Literacy advice for teachers from the Oxford Wordlist research

The 2017 Oxford Wordlist research study was conducted in Australian schools and sought to compare date with the first Oxford Wordlist research, from 2007, and to provide an update list of high frequency words for writing and reading.

This list is an important tool used by primary school teachers across Australia. The New Oxford Wordlist Research Report also offers tips for teachers on how to improve literacy in their classrooms.

To celebrate National Literacy and Numeracy Week, and to support teachers as they do what they do best, here are our tips for supporting literacy.

Implications for educators

  1. Systematic and explicit teaching of high frequency words supports students’ independent writing: it cannot be assumed that they will automatically spell them of their own volition.
  2. Teachers need to provide word-rich classrooms with Tier 2 vocabulary being intentionally taught because the words that a student speaks are the words that a student writes. Tier 2 words are those known and used by mature speakers, writers and readers and are frequently used in a range of spoken and written contexts.
  3. Teachers’ daily routine of undertaking carefully planned readaloud sessions, using a mix of fiction and non-fiction texts, supports students’ acquisition of new vocabulary.
  4. Students should be independently and successfully reading many texts as this will increase the likelihood they will learn many more words and so draw on these words when writing.
  5. Phonological awareness must be systematically and explicitly taught, through both listening and speaking, as it is a key gateway skill for development of reading and writing.
  6. Letter-sound knowledge (phonics) must be systematically and explicitly taught as part of reading instruction, as it supports students to become independent and successful readers and builds their capacity when spelling words.
  7. Having students write about topics that interest them increases the likelihood that they will be willing to write and this willingness provides logic for learning how to spell high frequency words.
  8. Pre-assessing to confirm which high frequency words students can already correctly spell supports teachers to efficiently plan what words need to be taught and learned next.
  9. Be pragmatic about the number of spelling corrections to be done based on errors identified in students’ writing. Students may be reluctant to write words they are not confident in spelling if they believe they will have to correct all of their errors.
  10. Students’ invented spelling provides a window into their thinking and supports teachers to use targeted instruction on the way to student learning conventional spelling of high frequency words.
  11. Students need to be taught how to analyse, learn and think about their spelling of high frequency words because these words have portability of use across contexts in and out of school.
  12. Teach high frequency words with other ‘like’ words as this minimises demands on working memory and supports students in understanding that words in the English language share similar letter patterns, for example, when teaching ‘come’, also teach ‘home’ and ‘some’.
  13. As part of developing students’ reading skills, teachers should reinforce the learning of high frequency words by having students read decodable books that include multiple words that share the same letter pattern.
  14. When teaching high frequency words include instruction in how to spell words with their plurals and using different tenses, for example, play (plays/played), called (call), like (likes), want (wants/wanted).
  15. Teach the predominant multiple meanings of high frequency words that share the same spelling (homographs).
  16. Teach the alternative spelling of words that share the same pronunciation (homophones).
  17. Teach students that some high frequency words may be used as different parts of speech, for example, as a noun, adjective, verb and/or adverb (‘all’, ‘back’).
  18. Teachers need to ensure they have a secure understanding of grammar as this supports high frequency word instruction.
  19. Some high frequency words will take longer and be harder to teach because they are abstract, that is, they are not like many nouns and verbs that can be photographed, or drawn, to support retention. Teachers are advised to use a range of instructional approaches to strengthen recall of these non-imageable words.
  20. Teaching dictionary skills and using dictionaries during reading and writing activities is critical for developing capable and confident readers and writers. Dictionaries support students with their spelling and help them with their comprehension and to understand how language works, including punctuation and grammar.
  21. Teachers should make clear links between reading and writing because, “When readers see a new word and say or hear its pronunciation, its spelling becomes mapped onto its pronunciation and meaning” (Ehri, Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory and vocabulary learning, Scientific Studies of Reading, 2013, p.6).
  22. Students need to be taught how to develop a fluent and legible handwriting style.
  23. Students need to be taught how to touch type so they can more readily be authors.

To download a copy of the 2017 Oxford Wordlist report, visit the Oxford Australia website.

The 2017 Oxford Wordlist research study was conducted by Oxford University Press in partnership with Anne Bayetto from Flinders University. Anne teaches undergraduate and postgraduate topics focusing on students who have literacy and/or numeracy difficulties. Anne is also the reading expert for the Principals as Literacy Leaders (PALL) program.

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