IOE - Faculty of Education and Society


Cognition and learning: literacy

Supporting cognition and learning with a focus on literacy support at home.

Child reading at the table. Image: Josh Applegate via Unsplash

Contextual information

Support and advice

Resources to support key areas of literacy

Cognition and learning

  • Cognition describes thinking skills and links learning closely with prior experience and knowledge. Parents may be aware that a child is supported within this area at school through the SEN Code of Practice ‘graduated response’ through the ‘assess, plan, do, review’ cycle in schools. 
  • Children may have access to additional group or individual support to help them make progress through an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or perhaps an Education Health Care Plan (EHCP) if their needs are more severe.
  • Parents may wish to contact the school SENCo or inclusion manager to ask if their child is following a particular programme that could be continued at home. 
  • Children may have Moderate Learning difficulties (MLD), Severe Learning difficulties (SLD) or Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD). Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD) may occur in one or a combination of areas e.g. dyslexia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia. This page will focus on supporting those children with SpLD (dyslexia) / literacy difficulties.
  • Children with needs in the area of cognition and learning may often benefit from working at a slower pace and learning may be best managed through a 'little and often' teaching approach, with plenty of revisiting and 'over-learning' when teaching new skills and concepts. 
  • Children of all ages may need support at home to continue to develop their literacy and language skills.

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Literacy learning

  • Learning in the early years and key stage 1 is focused upon children developing their oral language as a cornerstone to the development of literacy; alongside working on their phonological awareness/phonic knowledge, reading accuracy and early writing skills. Early writing skills focus on the development of 'transcription skills' (such as spelling and handwriting) which underpin the writing process.
  • Literacy learning in key stages 2, 3 and 4 will be more focused on developing reading fluency and reading comprehension (once accuracy is secure) and moving towards securing more advanced literacy skills at secondary school. Children may begin to focus more on writing composition (once transcription skills are secure). Children will be studying many different subjects but will continue to need to develop their literacy skills as this will underpin all areas of the curriculum.
  • Some children will need additional support to develop their literacy skills and may experience persistent difficulties developing these skills (this can be a result of Specific Learning Difficulties e.g. dyslexia) and these children may need additional and personalised support.

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Diagnostic assessments for dyslexia during COVID 19

Face-to-face assessments are not possible at this time. The SpLD Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) have advised that during the period of social distancing, diagnostic assessments for dyslexia can no longer go ahead.

This may have implications for Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) access arrangements.

Parents are advised to speak to the school SENCO for further guidance. Specialist teachers are continuing to work and support learning, though this is now through online teaching and likely to incur a charge.

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Charities offering free support and advice

Resources and advice to support the education of children with dyslexia. All of these charities have sections offering specific guidance to parents:


  • How can I help my child at home? on the Dyslexia-SpLD-Trust website - a collaboration of voluntary and community organisations with funding from the Department for Education to provide reliable information to parents, teachers, schools and the wider sector.
  • What works? on the Sendgateway website - interventions and strategies to support children and young people with special educational needs, including processes and resources to support identification, monitoring and planning for children and young people. These are resources for parents that include top tips on supporting reading writing and spelling. 
  • Advice and Guidance for Parents on the Children's Literacy Charity website - providing a 'Ready for Reading and Writing Pack' activity pack for parents to use at home. It includes activities with guidance notes that parents can use to help develop early reading and writing skills. There are also explanations of terminology that your child is using in school.

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The DfE website is good place to start and provides a very informative webpage which has an ‘English’ section compiled by hub schools and teachers. 

The ‘English’ section is divided into ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ and links to freely available online resources. For primary there is a phonics section, stories, free books, multiple resource packs, booklists, comprehension and grammar activities. For secondary aged learners links provide for writing, poetry, books and GCSE texts and revision resources, and a link to a daily newsletter for parents and carers at home helping to enrich learning with real-world knowledge and skills:

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Phonological awareness and phonics

It is essential that children develop phonological awareness (the ability to identify and manipulate sounds in spoken language e.g. syllables, rhyme etc), phonemic awareness (manipulating individual sounds) and phonic knowledge (producing letter sounds) as these key skills will support children to be able to decode text and read with accuracy.

