Sowing the seeds of literacies - old and new


These are the main points from a webinar I delivered for mostly Turkish teachers

 on Saturday 29 May 2021


What is literacy?

What we read / write

Where we read / write it (from books to digital tools)

Engagement with the written word

Learning through literacy – it’s the key to knowledge


We do live in a digital world but

Children do not have equal access to digital technologies due to

·        school focus and resources

·        family circumstances

·        cultural influences (e.g. a focus on traditional education)


Learning to read and write is

·        a fundamental right

·        a gateway to gaining knowledge

·        has never been more important


While many people believe that children’s literacy is declining in the digital age, Professor David Crystal has done research into children’s use of mobile devices

Children using mobile devices have better literacy scores and spelling and are able to process information more quickly.


During Covid

Schools shut and we moved to online teaching

Learning remotely meant using platforms like zoom / videos / links / handouts

So, learners have to be more independent and resilient

And teachers, too


Pros of remote learning for teachers

Explored different resources

Became aware of support e.g. Cambridge websites

Discovered learning could be more flexible



We all missed the real classroom –

people, interaction, humour, variety, spontaneity, encouragement, touch

The fact that learning is often a group experience


We need to learn together:

Leo Vygotsky

Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the development of cognition = community plays a central role in the process of making meaning.


And we shouldn’t abandon the tried and tested older tools for learning.

Evolution is not simply change, it is development – an accumulation of knowledge


The brain has evolved over thousands of years. It has evolved to be able to take action and navigate appropriate behaviour. In order for the brain to develop in the best possible way, we need to use it for what it’s best at. We need to live an authentic life. We have to use all our senses, be outside, experience all kinds of weather and meet other people. If we don’t challenge our brain, it can’t reach its full potential. And that can impact school performance.

Eva Ose Askvik, F. R. (Ruud) van der Weel and Audrey L. H. van der Meer,  July 2020, Norwegian University of Science & Technology


We need hands on learning because


      need different stimulation / multi-sensory

      learn in different ways

      need the capacity to learn autonomously

      need to be digitally and otherwise competent

      need to learn other skills in class



Motor skills

The use of pen and paper gives our brain more hooks to hang memories on. Writing by hand creates much more activity in in the sensorimotor parts of the brain. A lot of senses are activated by pressing the pen on paper, seeing the letters you write .. These sense experiences create contact between different parts of the brain and open the brain up for learning. We both learn better and remember better.

Audrey Van der Meer, Norwegian University of Science & Technology


There are lots of great Pre-literacy tasks, which develop multiple skills:

Ball-throwing & catching

Cutting out





Sticking stickers

Arts and crafts

Movement games

Using plasticene, spaghetti, pipe cleaners etc to shape letters and words

= they develop motor skills, coordination, focus and aid memory


Learning tasks need to be kinaesthetic and haptic.

Through these kinds of activities they learn to:

Recognise shapes of letters

Link letters to sounds


Recognise words

Link what they see to what they have heard

Are also collaborative and communicative – these are key life skills, children need to develop.


Reading real books is

·        Tangible, tactile and immersive

·        Better for eyesight and sleep

·        Easy to look back

·        Permanent

·        Focus attention

·        Reading is a personal, reflective, imaginative experience


There is an important role for Digital learning as it’s a key skill for our children now and in their future:


‘the importance of developing autonomy / initiative to use technology independently outside the classroom

Elliot et al, 2000


BUT we also need to focus on

·        Online safety

·        Etiquette

·        Addiction

·        Training teachers



·        Is stimulating

·        Offers great language learning opportunities

·        Exposes learner to the world

·        Develops skills for the future

·        Useful beyond the classroom e.g. homework

·        Can still be collaborative & communicative

·        Can be differentiated especially for homework


We want our leaners to be

Keen to learn


Able to work independently

and make choices





Check out these websites / blogs mentioned in my presentation:

My blog: www.olhamadylusblog.com


www.opdome.com – a nice online dictionary (one of many)


www.noredink.com -  a writing resource for older children


www.learnenglishkids.britishcouncil.org – for lots of stories, songs, material


as well as Home | World of Better Learning | Cambridge University Presswww.cambridge.org/elt/blog - for lots of support for teachers


I didn’t get round to answering all the questions after my presentation, so I am adding them here:


Sajjad Hussain       12:15 PM

which method of teaching directly deals with online education

 I suggest you have a look at the material that was put together to support teachers on the link below.. Don’t worry if you don’t use any of the CUP books, the advice can help with whatever material you use and any age group you teach.

