How talking with your child can improve their literacy

We all know literacy is an important life skill that can affect the chances of success at school and beyond. However, contrary to popular opinion, it doesn’t just refer to reading and writing.

Literacy also includes listening, speaking, and evaluating new information against existing knowledge . With all these skills covered under the ‘literacy’ umbrella, it’s easy to see why schools attach so much importance to literacy, and to understand its ongoing impact beyond school as a formal life skill. To find out more about the importance of literacy, read our guide for parents.

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Literacy is so important, it’s not something you should leave entirely to your child’s school. You don’t need strong literacy skills yourself to support your child. In fact, studies show not only that parents are brilliant teachers but that children learn more, and have higher engagement, when their parents are involved in their learning.

Speaking and listening are perhaps the easiest ways to boost literacy skills. Here, we suggest easy ways to improve your child’s literacy simply by enjoying high-quality conversations with them. These are fun activities you can integrate into your family life – while cooking, eating, or driving. They don’t need to impact on the time you already enjoy together. They could even help your family bond – while your child doesn’t even realise they’re learning! And of course, as well as adopting these suggestions with your family, your child can also try them with their friends.

For more ideas to improve your child’s literacy, check out our fun word games and tips on how to make reading fun.


Have high-quality conversations

In a high-quality conversation, feelings, ideas and concepts (whether from real life, TV, social media, newspapers or books) are:

listened to
thought about
responded to.

Conversations like these are a fantastic way to boost your child’s literacy, because they focus on empathy, social cause and effect, and critical thinking. When you consider why a friend (or even a character in a TV show) has behaved in a certain way and what you (or another character) can do about it, this is helping your child to understand human behaviour and the way the world works. You could also discuss an item on the news that has good or bad implications and help your child understand others’ opinions and how to respond to them, whether or not they disagree.

Encourage them to question what they read and see, and to mull over their thoughts with you, other family members, or friends. In the media, not everything we see is trustworthy – especially in an era of social media. Discussing with your child whether something is fake or not empowers them to draw their own conclusions and weed out the fake news.

Even the most ordinary subject matter can become the basis of quality chat that draws on existing knowledge to explore new ideas. Ask open-ended questions about their day and see which avenues the conversation leads down! Turn high-quality conversations into a daily habit that you can easily tap into, even while washing up or or in the supermarket together.


Explore words together

At the heart of a confident and articulate speaker is a broad vocabulary. Having a wide range of words to draw on gives us the tools to express ourselves clearly.

Lead by example and find out the meaning of any new words you encounter and share that knowledge with your child. Once we have learned a new word, it’s surprising how often we suddenly encounter it in completely different contexts! They, in turn, will become more confident in doing the same.

You could even challenge yourselves to drop any new words into conversation. Try using words your child is learning at school – it’s a fun challenge to see if you can use chromosome, precipitation, or simile in everyday talk.


If your child is in Years 9-11, they will find our GCSE English Terms & Analysis useful. It teaches the vocabulary students need for KS4 English Language and Literature and is available on a free trial.

More on GCSE English Terms & Analysis


Our Bedrock Vocabulary curriculum for children aged 6-16 introduces learners of all abilities to compelling, human-narrated fiction and non-fiction texts to increase their knowledge of the world. Each title develops their literacy by introducing them to a range of stimulating vocabulary in context. For example, our topic Malala teaches learners the words ‘advocate’, ‘conservative’ and ‘pioneer’.

More on Bedrock Vocabulary


For more ideas on boosting your child’s literacy:

The National Literacy Trust website has ideas and resources to stimulate your child’s literacy whether they are 5-8 years old or 9-12 years old.
The Reading Tub has ideas for how families can improve their children’s literacy.

Boost your child’s literacy and vocabulary with Bedrock

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