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'Supertato' in the EYFS at Lenthall Infant and Nursery School: can we use ambitious words in our writing?

About our school

Lenthall Infant and Nursery School, Dronfield currently has 14 Reception children and 33 Nursery children on role. The majority of children enter our Nursery broadly in-line with age related expectations. Those who enter below in communication and language make good progress on leaving.  

Lenthall is an inclusive, nurturing ‘family’ school. Our school aims to provide a safe, happy and stimulating environment where all our children enjoy learning and are given every opportunity to reach their full potential. As well as promoting positive attitudes to learning we support them to communicate effectively and with confidence, attain high standards and gain pleasure from their achievements.  We strive to ensure that learning is fun and encourages each child to be confident, inquisitive, knowledgeable and an independent learner, with the ability to ‘persevere’ and challenge themselves. 

From Nursery through to Year 2 we ensure our curriculum is creative, inspiring and motivating for all pupils. We bring learning to life through the rich, broad and hands-on experiences we provide, tailoring the curriculum to the interests and needs of the children.

Aims

When we analysed the children’s writing at the end of February 2018, some of the children’s writing outcomes were not at the level we would expect. As an EYFS team, we identified a need to focus on spoken language and, in particular, on story language and sentence structure. We used the same text for 2 weeks and planned lots of practical opportunities to develop the children’s oral language skills.

By the end of March 2018, we could see that this was beginning to have a positive impact on the children’s writing. Then, I attended training which gave me a deeper understanding of:

- how we acquire, store and retain vocabulary 

- how to use Isobel Beck’s ‘tiers’ approach to select which words to teach explicitly

- strategies to effectively embed the teaching of vocabulary in the EYFS.

I shared the learning from this CPD with the EYFS team. We had already decided the theme for the next 6 weeks, which built on the children's interest in superheroes. We discovered the 'Supertato' series by Sue Hendra …absolutely brilliant!

Then, we planned clear objectives together, using the 'Supertato' books and our understanding from the vocabulary training. We hoped to have an impact on spoken language and on reading - and we were particularly keen to see an impact on independent writing. We agreed how we would:

- assess children’s existing vocabulary and identify new words to teach

- plan opportunities for new vocabulary to be embedded into the provision

- plan opportunities for adults to model and facilitate the use of the key vocabulary orally

- encourage children to use the new words independently in their writing.

Timescale

Training I attended an initial training session on teaching vocabulary explicitly and then I shared this learning with the EYFS team.

Planning I worked for an hour with small groups of children to assess which words about 'superheroes' they use readily and with confidence. Then, the EYFS team met for an hour to decide which Tier 2 words to teach explicitly.

Implementation Our focus on superheroes lasted 6 weeks in the summer term. During this time, we explicitly taught Tier 2 vocabulary. 

Review At the end of the topic, in June, the EYFS team met for 2 hours to scrutinise the impact on reading and writing outcomes and to decide 'next steps'. 

Outline

The theme on superheroes emerged from the children’s interests. We decided to include all 14 children in the project.


Finding out which words the children already use to talk about superheroes

I asked the children 'What do we know about superheroes?' I made a record of the vocabulary they used. I tried not to prompt the children because I wanted to hear the vocabulary they would use independently.

Film clip 1 'What do you know about superheroes?' shows one of the groups during this 'baseline' activity.

Afterwards, we analysed the outcome. We were really surprised by the limited vocabulary most of the children used. Another area of interest was that there was no apparent difference between the vocabulary of the lower attainers and that of the higher attainers.


Deciding which words to teach

Following our 'baseline' activity, we sat as a team and jotted down the key vocabulary we thought the children might have used and other words we could think of which the children could use to talk about superheroes. Then, we used Beck's tiers framework to identify Tier 1 words (everyday words which most of the children have already acquired), Tier 2 words (the ones we wanted to explicitly teach) and Tier 3 words, which were more challenging, less frequently used words. 


Teaching Tier 2 words

Over the next six weeks, we introduced ‘WOW’ words to the children (Word(s) Of the Week). Initially we started with just one word, then built upon this, introducing two words a week. We practised saying the words in a range of contexts, discussed the meaning(s) of the words and spellings. We played games such as clapping out the syllables, I Spy and ensured there were lots of opportunities to use and hear the words in different contexts. Consistency was key: we aimed to embed the Tier 2 words throughout enhanced provision, indoors and outdoors, and to plan creative, stimulating adult-led activities. 

