Closing the word gap – developing a consistent whole school approach

Sarah Eggleton: Continuing from the previous blog – ‘Closing the word gap – introducing a whole school approach’ this blog will explain how we moved from staff delivering key words in lessons to enabling teachers and students to engage with and interrogate vocabulary to get a genuine deep understanding of it. 

What we wanted to achieve

Before our next stage of staff training and implementation we went back to the drawing board to reconsider what we wanted to achieve based on the experiences in the English department. We agreed this was:

  • Whole school impact – students being explicitly taught vocabulary in every subject area – literacy is not English 
  • Staff and student awareness of vocabulary – etymology and morphology to enable greater independent understanding of previously unseen words in the future 
  • A consistent approach
  • A spiral curriculum – teaching vocabulary throughout KS3 that will better enable access to and understanding of KS4 curriculum 
  • Improved student outcomes – with greater understanding of exam questions and more sophisticated written communication pupils will improve their outcomes over time 

The barriers

As outlined in the previous blog the barriers were:

  • Staff buy in 
  • Curriculum time in lessons to address vocabulary when perceived as ‘not their subject’
  • Staff knowledge and understanding of Tier 2 vocabulary 

Following on from our staged approach we delivered another whole school training session in which we explained what we had done in English, how it worked, why it worked and student responses to it – both via student voice and in their work. This presented some pretty irrefutable evidence to mitigate any staff reluctance. 

The expectations

We then communicated four very clear and simple expectations:

  1. All teachers would be expected to teach vocabulary explicitly to Year 9 only 
  2. They must use the Frayer model to teach vocabulary  
  3. They must teach six words per term (if staff only see students once a week this still only equates to at most one word a fortnight – this is not a big ask from lesson time)
  4. High expectations for all students – we showed staff a KS2 SATS paper and the level of vocabulary in that – followed by the vocab in GCSE papers across different subjects – all students have to access all of these papers so we should be picking words that are challenging and making them accessible)

We then gave departments time to work in teams breaking out from the whole staff session to their subject areas. I stationed one member of the English department with each subject so they had someone to help them select appropriate words and address any misconceptions. We then gave a follow up directed time slot for preparing resources and a deadline for putting them in a folder on our public drive so we could monitor the quality of the resources prepared and check the words were appropriately challenging Tier 2 vocabulary in line with the spiral curriculum. 

Using the Frayer model to teach vocabulary

We were conscious that the autonomy we’d encouraged in previous training needed to continue, within reason, to ensure the strategy worked for every subject. The Frayer model and explicit teaching given in lesson time was non negotiable but apart from that we were open to how departments wanted to approach their vocabulary teaching. Some departments decided to teach the word in class but ask students to complete the Frayer model for homework, some changed the Frayer model to a pyramid to better suit their subject and some changed the headings within it to make it more relevant to their needs:




As done previously we followed this up with LAW, peer observations, support for departments finding it more difficult to incorporate, staff and student voice, more training addressing issues encountered and sharing of good practice. 

One year on and here is our staff voice:

The next steps are:

  • To roll out current practice to Year 7 and 8, again 6 words per term
  • Continue the monitoring and evaluation 
  • Follow up with training on the importance of etymology and morphology. 

Etymology and morphology has been the aspect staff have been most reluctant to get on board with. This is because of the time it takes to research and understand the etymology and morphology of the chosen words themselves before they can teach it; as well as the time it will take to teach in the classroom. I strongly believe this is the step that will better enable students to decipher vocabulary independently in the future and we’re missing an opportunity to develop these skills and knowledge across the curriculum; so we’ve got some thinking to do about how we can overcome those barriers. It’s an ongoing journey! 

Sarah Eggleton is Assistant Headteacher and Head of English at Stretford High School.

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