How we teach Reading at Beacon Hill​

At Beacon Hill School we strive to enable all of our students to become readers.

We understand becoming a reader is a product of decoding (word reading) and language comprehension. As such we need to carefully plan and provide personalised and meaningful learning experiences for students to develop skills in both of these areas.

Language Comprehension​

Comprehension refers to the way in which we make sense of words, sentences and the wider language we hear or read.
In order to develop language skills, good quality talk and interactions across the curriculum are prioritised.

All adults support quality interactions by:

  • supporting students to develop listening and attention skills
  • using language at the appropriate level for students
  • thinking out loud, modelling language including new vocabulary for students
  • paying close attention to what the students communicate
  • mirroring, rephrasing and extending students language and communication
  • commenting on immediate experiences
  • Balancing questions with comments and asking a range of questions
  • Responding to the student’s questions
  • deliberately connecting current and past events (‘Do you remember do you remember when…?’)
  • extending student’s vocabulary by modelling and explaining new words
  • explaining why things happen

Where students use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) staff ensure that when modelling language this is done using the students’ AAC system. All AAC learners need to see what it looks like, to communicate using their AAC system in real conversations.


A good vocabulary (knowing and understanding words) has an impact in lots of different ways. It is an important building block for helping students to communicate but it’s also really useful for learning to read. At Beacon Hill, we have developed a robust approach to vocabulary using a range of strategies:

Using stories and rhymes to develop vocabulary and language​
  • Daily songs and rhyme times are a great way to strengthen and embed new vocabulary due to the repetition and predictability of songs and rhymes.
  • Stories are a rich source of language and vocabulary, often providing students with experience of vocabulary that they wouldn’t hear in everyday language.
  • All students have daily opportunities to listen to and share stories.
  • We use an ‘over and over’ approach to planned story times as research demonstrates that students learn more new words during shared storybook reading if they were to read the same stories repeatedly. This approach involves reading a small selection of stories (around 10 each half-term) over and over, with an equal balance of the selected texts. Stories are chosen by class staff in order to maximise engagement and impact on language development.
Direct approaches to teaching vocabulary​
  • We use the ‘Word Aware’ approach to teaching vocabulary.  This involves carefully selecting the most useful vocabulary and identifying how you’re going to plan learning around the vocabulary in everyday interactions and through explicit teaching. Word Aware not only increases students’ vocabulary but also improves their word-learning skills. 

In order to store new words effectively, children need to gain knowledge in 3 key areas:

1. Semantics – what does it mean?

Multi-Sensory experiences
Simple vocabulary to define the word
Relating the word to what they know
Telling a story

2. Phonological awareness – how does it sound?

Clap syllables, saying the word, rhyme, alliteration

3. Kinaesthetic / visualisation – objects, visuals and gestures to represent the word


The target vocabulary and approaches are personalised for learners to maximise language development.

The ‘See and Learn’ vocabulary programme is another approach we use within the school where appropriate in order to systematically teach students to understand and use a range of everyday vocabulary.

When ensure that all staff use good practice approaches to developing vocabulary across the curriculum, such as:

Exposure to a rich and wide but appropriately demanding vocabulary

  • Reinforcing words that are useful to learn
  • Using simple versions vocabulary first- e.g start with trousers then move onto jeans/jogging bottoms etc.
  • Using language consistently (including AAC users)
  • Making word learning fun
  • Ensuring that modelled language matches students focus of attention
  • Giving thinking time
  • Using multisensory approaches-concrete objects, real life situations etc
  • Sorting and classifying objects- strengthening the link between words and categories (tidy up time is valuable here!)
  • Improving understanding of the words- what is it, what do you do with it, thinking of other items associated with it
  • Prompting students to think of the word-give initial sound, carrier phrase, forced alternative
  • Involving parents
Word reading/recognition​

The key areas involved in word reading/recognition are:

  • Phonological awareness 

  • Decoding 

  • Sight Recognition
Phonological awareness and decoding ​

Phonological awareness is a foundation for matching sounds to letters

Phonological Awareness refers to sounds not letters, it is spoken not written

Phonological awareness activities also have enormous benefits for developing students’ spoken language, particularly their speech sound system.

At Beacon Hill, we have created a structured phonological awareness programme to support students to develop good phonological awareness.

Here is an overview of our phonological awareness programme:

  • Listening and attention
  • Auditory discrimination 
  • Visual and auditory memory 
  • Word boundaries 
  • Rhyme awareness and detection 
  • Syllable awareness 
  • Rhyme production 
  • Onset and rime 
  • Phoneme discrimination 
  • Alliteration and initial sounds 
  • Oral phoneme blending
  • Oral phoneme segmentation

We use a carefully devised set of criteria to identify when individual students are ready to begin to access a synthetic phonics programme.

We use Read, Write inc (RWI) to teach phonics when students are ready.

Student progress is monitored each half term using RWI assessment in order to plan next steps effectively.

Sight recognition and whole word recognition​

Sight recognition is incorporated in the RWI programme, as students are taught particular ‘red words’ as part of the programme.

We want to ensure that all students have the ability to engage with print and as such signs, symbols and social sight words are an integral part of good practice at Beacon Hill. They support students to become familiar with print and develop an understanding that print carries meaning in a range of contexts. This develops students’ ability to engage effectively in the community in a range of contexts such as understanding signs, reading labels and identifying logos for shops. For some learners, such as those with hearing impairments, sight word/whole word recognition may be the most appropriate way to become a reader.

Love of reading and reading for pleasure ​

At Beacon Hill we believe that everyone has the right to the joy that comes from reading and sharing books, stories, songs and rhymes. Sharing stories can have an enormously positive impact on development and well-being. It provides opportunities for social interaction and a window to the world!

A core of high-quality texts has been identified for each key stage which students have the opportunity to get to know really well over the course of the academic year. We understand that students thrive on repetition, their engagement and understanding deepening with each re-reading. Staff are encouraged to supplement this core of texts with stories they love and their students love.