The DfE produced a free phonological awareness and phonics programme commonly used in primary schools across the country:

  • Letters and sounds on the DfE website - a structured and systematic progression with teaching activities and also lists of high frequency words to learn to support reading fluency

Based on current research from the iRead project, Navigo is an app-based game designed to support primary school children in developing their reading skills. This can be used for home learning. It covers the first three to four years of learning to read across the primary curriculum and can also support older struggling readers. It focuses on developing skills that underpin reading, including phonics, letters and sounds, designed by IOE and Fish in a Bottle. The app can only be used on an Android tablet:

Free videos teaching phonics and daily lessons:

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  • Personalised reading for families (iRead website)
  • eBook library (English) on the OxfordOWL website - free for a limited period, while schools are closed. It has added hundreds of eBooks to the library so that children of different ages have more to read. They are provided author video read along and challenges. There is plenty of guidance on how parents can help teach their child to read.
  • BookTrust Home Time hub (BookTrust website) - developed for families with children at home, packed with reading advice, ideas and resources. Time at home is a great opportunity to find inspiration in books, discover a new habit, and uncover a new passion.
  • Advice for parents (Reading Rockets website) - lots of advice on this website for parents on how to support your child with reading.
  • Paired reading (TES website) - a technique that can be used with parents and children to boost reading skills. This is easy to set up and just needs access to books and a quiet space to read with your child. The reading is shared so that the child can gain confidence and remove the scaffold when needed.
  • Reciprocal Teaching (Reading Rockets website) - an activity / process that can be used to support the development of reading comprehension. Children often enjoy this activity as they can take on the teacher role here. Whilst this is often done in groups it can be done 1:1 with a parent. There are 4 roles of summarising, questioning, clarifying and predicting based on the text being read. These roles can be shared out or swapped each time.

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Handwriting and writing

Writing is a hugely demanding and complex process. Learners must be able to transcribe, handwrite or type their ideas (generating letters, words, sentences and texts) using legible handwriting and correct spelling. 

Learners use executive functions (memory and processing) to enable them to plan, compose and write meaningful texts. Children need to learn processes such as plan, revise, evaluate, and monitoring.


  • Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) on the ThinkSRSD website - free resources, created by teachers and researchers in the USA , to help with teaching writing and motivation to write, combining instructional strategies with a means to self-regulate. The goal is to teach the strategies that students need in order to write, while keeping them motivated
  • National Handwriting Association (NHA) website - offers a free resource pack designed to support teachers. It includes top tips for teaching and can be used easily by parents at home.
  • How to Utilise Twinkl during the Coronavirus Shutdown: A Guide for Schools (Twinkl website) - Twinkl have extended their offer of free access to their resources while schools are closed. The handwriting templates available on Twinkl are particularly good activities for younger children who are starting to learn correct letter formation. 

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Vocabulary development

Oral language and vocabulary knowledge underpin successful literacy.

  • Vocabulary activities on the British Council website - free ideas for supporting vocabulary development for younger and older learners.

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An important part of the transcription process and the more words a child can write and spell correctly and automatically the more fluent and easy writing will be. It is a good idea to teach spelling of high frequency words to aid this fluency.


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Metacognition and motivation

Special interests are an excellent motivator for writing and reading so do find out what your children are interested in and use this to support engagement. Do try and find books and resources that relate to these interests and do try and make things fun. 

Teaching in a multi-sensory way and involving fun and games when literacy learning occurs will keep a child motivated to learn. If a child wants to read and enjoys reading, they will then read more, and this will have on impact on all their learning. This is known as the 'Matthew effect'. 

There are many resources online, many of which have been made free during the Coronavirus period. Some examples include: 

  • Play games, and hang out with Dr. Seuss (Seussville website)
  • Online tours (Louvre website) - a virtual museum trip could provide inspiration for vocabulary development and writing. Travel to Paris, France to see amazing works of art at The Louvre with this virtual field trip.

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Cross curricular activities

Many children benefit from thinking about curriculum areas when they are embedded in real life contexts.

We have taken some popular interests and activities and made suggestions on how these can be used to stimulate learning.

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