Film clip 2: Setting the scene in the playground shows us using some of our Tier 2 words. We go in the playground and find Fred the Bear on the climbing frame. We quickly realise he has been captured by Evil Pea. How are we going to rescue him?

Film clip 3: Modelling tier 2 words in storytelling The children have made story maps of how they will rescue their super-fruit or super-veg from Evil Pea. As they tell their stories, I model and reinforce tier 2 words.

Reviewing impact 

Finally we looked at the impact by analysing the children’s independent writing outcomes, as well as listening to their oral language and independent storytelling.  We then repeated the baseline with the children and compared the vocabulary they were using at the beginning of the process to the vocabulary they were using at the end.

Lisa discusses the impact of teaching vocabulary explicitly and more systematically with Sarah Lockwood from Holmesdale Infant School

Film clip 4: What was the impact on children's writing?

Film clip 5: An example of one child's writing.

Film clip 6: Has this changed how you plan?

Film clip 7: Lisa's 'top tips'.

Photographs capture some special moments from our work on Supertato.

Impact

Adults' knowledge, skills and confidence What an interesting journey to be on! We have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of this process and we have been really excited to see the impact on children’s oral, reading and writing outcomes. It has really made us reflect upon:

- children’s existing vocabulary (don’t just assume they know and understand basic vocabulary!)

- the vocabulary we use with children

- the key words we choose to teach 

- the opportunities we provide for children to consolidate this new vocabulary over a period of time and in a range of contexts.

(Example of Baseline for the beginning and end of the project) 

Children are able to use Tier 2 words in conversation and play. They are able to embed the new vocabulary they acquired in different contexts during adult-led and child-initiated learning. The children love ‘WOW’ words and are eager to learn new words and explore the meaning of these. They love to share their knowledge with others when they discover a word has more than one meaning.

Children are able to use Tier 2 words in writing.  The spoken language baseline highlighted that some of our children had a limited vocabulary and sentence structure was very basic. The words they initially offered about superheroes were more noun-based. This seemed to improve dramatically by the end of the process, where the children used more descriptive sentences and ambitious vocabulary. This was evidenced in the children’s oral skills and writing outcomes.

During this work, some of our parents were impressed with the new words their children started to use at home. They thought that this was “quite advanced” vocabulary. They were also impressed when they saw these words in their children's writing.  

Next steps

In the EYFS, we now plan to:

- baseline children’s vocabulary at the beginning of every new theme so that staff can plan which key vocabulary to teach

- continue to teach vocabulary explicitly and systematically and to measure the impact.

The process is very easy to incorporate into the planning and assessment cycle and enhances teaching and learning outcomes. Consequently, we are planning to embed the process throughout the whole school next year. As a whole school, we intend to:

- further develop our understanding as a staff team of how children acquire, store and retain vocabulary

- embed Beck's tiers framework throughout school as a tool to identify which words to teach

- measure the impact on children’s oral, reading and writing outcomes

- involve parents by sharing key vocabulary we are using at school, so that this can be embedded at home.

Contributor

Lisa Maybury – Reception Teacher and Specialist Leader of Education for EYFS

lmaybury@lenthall.derbyshire.sch.uk

Additional information

Would you like to take part in a vocabulary project in your school? Project Vocabulary EYFS - Year 6 is a collaborative CPD opportunity available to primary school clusters in Derbyshire. It builds on the robust foundations of Project READ. It will enable schools not involved in the original project to participate in similar, collaborative school improvement projects. Participating schools work in partnership with Derbyshire's Teaching, Learning and Assessment Consultants and with Specialist Leaders of Education from Derbyshire's Teaching Schools. Contact EIS@derbyshire.gov.uk for more information.

1. 'What do you know about superheroes?' Password for all clips: projectread
2. Setting the scene in the playground
3. Modelling tier 2 words in storytelling
4. What was the impact on children's writing?
5. An example of one child's writing.
6. Has this changed how you plan?
7. Lisa's 'top tips'.
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