 Covid Support | Cambridge University Press


 Erdoğan Dalmış       01:13 PM

As we know that the average of literacy is increasing, why do people try to be brutal to each error? I mean sneaky people are supposed to be good but they are not. Why?

 I think traditionally errors were regarded as BAD things and not as signs of development. If our students don’t make errors, they should be teachers!!


Muhannad AlAli       01:53 PM

Do you think digital literacy will dominate the future of teaching?

 Rewatch my webinar! I was very much suggesting that we can’t let go of traditional face-to-face learning practice that WORKS. If we only teach online, students will miss out on so much stimulation, community learning and collaboration and FUN. There will be more learning online, but I hope (and pray) that it won’t be dominant.


Mark Demirtan       01:54 PM

what do you mean by "you want your students to be resilient

 Resilience is the ability to deal with difficult situations. The world is getting more and more complicated, confusing and challenging and we all need to have the skills and mental strength to deal with what it throws at us.


ozan tekin       01:54 PM

What do you think about interactive literacy teaching among students?

 The more interaction, the better. 😊


Theresa Sarigüllü       01:55 PM

Thank you for the wonderful seminar, what can we do for ss the are determined to learn but don’t have enough tech?

 We need to work together to find solutions. The school could buy laptops for students to share or to be used at school, students could team up with classmates who do have the tech. Most importantly teachers must be aware of this problem and not assume that all their students have the tech and find ways of reaching and supporting all students.


Hüseyin Subaşı       01:55 PM

What kind of activities do you suggest to abolish the silence between the students during the class as a teacher?

 Start the habit of speaking English together from lesson one, plan lots of speaking activities and make sure you as the teacher model speaks English all the time in class. They will understand. Even when I teach 4 year olds I only use English. Plus don’t over-correct them. Build up their confidence.


May May Win       01:56 PM

How should we correct the language (grammar) in kids’ writing?  Thanks

Don’t correct it all for a start! Make notes of grammar mistakes common to many students and plan activities to go over that grammar and help them all progress.

If students are making a lot of mistakes when they write, it means they weren’t well-prepared for the task. Make sure you build up the skills and language they need before setting a writing task for them. Also let them write in pairs or small groups, so they can support each other – remember Vygotsky!


Beatrix Ivannovita       01:56 PM

Very young learners are easily distracted. Would you share some tips to get them actively engaged?

 Don’t forget they are young children and it’s normal to be distracted for a start! But plan your lessons so there is a good variety of short activities, challenge them in different ways e.g. have a song, a movement game, some writing, making something etc in a lesson. Look up Multiple Intelligence Theory online – this will help in your lesson planning.


Rafi Ergün       01:57 PM

You haven't mentioned oracy skills in this seminar, do you ignore it?

 The webinar was about other skills! I think developing Oracy is crucial. Focussing on oracy means language learning is purposeful, communicative and authentic. Check out this great website -  oracycambridge.org


 Anonymous Attendee       01:58 PM

What is the difference between collaboration and co-operation?

 Good question! They are very similar, but co-operation can be achieved working independently e.g. students can create a magazine by each writing a small part of it. That’s cooperative but they aren’t actually doing the writing together – that would be collaboration.


ozan tekin       01:58 PM

Do you think that individuals are responsible for their own learning in the face of a lack of techs? What about equity and equality?

 No. We need teachers to plan, support, encourage, help, diagnose, encourage etc etc. And students who need more help, should absolutely get it. Yes, we are trying to help students be more independent but not by leaving them to learn all alone!


Anonymous Attendee       01:58 PM

In your own opinion , what do you think is the best way for students to improve on English speaking?

 Practise, practise, practise. And have lots of good models – listen to as much as possible in English including songs, films, each other and their teacher.


Merve GÜRSAÇLI       02:00 PM

what is your opinion about Bilingualism? Do you have any  advice to read about  it?

 I think there are different definitions of the word. The one I have always understood was when children grow up with 2 languages. I am bi-lingual I was born in England to Ukrainian parents, so learnt both languages from birth.

 In education there is a trend to call schools bi-lingual, where many lessons are taught in English. This is also called immersive learning. It’s a good way for students to develop their English in many contexts with a lot of exposure to the language and reasons to use it.

 I would just google what aspects of it you are interested in.


Ebru Topal       02:01 PM

You know during the online teaching road, parents were with us but we as teachers and schools mostly are keen to show how much they we could cover in the process so we are doing online portfolio, any ideas?

