Read the Way with Project X: Teaching Thematic Clusters

Read the Way with Project X: Teaching Thematic Clusters

Some of you will know that Project X Origins is structured in thematic clusters of four or five books, but did you know that there are several key benefits to the theme/cluster structure? Read on to find four key ways in which the thematic approach of PX Origins supports your developing readers.

1. Enhances vocabulary

During their reading journey, children encounter multiple new words. These then need to be decoded and understood. Gradually children move on from sounding out words to recognizing them, which allows them to read more fluently and concentrate on understanding the meaning of the words and of the text. One of the best ways to support children in recognising key words is through repeated exposure, so that children have opportunities to encounter new vocabulary over and over.

Reading texts on the same theme also often gives rise to opportunities for looking at morphology. For example, learning about space gives you the chance to teach children that the root ‘ast-’ means ‘star’ so asteroid, astronomy, astronaut and even asterisk are all linked.

As readers become more skilled, encountering key words in different contexts helps children to absorb their meanings; once a word is embedded in their vocabulary they can apply their understanding of it to different text types and contexts.

The Project X Origins books support this acquisition of vocabulary in two ways – the clusters of four or five books mean that children encounter words and concepts repeatedly across a range of texts, and the guided reading notes provide opportunities for looking at morphology and other grammatical aspects of the text.

2. Develops comprehension

Comprehension is all about making connections, within texts, between texts, and across different subject areas. When encountering a subject for the first time, readers need to construct a mental model of what it is they are thinking about. By finding out more about the same subject, readers develop that mental model by adding more information to it. So, for example, a child’s basic understanding of the environment is enhanced by learning more about the water cycle, or the effect of pollution.

Gradually, the store of what a child knows about a subject is added to or amended as they encounter new information. As readers develop more sophistication, reading widely across a theme allows them to study other points of view, which reinforce or challenge their perceptions. Similarly, viewing the same topic through the lens of another subject such as maths or geography helps them to solidify connections or question preconceptions.

The Project X Origins clusters approach the same topic from two angles – fiction and non-fiction. Supporting notes [click here for an example] offer practical suggestions of how to extend the learning into other subject areas.

3. Sparks their natural curiosity – and sense of mastery

On their own, word reading and comprehension skills are not strong enough foundations for a lifelong love of reading. To really develop a reading habit, children need to feel motivated to read. Children are naturally curious, and reading widely across a theme or topic feeds into their innate desire to learn more about a subject. Even better if they can become an expert! Developing a store of knowledge about a particular area, whether it’s dinosaurs or escapologists, gives children a sense of mastery and expertise. Staying with a topic or theme, even if only for a few weeks, also gives children more opportunity to share their knowledge with those around them – again increasing their view of themselves as expert learners.

However, children can become dispirited if they try to access texts that are too far beyond their reading level.  The Project X Origins texts are carefully levelled to support teachers in selecting an appropriate degree of challenge so that children can read with confidence.

4. Leads to reading more, and more varied texts

Reading begets reading, and once children start to develop the skills and the motivation, the foundations are laid for them to become voracious readers. Sparking an interest in a subject leads children to want to learn more about it, increasing the opportunity for them to utilise different sources of information, for example learning how to use encyclopaedias, dictionaries or to conduct web searches. They may also choose to add to their understanding of and knowledge about a topic with video clips, another vital source of learning.

Within just one Project X cluster, they will encounter two fiction genres and two types of non-fiction, some of which will be new to them, and extending beyond the cluster books opens up access to other text types. Reading broadly in this way allows children to gain experience, to form opinions about authors and text types, to consider which is the best medium for learning more about new subjects, and to be able to evaluate and debate all of this.

Learning with Project X thematic clusters allows developing readers to really engage with literacy in new and exciting ways, broadening their comprehension and vocabulary while introducing them to a wider range and variety of topics, all of which opens the door to true mastery and sense of achievement; some of the biggest steps on the road to a lifelong reading habit.

Find out more about Project X and try a free lesson on our website

Caroline Derby

Caroline Derby has worked in educational publishing for almost 15 years, specialising in primary literacy. She is a senior publisher for Oxford University Press, responsible for Project X and the Nuffield Early Language Intervention