One of Anna Bolt's first tasks when she arrived as head at Glyncollen Primary School in Swansea last year was to carry out a literacy audit. As well as highlighting worrying gaps in reading comprehension among pupils, the exercise revealed that overall literacy levels were falling.
She decided to take an innovative approach to improve pupils' reading, writing and speaking abilities, and contacted her former master's degree tutor - Dr Sue Lyle of Swansea Metropolitan University, an expert in literacy teaching.
Together they determined that immersing pupils in books and storytelling was the way forward.
Although it was a whole-school project, a Year 2 class taught by Sian Davies was chosen as the focus. A storytelling table was set up in the classroom and pupils were encouraged to go to it when they had a story to tell.
Davies or a classroom assistant would write down the story as the pupil dictated it, making sure to spell and punctuate it correctly, and read it back to the class with the punctuation explained to the pupils along the way.
To support the exercise, the children were immersed in storytelling, with at least three books being read out to the class every day, including fairy tales, superhero adventures and real-life stories.
Every aspect of the curriculum, whether it was maths, science, history or geography, was taught through storytelling. Davies used a story-based approach involving characters, narrative, setting and plot to explain each topic.
Drama, role-play and even puppetry were used to bring the stories to life and spark the children's imaginations.
Eventually the pupils wanted to read their own stories to the class, and within a few months they were keen to write their own, too. Before long, pupils were starting to dictate stories to their parents at home or write their own and bring them in to school.
Tips from the scheme
Allow the children's development to happen naturally and do not worry - each pupil will progress at their own pace.
Make sure the books you read and keep in the classroom are as varied as possible.
Fully explain what you are doing to parents beforehand as they may be uneasy about the approach.
Encourage children to tell stories about their own interests. Pupils at Glyncollen particularly enjoyed talking and writing about Swansea City football club and its players.
Evidence that it works?
Children were tested on their reading at the beginning and end of term. Three pupils increased their reading ages by between six and 11 months, 14 pupils by between one and two years, and nine pupils by between just over two years and three-and-a-half years. Another local primary school was inspired by Glyncollen's success to start their own project in February and a third will do the same in September.
Approach: Using immersive storytelling to deliver every aspect of the curriculum
Started: September 2011
Leaders: Anna Bolt, head, and Dr Sue Lyle
Name: Glyncollen Primary School
Location: Swansea Pupils 250
Age range: 3-11
Intake: Pupils come from a range of socio- economic backgrounds
Estyn overall rating: Good with outstanding features (2010).