8 tips for boosting primary literacy skills remotely

Literacy skills are vital for young learners, so how do we do that best during lockdowns around the world? This teacher has some ideas that may help

Gemma Tonge


With schools around the world jumping in and out of lockdown, and the light at the end of the tunnel seemingly diminishing and reappearing every few weeks, good-quality learning in literacy needs to find other ways to continue.

Developing a love of literacy is the goal. However, with so many plates for children to spin – with the inclusion of success criteria, idea generation and correct grammar use – getting children excited and engaged about their writing while in class can be tricky enough.

Teaching remotely can make this even harder. But with innovation and creative we can make it work. Here are 8 tips for boosting literacy skills remotely.

1. Cross-curricular lessons

With home learning, lessons may seem disjointed to children and parents. If lessons are cross-curricular, though, they can provide continuity, add purpose and ultimately make home learning simpler.

When children apply their writing to aspects of a topic that they have already learned, this reinforces previous learning and means that the focus can be on the new learning objective. Making each topic into a project, building up to an exciting extended piece of work will take advantage of this.

For example, recently we learned about animals and their habitats. During our English lessons, we developed an understanding of non-fiction writing and practised writing different sentence types. In topic we researched habitats around the world and watched snippets from documentaries.

For our extended writing, the children wrote non-chronological reports. They were then encouraged to use their presentational skills to create their own exciting documentaries.

2. Child-led learning

Giving children the chance to explore their interests and vote on the topics covered will give them a sense of ownership and control, increasing their motivation and enthusiasm.

Make this fun by using online polls and questionnaires, share the results and give options for how each piece of work can be completed.

Last summer, we were learning about plants and food that is grown. After researching foods that the children had chosen as a class, I gave them the challenge of completing their own project based on their favourite fruit or vegetable.

The children were given guidelines and examples of work. The work I received back was amazingly creative. One child submitted a video diary each week; other children created posters and art pieces.

3. Integrate technology

Following active learning, there are endless apps and websites available that can be used creatively to engage children and transform their writing.

Create literacy-themed scavenger hunts on apps such as GooseChase, ask the children to take pictures and use them to practise conjunctions or descriptive writing.

Websites such as Kahoot! and Quizlet are great resources for quick assessment; you can complete them as a class through a shared screen or individually. Instead of wasting paper, Popplet can be used to create colourful and interactive spider diagrams.

4. Talk for writing

Instead of sending worksheets for short sentence activities, giving children the opportunity to speak, discuss and explain will develop confidence and literacy skill.

Through voice notes and videos, children can build up to writing by practising their ideas and planning their sentences before putting pen (or pencil) to paper.

5. Creative presentation

Reading out loud improves understanding of grammar and punctuation. After completing a piece of writing, set children the task of presenting it in a creative way.

With non-fiction work, challenge the children to become documentary presenters, ask them to dress up and use pictures and videos alongside their narration. With fiction, the children can record themselves reading their stories like an author at a book reading.

Choose a few different children each day, highlight their successes and share their recordings with the rest of the class.

With each new challenge, the children will become more creative and enthusiastic, producing their own shows and developing their own style.

Every writing lesson, I encourage students to record themselves after finishing their writing. Some of my class have now developed their own mini-series, starting each recording with a fun greeting and dressing up for the part.

Every day, during our goodbye call, I choose a couple of my favourite examples and share my screen.

6. Find a purpose

Having a purpose increases motivation and makes learning meaningful. Find a purpose for writing and share it with the students early on.

This could be sending work based on a book to the author, creating information leaflets and news reports for the community, or publishing work online for parents to read.

Using the story Meerkat Mail, by Emily Gravett, we wrote our own innovative stories. We then shared our work with the parents and sent it to the author. Both children and teachers were incredibly excited when we received a reply!

7. Use the community

Make lessons real by using people as resources. Send questions to authors, professionals and family members to base reports and stories around.

Invite special guests on to calls for Q&A sessions or ask for videos to be sent in. Your students will be excited about talking to someone new and your lessons will become more memorable.  

When writing non-chronological reports about jobs, my pupils designed their own questions that were answered in videos and via a Zoom call from key workers. The children then used the answers to write reports.

8. Read, read, read

Encourage children to read or listen to an audiobook every day. Tell children to find books that interest them. If they start reading one and don’t like it, they can find another.

For younger children and students with English as an additional language, Unite for Literacy has books in English with second language narration.

For children without access to books at home, Audible, YouTube and Storyline Online are amazing resources. Create a Padlet or similar shared space where the children can share, recommend and discuss what they have read.

Gemma Tonge is a primary teacher at a British International school in China. She has taught internationally for three years

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