 Check out this website for learners:


and this one for teachers:

Tips for Teachers: Creating a Teaching Portfolio Online - Blog



Warmers / Settlers


BLOG POST Activities for the start of the lesson to focus / settle students (of all ages):

Sometimes students arrive hot and thirsty at our lesson after a sports session or flustered because their bus was late. They may be distracted, over-excited or tired. We want them to get in, get settled and get focussed. So, as students are coming into class and settling down, some sharpening pencils, some getting some water or searching for their book at the bottom of their schoolbag, put a task up on the board. Once students are in their seat and to avoid them getting bored / distracted, they start work on the task which you have prepared on the board, maybe individually while waiting for a classmate to join them, but ideally with a partner (or two). You can be helping any students who need your help and keeping an eye on them all. Once they are all in their seats and ready, check their answers. This is a great habit to establish and everyone benefits from the calm and seamless journey into the main part of the lesson.

These warmers can revise, recycle language form previous lessons, prepare them for the upcoming lesson or tap into their feelings.

Finish the Sentence:

Write the beginning of a sentence on the board. Students complete it.

e.g. Today, I’m happy about ……………

Today will be great because ……………

On the way to school I saw………….., I heard……………… and I felt ………………

Mixed-up Sentence:

Write a sentence with mixed up words on the board, students have to reconstruct the original sentence.

e.g. will song today our talk sing in a the we about and clothes

(= Today in the lesson we will talk about our clothes and sing a song.)

Find words

Write some letters on the board e.g. A B E R D C I M

Students make as many words using those letters as they can. 


Write up e.g.

5 red things you eat

5 green things outside

5 brown things in the supermarket

Students have to think of these things.

The A to Z Game:

Write a topic e.g. jobs, food on the board. Students must write a word beginning with each (as many as possible) letter of the alphabet connected to that topic.

e.g. Food – apple, bread, carrot, donut etc

Alphabet words

Write one letter on the board and the following:

A fruit or vegetable

A sport

A country

Something we wear

A famous person etc

e.g. S – strawberry, soccer, Sweden, socks, Selena Gomez

Students work together to think of words in these categories starting with that letter. Avoiding Q and X, you can get 24 games out of this!

Name FIVE (or more or fewer):

Teacher has students think of 5 items that fit particular criteria like:

Jobs where people have to wear a uniform, sports played with a ball, animals that lay eggs, three-letter parts of the body … etc.

Here’s the Answer; What’s the Question:

Write the answers to a few questions – about his life – on the board. Students have to guess what the corresponding questions are:



Chicken soup.

In the park.


On the board write – 

Name 10 wild animals

Rank them 1-10 

(a) most to least dangerous

(b) biggest to smallest

(c) beautiful to ugly etc

Name 10 sports

Rank them 1-10

(a) most to least popular

(b) best to worst paid (for the participants)

(c) most to least exciting to watch / play

What’s My Name Games

1. Things I like based on my name:


Olha – I like oranges, listening to Johnny Cash, holidays at the beach and avocado on toast.

Or simpler - 

I like oranges, limes, hamburgers and apples.

2. Adjectives to describe me. Students could use a dictionary, google etc, to find and write down an appropriate adjective that begins with each letter of their first name. for example:

Olha – original, lovely, honest, active


Introducing Formative Assessment

Listening to the so-called experts on the radio arguing that exams must take place in England next summer despite all the disruptions to education caused by Covid has made me reflect on how tied we are to a traditional and rigid testing system which these ‘experts’ tell us is ‘the single best way to evaluate students’ knowledge’. I think it is time to reappraise formative assessment and consider its wider and long-term benefits. 

It is worthwhile reviewing why we assess students beyond the need of Universities to see grades on which to base their decision to allow a student to study at their esteemed educational establishment. We assess students because as teachers an important part of our job is to monitor our students’ progress and to diagnose how we can help them overcome difficulties as well as develop their learning skills and all those other important life skills that are fostered alongside language like communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. 

We want to be able to point out evidence of their progress to students and in doing so increase their motivation. There is nothing more motivating than that sense of success.

We also need to know how successful our teaching is. Have we managed to find the right ways to present and practise key language items that ensure students not only understand it but can use it appropriately and with ease later? This is not straightforward and we need indications of where we have been less successful, so we can return to areas of language if necessary probably in different ways. And we need indications of what we have done well, so we can do it again!

And, of course, we need to provide something tangible in terms of information for parents, colleagues and school authorities

Traditional approaches to assessment are based on assessment of what students have learnt and is mostly typified by tests and examinations taken at the end of a period of learning e.g. end of unit tests, end of year exams. I want to make it clear that I believe that exams serve a purpose, and I am not arguing to get rid of them at all. For one thing, they give students a sense of direction, something to aim for:

Everyone can experience feelings of resolve and a commitment to think more and to dare more … and of being poised to learn and ready to take the next step.

