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The approach to teaching literacy

Literacy scaffolding across the curriculum

The program trains teachers in scaffolding strategies that support students to read texts that are expected of their level of study and curriculum area, with fluency and comprehension. The ability to read these texts then forms the basis for learning to write texts at similar levels. The strategies enable teachers to actively engage all students in a class in recognising, interpreting and using the language of texts in their area of study. They can be used as part of normal classroom practice, engaging and extending all students, and as additional support for students in need.

A key principle of the Reading to Learn approach is that all learning activities require learners to perform tasks of some kind. In order for learners to perform a task with any degree of success, we have to assume that they have been prepared in some way to do it. At its most basic this is what scaffolding means: preparing learners to perform a learning task successfully by showing them how to do the task. But in addition to preparing learners for a task, learning activities often involve a third step, during or after the task is done. These three learning steps of Prepare, Task and Elaborate are known as the scaffolding learning cycle.

Scaffolding learning cycle 


The scaffolding learning cycle is applied at all levels of the Reading to Learn approach, from curriculum planning, to sequences of activities in a lesson, to the micro-interactions between teachers and learners in the classroom. The approach uses a six stage curriculum cycle that begins with Preparation before Reading and finishes with Independent Writing.

  1. Students are first prepared to understand the text in general terms, by a) providing the background knowledge they need to understand its field, b) explaining what it is about, and c) summarising the phases of meaning through which it unfolds in terms they can all understand. This allows all students to follow the text with general understanding as it is read aloud, without having to struggle to work out what is going on at each step, nor to struggle decoding letter patterns of unfamiliar words. This is called Preparing before Reading.
  2. Students are then prepared to read each sentence in a short passage, by means of three preparation cues: firstly a paraphrase of the meaning of the whole sentence in commonsense terms, together with its relation to the context or preceding text, secondly a position cue that tells learners where to look for the wording, and thirdly the meaning of the wording in general or commonsense terms. Students then have to reason from the meaning cue to the actual wording on the page. Once they have successfully identified a wording, students are prepared for an elaboration of its meaning, by defining technical or literate wordings, by explaining new concepts or metaphors, or by discussing students’ relevant experience. In general the distinction between the meanings used for preparing to identify wordings, and the elaborations that follow, is between meaning within and meaning beyond the clause. In this way students are given access to the total complexity of language patterns in the text, but in manageable steps. This stage is known as Detailed Reading.
  3. Once all students can read the passage with fluency and comprehension, they can use the text as a basis for jointly writing a new text. In this stage known as Preparing before Writing, they may write up the wordings they have highlighted in a factual text, as notes on the board. If it is a story, argument or text response, they may brainstorm new content for a text that will use the same sophisticated language patterns of the text they have read.
  4. The notes that have been written on the board then provide a framework for students to jointly write a new text on the board, guided by the teacher. With factual texts the content of the reading text, in the notes, is rewritten in wordings that are closer to what students would write themselves, with the teacher providing whatever language resources they need, and guiding the construction. While the field of the new text is the same as the original, the mode may be less highly written. With stories, arguments or text responses, the reading text is followed very closely, as the grammatical patterns of each sentence are used with new lexical items. In these cases the field is completely different, but the mode and tenor remain constant. This provides an extremely powerful scaffold for all students to acquire the sophisticated language resources of accomplished authors, critics and academics. This stage is known as Joint Rewriting.
  5. Before students are expected to write independently, a further stage of preparation is provided, in which they individually practise rewriting the same text as they have rewritten jointly, in the Individual Rewriting stage. For factual texts this may involve erasing the joint text from the board, but leaving the notes, which students use for their own text. For stories, arguments or text responses, students now have two models ¬ the original reading and the joint text ¬ to practise using the same language patterns with their own content, which may be partly derived from the earlier brainstorming activity. In both cases more experienced students are able to practise independently, allowing the teacher to provide more scaffolding support for weaker students.
  6. All these stages of preparation enable all students to successfully write new texts, using what they have learnt in the preceding stages, in Independent Writing. This is the task on which students are assessed, whether it is a research task in society and environment, a report in science or an essay in English. The independent task may be in a new field or about a new literary text, but it will be the same genre, using many of the same language patterns that have been practised in the preceding stages. Crucially the teacher can be confident that all students have been adequately prepared to complete the task successfully. Assessments will then provide a clear measure of how successful the teaching activities have been.

Reading to Learn curriculum cycle

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These materials are provided for research purposes and may contain opinions that are not shared by the Board of Studies NSW.