One teacher, one book, one pen, one child can change the world

This quote from Malala Yousafzai encourages us that a secondary classroom teacher in any learning area can help to improve the reading and writing skills of their students.

Listed below are seven steps that can support a teacher to address the literacy needs of students achieving below their expected literacy level.

Step one: Understand the reading and writing requirements of your learning area

  • What can a competent reader/writer do in your learning area?

  • How does literacy affect achievement in your learning area at present?

  • What skills need to be developed to teach students to read and write competently in this learning area? (Aspects of the Learning Progressions Framework can help to define required skills).

  • How are the skills similar and different to other learning areas?

  • What strategies do you currently use that are successful in teaching these skills?

  • What strategies do other learning areas use that you could adapt?

Step two: Collect or access reliable data about your students’ reading and writing.

Be aware of the strengths and limitations of the tools used to collect data. For example, if writing data is from a single e-asTTle test, students may perform more poorly compared with when they write about a topic they have studied in class. Taking time to quietly observe how students read and write in your class also provides a rich source of information. Do they read with their lips moving, do they take a long time to begin writing?

Step three: Identify the most significant gaps for students in your class that are relevant in your learning area.

In writing, a common gap is that students struggle to organise their ideas into clear and concise paragraphs. In reading, students often struggle to locate and summarise the main ideas of a text.

Step four: Choose approaches that address the gaps, including those that you have found effective in the past.

Think about why these approaches worked well for your students. Also investigate approaches new to you that have a proven track record of effectiveness, such as reciprocal teaching (Alton-Lee et al., 2012). Explain to students why you are introducing a particular approach and what its expected impact will be on their reading or writing. Don’t give up if students find the approach challenging at first, but continue to reinforce why you are focussing on it. Embed the literacy approaches in your planning, so that literacy becomes part of the way you teach content, rather than an add-on.

Step five: Ensure that students are regularly engaged in sustained independent reading and writing in your class.

When teachers provide bullet point summaries of texts for students (Wilson et al., 2012), they limit students’ opportunities for sustained reading. Scaffolded approaches such as jigsaw reading, however, support students to co-operatively identify main ideas in a text. Similarly, if students are only required to write single sentence responses, they will not develop skills in paragraph writing that are so important for success in NCEA.

Step six: Help students learn the specialist vocabulary needed for success in your learning area.

Some students struggle to make meaning from a text because there are too many unknown words (5/100 new words is desirable). Some struggle to use precise and accurate vocabulary in their writing, as NCEA examiners have regularly noted. Teaching vocabulary entails more than providing students with a list of words, or requiring them to look up words they don’t know. Approaches such as Guardian of the Word, Vocabulary Dominoes and Word Maps (Glenn & Andersen, 2021) provide students with multiple opportunities to learn vocabulary. Additionally, when students learn the meanings of prefixes, root words and suffixes, they develop skills in unpacking word meanings for themselves.

Step seven: Continue to emphasise to students the importance and relevance of reading and writing in your learning area.

For example, a PE student who wants to be a personal trainer needs to become proficient in reading latest research, and a student who wants to be a scientist needs to be able to write a clear and accurate report.

Literacy matters. Literate students are likely to be more motivated and engaged in learning (OECD, 2010) and have a greater range of future opportunities than those who struggle to read and write. One teacher, one book, one pen, one child can change the world.



Alton-Lee.A., Westera, J., and Pulegatoa-Diggins, C. (2012). Reciprocal teaching: BES Exemplar 4. Ministry of Education: Wellington, New Zealand.

Glenn, J. & Andersen, I. (2021). Secondary literacy: a handbook for teachers, Thames NZ: SimplyLit Ltd.

Ministry of Education. The Learning Progression Frameworks. Retrieved from

OECD (2010). PISA 2009 Results: Learning to learn: Student engagement, strategies and practices (Volume III). Paris: OECD Publishing.

Wilson, A., Jesson, R., Rosedale, N., & Cockle, V. (2012). Literacy and language pedagogy within subject areas in years 7-11. Wellington, Ministry of Education.

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