History - Make time for literacy

31st August 2012 at 01:00
Good spelling, writing and wider reading are now keys to success

This September, almost 10 years since the government published its Literacy in History key stage 3 guidance, Ofsted criteria and spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) recommendations will come into force in England and Wales. By now you have probably had at least one school session dedicated to literacy in the curriculum. But how will it affect history?

In key stage 3, it is vital that pupils develop their literacy capabilities in preparation for the rigours of GCSE. In history, pupils need to be able to tackle the essay-style questions alongside the source analysis ones. Ensuring that they can construct a decent paragraph is vital. Pupils need to be taught how to make a point, evidence it and then explain what it means. This can be done in a variety of ways, one being to cut up a model answer and get pupils to place it in the correct order. More able pupils could choose connectives to help join paragraphs together.

It is vital to get pupils spelling accurately, not only in terms of their general vocabulary, but also key words in the topics they are studying. Give them a list of key words at the beginning of a topic and ask them to use them when they produce a piece of writing. Or you could dedicate space on your classroom wall to the topic you are studying and display key terms, words and even diagrams showing what they mean.

Reading is another vital ingredient. Create a subject library in your classroom to promote topic-specific books and read them over the course of a scheme of work. Plenty of popular history books about Britain contain short stories about great individuals that could be built into lessons as a starter or plenary. A homework task asking pupils to write a summary of what they have read will help to reinforce the key aspects of the book.

SPAG will make literacy skills at this level essential, as 5 per cent of the total marks for any qualification in history will be awarded for this. To access the higher marks in SPAG, pupils need to spell and punctuate accurately and use a range of specialist terms precisely in their written work. If you develop a literacy strategy in KS3 that complements what pupils require at GCSE level, pupils' chances of doing well in terms of SPAG will be maximised.

Daniel Hartley is head of history and RE at Chulmleigh Community College, Devon, and TES subject adviser for history and geography

What else?

Improve pupils' literacy and historical enquiry skills with jrs231's bundle of essay writing and thinking skills tools.

Try SecondaryEnglishNatStats' booklet for a handy guide to embedding literacy skills in geography.

In the forums

Teachers are sharing recommendations for resources on the Experience of Warfare in Britain 1854-1929 module. What are your thoughts on teaching this historic period?

Find all links and resources at www.tes.co.ukresources050.

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