intimate humanity, our intimacy with humanity. In the midst of difference, this is our profound similarity.

Looking out again at the Adriatic – watching local children dive into the clean clear waters, shining out, in Hopkins’ beautiful image, like ‘shook foil’ in pellucid splashes of emerald and olive within the blue. They are pure of limb, vigorous, and full of the joy of being together and playing together.

They could be my sons swimming in the waters of Sydney’s northern beaches. They could be my grandsons.

Rosemary Ross Johnston is the author of – Australian Literature for Young People

Australian Literature of Young People


[i] William Wordsworth’s famous sonnet:

 Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 William Wordsworth

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:

Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

And all that mighty heart is lying still!

[ii] See

[iii] Paolo Totaro, ‘A Quality of Daring’.

Oxford Word of the Month: July – Shoey

WotM header

noun: the act of drinking an alcoholic beverage out of a shoe, especially to celebrate a win.


The shoey is an Australian phenomenon that shot to international fame in 2016, thanks to Australian racing driver Daniel Ricciardo. He came second in the German Grand Prix in August and on the winners’ podium performed a shoey for the crowd, filling his shoe with champagne and drinking it. The international press were amused and horrified in equal measure.

Ricciardo repeated the move on the podium after a second placing in Belgium, and again as the winner of the Malaysian Grand Prix. The shoey also attracted notoriety at the Malaysian Grand Prix with the arrest of the Budgie Nine—a group of Australian spectators who had been seen doing shoeys—for stripping down to speedos printed with the Malaysian flag.

The shoey has humble origins in Australia, and possibly began as a kind of party trick. It is described in a Tasmanian newspaper in 2014, in the first written evidence of its use:

Punk bands from across the country are converging on the spiritual home of the ‘shoey’—the act of using your dirty shoe as a beer mug—this weekend for the second annual All Tomorrow’s Shoeys festival. (Hobart Mercury, 24 April 2014)

It is clear from the name of the festival that the history of the shoey predates 2014 but so far earlier evidence remains elusive.

The shoey’s association with motorsport may have begun in 2015 with V8 drivers in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. It hit the international stage in July 2016 when performed by Australian motorcyclist Jack Miller to celebrate his Dutch MotoGP win. Daniel Ricciardo credits Miller as the inspiration for his own podium shoey. Now the shoey has global recognition as Ricciardo’s signature move on the prestigious Formula One circuit:

It was another ‘shoey’ day for Perth’s Daniel Ricciardo when the 27-year-old celebrated his second place in the Belgian Grand Prix by drinking champagne from his shoe. (Wanneroo Times, 30 August 2016)

The shoey is clearly having a moment, at least within motorsport circles, as this Gold Coast Bulletin item relating to the Gold Coast 600 car race suggests:

S is for shoey. Drinking booze from your own well-worn shoe. Apparently it’s the in-thing right now. It started with V8 Ute champ Ryal Harris, then Dave Reynolds, now it’s a global trend. You might see a few on the hill. (21 October 2016)

Shoey will be considered for inclusion in the next edition of the Australian National Dictionary. It was shortlisted for the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s 2016 Word of the Year.