A guide to delivering outstanding vocabulary CPD

Are you giving whole school literacy CPD the attention it deserves?

It has been a long-held belief that whole school literacy falls under the remit of the ever-stretched English department. However, it seems that the tide is turning. Out of 45 teachers I asked, a whopping 80% agreed that literacy was a whole school issue.

There is no denying that clear and explicit vocabulary teaching and learning leads to improved reading and understanding, which, in turn, results in progress.

However, the real question is… are your staff fully equipped to address language deficits across the curriculum?

Recently, a member of SLT (a Maths specialist) at an outstanding school said to me, “Some steering from the English department would be welcome BUT EVERYONE is responsible. Unfortunately, no-one is picking up the mantle.”

Who will take the lead? Can you confidently say that the English department are teaching vocabulary in a planned and well-structured way? If you are a literacy coordinator or Teaching and Learning Lead reading this – it is likely your responsibility to steer the ship and generate excitement in this crucial area of pedagogy.

In fact, really you ought to be building a whole school vocabulary improvement action plan to help your school navigate Ofsted’s new framework in 2019. We fully expect considerations about vocabulary to form part of their drive for ‘intentional planning’. To ensure your plan is water-tight, use our research based ‘three Cs’. Your whole school vocabulary improvement action plan must be:


(Biemiller 1999, National Reading Panel, 2000, Beck et al., 2002 )

A long list of words isn’t going to help your students. They need to be taught in a range of contexts.

In line with Robert Marzano’s ‘multiple exposures’- you need to create plenty of learning opportunities through interactive activities.


(Stahl, 2005 Donovan and Radosevich, 1999, Castel et al., 2012)

Again, these words need to be chosen deliberately. Are there words in the SATs or GCSE papers that your students frequently misunderstand? What words would vastly improve your students’ extended writing?

Whether you plan to teach words thematically or by varying degrees of difficulty- you must have a plan that is clear and easy to follow (you want all teachers on board, right?!).


(Baker et al.,1998, Beck & McKeown, 2002)

And now we get to the crux of the matter. Your plan needs to positively impact your students’ learning experience.

How will you show progress? When you are sat with the board of governors – what data will you produce to show impact? Again, clarity is key here.

Having led several Vocabulary Matters! CPD sessions, I’ve found interactive sessions where teachers can try out effective vocabulary teaching and learning strategies within departmental groups really galvanises staff.

For any pointers or help with your whole school vocabulary improvement action plan, contact Alex via email at or on Twitter.

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