Jane Andrews is an English Adviser for Herts for Learning.

Read on and download a set of question stems to support you in responding to this year’s reading test.


I have just been chatting to a friend, who happens to be Headteacher, about the secrets of her year 6 classes’ success. Her school is situated in a town with high levels of social deprivation and they have achieved over 86% EXS  in Y6 reading and over 78% combined for reading/writing/mathematics.  Her reply was simply ‘vocabulary’.

This school has taken part in a spoken language project and one of the key aspects of this was developing vocabulary.  She did admit that when the teacher reads story to the class now, it sometimes takes four times as long.  Children are expected to hold up their vocabulary card (at any point in the day) when they don’t understand a word – it is then exemplified/explained/discussed.  I remember the teachers expressing surprise at some of the words that were not understood.

From my own teaching experience and professional reading over the years, I know that developing vocabulary and providing children with time to discuss is a linchpin to a depth of understanding. In fact, I recently heard the Chinese description of our mathematics curriculum being ‘a centimetre deep and a mile wide’ and it resonated for some aspects of the English curriculum.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I have nothing but admiration for teachers currently developing their own subject knowledge and teaching the vast array of skills required in what is still a relatively new curriculum.   It’s just that we need to decide which key aspects of pedagogy make a significant difference, and therefore are worth lingering over throughout the school day.   Developing vocabulary and providing time to discuss children’s understanding does make a difference.  Ludwig Wittgenstein’s point, ‘The limits of my language are the limits of my world’ may be contentious.  Of course, logic, an ability to make connections and cross from one abstract concept to another are also important but it does all begin with vocabulary.  I have seen many a frustrated child who may perhaps react physically due to their inability to express themselves.

Let’s move to the Y6 reality of a reading test and how difficult many children found it this year.  As one of my colleagues mentioned in an earlier blog on the test,  I considered the skills that you needed to answer each question and found, unsurprisingly, that vocabulary and visualisation were frequently required.  Having identified the skills, I have generated a range of potential question stems that you might use in your reading sessions in class: KS2 reading test skills and  KS2 reading question stems

We know that we can’t pre-empt the vocabulary that would be required in a reading test but we can broaden the children’s vocabulary (with high expectations for all).  This can be achieved by widening our own lexicon – I don’t know about you but I certainly recycle the same 2,000 words on a daily basis.  I have a wide vocabulary but I don’t always use it.  We can also read a rich diet of quality texts to the children, discuss possible word choices in our modelled and shared writing as well as throughout the curriculum and, most of all, engender a love of language at every opportunity.