Martin V. Covington, The Will to Learn, Cambridge University Press

As students work their way through a suite of exams they can feel a clear sense of progress over an extended period of time. e.g.’ ‘ was at A2 a couple of years ago and now look, I’ve passed a B2 exam!!’ And with that a sense of completion

Very importantly, established international exams like those provided by Cambridge Assessment are incredibly well researched by experts in their field, reliable and valid as well as recognised the world over. This give students an even greater sense of accomplishment when they get their certificates. 

And exams do provide clear numerical information for stake holders, which is needed for record keeping and analysis.


Traditional testing doesn’t always reflect 21st Century teaching methodology, which appreciates and accommodates multiple learner differences, like the fact that we don’t always work at the same speed and a timed exam may not give every student enough time to do the best they could.

Unfortunately, in my personal experience I have witnessed how teaching becomes test-driven and creativity is pushed out, with teachers spending the majority of their time dishing out practice tests to students and not giving enough attention to actual teaching. This could be in part the result of teachers being judged primarily on test results rather than the quality of their teaching.

And there is that awful situation of students judging class activities a waste of time if they can’t see a direct link to the exam.  Leaners only want to study ‘for’ the test because that has become the be all and end all of their learning experience.

This focus on just ‘passing’ the exam can lead to a culture of rote learning, which is dangerous as what is learnt this way is quickly forgotten.

You may enjoy this ‘slightly cynical’ definition of a grade:

A grade is an inadequate report of an inaccurate judgement by a biased judge to the extent to which a student has attained an undefined level of mastery of an unknown proportion of an indefinite material.

Dressel, 1983

One of the major issues for me is that if teachers overly rely on the information they get about students’ progress from end of year exams, that information has come too late for them to take any remedial action to help those students in need.

This is where formative assessment comes in, as it happens throughout the learning process and students are encouraged to take an active role and develop skills and confidence to continue learning beyond school.

These are some simple tools to use in any lesson with any class (even lower Primary or University level students). Students use these to indicate how they are managing / progressing during or just after a lesson (or perhaps at the end of the week). They are all techniques that encourage metacognition – the ability of students to think about their learning. How are they learning? What helps them to remember? What are they confused about? etc.

Signs – these can be as simple as a red and green card which they put in the middle of their table (individually or as a group), which indicate whether they are happy for you to proceed (green) or they want you to stop (red) and help them more.

KWL – At the start of a lesson or series on lessons e.g. a unit of a course book (this could even be a single text), students brainstorm what they know of the key topic they will cover. This could be, for example, volcanoes or the passive voice. After sharing this information, they consider what they want to know and document this. As they work through the portion of material they register when they have found answers to their questions and at the end consider what they have learnt.

Mind Maps – are a great example of graphic organiser of what you know.  Again, students can start filling in the mind map in groups before embarking on something new and add words / information as they progress. These can be displayed on the class walls while being used and recorded (e.g. photographed on their mobile phones) for students to use a reference.

321 – at the end of a lesson or unit, students record 3 things they learnt, 2 things they found interesting and one question they still have. This can be shared as class or given to the teacher anonymously, especially at first when they may be reluctant to share with the whole class. This is a habit that needs to be developed as it flies in the face of traditional competitive learning.

If you are teaching online there are tools inbuilt to may platforms that can replace the four techniques mentioned above. For example, students can be asked to use the polling tool to indicate how they are managing with the material. Or they can use the chat box (which can be set to be read only by the teacher) to say if they are confused or need extra help.

Most course books have regular review sections after a few units, which many teachers set as a test. But these can be used for students to reflect on their own progress and gaps in their knowledge. This will encourage them to become more independent and take steps themselves to rectify these gaps or to seek help.

Journals/ letters – Students can be introduced to ways of verbalising their learning journey by keeping a personal journal or writing regular letters / notes / emails to you. This makes them really think about what they are learning and how and hopefully identify their success and where they need extra support.

Many books now begin a unit with a list of what you Can Do by the end of the unit. Try getting students to refer to this on their own and gauge whether they can. Maybe using %s.

Something I have found very successful over the years is arranging regular short individual tutorials / meetings with students to discuss how they are doing, where I can make suggestions of personalised work that can help / be of interest to them and allow them to ask questions. I was pleasantly surprised by how my lower secondary students in Greece responded with maturity and openness to this opportunity to focus on how and what they were learning. And these are possible even if you are having to teach online.

Formative assessment is a collaborative way that teachers can work with students to highlight day to day progress as well as problems in the learning process to facilitate success for all.


Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Albert Einstein