Pre-Teaching Vocabulary
TCT What Works Manual

A teaching resource conceived and developed by Pip St John, and published in October 2016 under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 Licence.

Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Manual  (PDF File, 67MB)

Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Prompt Cards and Resources (ZIP file, 37MB)

ptv-cover-oct-2016Pre-Teaching Vocabulary (PTV) is a vocabulary teaching methodology that uses symbols and pictures from Communicate in Print (or CIP, see on visual prompt cards to support teaching children how to learn new words.

Teachers are provided with a range of prompts that support all aspects of word learning (both phonological and semantic). The resources are specialised for whole class, small group and individual settings, and for the use of permanent and temporary classroom displays. PTV resources are designed to encourage children’s ability to learn words independently.

Pre-Teaching Vocabulary provides a structured and principled approach for teaching children how to learn new words. It is particularly effective for teaching children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

PTV aims to support existing teaching methods for word learning and to hone and develop teachers’ existing vocabulary learning strategies. It provides teachers and children with a practical framework upon which to develop critical thinking skills and tools for independent word learning.

PTV encourages a focus on the key ‘goldilocks’ words needed by children to effectively understand the topics in their classroom. It helps reinforce the importance of developing word knowledge to improve and enhance listening and future reading comprehension.

PTV is included in the Communication Trust ‘What Works’ Database of evidence-based interventions to support children’s’ speech, language and communication.

Word Learning Score (WLS) measures child’s internalisation and recall of the topic /curriculum words. Ideal for target setting and measuring impact and progress


Sentence Builders

Developed and shared under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 Licence. Linked to Black Sheep Press.

Throughout my work I continue to make sentence builders and writing frames linked to class based texts in the classroom. I have used these throughout my teaching career and they are nothing new; good practice in the reception class and beyond and for EAL children. All I have done is add a further scaffold to explicitly anchor the features of narrative.

The function of sentence builders is to support the internalisation of the features of a narrative, providing a scaffold to support the generation of meaningful sentences and written story/accounts. For those children with SLCN and SEND sentence builders can be invaluable, supporting their access to, and providing a differentiated outcome for, their class work. The main feedback I receive from teachers is that sentence builders are a great resource for children who struggle to write in class, and help support the Talk For Writing approach used in many schools.

Sentence builders are made for both fiction and non-fiction texts and can be a springboard for teachers to create their own (acknowledge Black Sheep Press please). The sentence builders specifically aim to reduce the pressure on children to be able to create and construct their ideas into a written form without the worry of whether they can spell and/or recall any of the key words – they are there available to use and apply. There are further blank sentence builders on which children can input the information from text themselves.

Sentence builders can support language development across the curriculum. Provide and model a sentence frame on the whiteboard or a wall. Encourage learners to use the frame for speaking and in writing: e.g. to make predictions, offer cause effect statements, describe a process etc.

The Sentence Builders also provides different levels of differentiation for the class teacher:

  • As a complete frame with all topic words (including lots of verbs) to support direct writing in the classroom;
  • A blank sentence builder frame for children to interact with the text and select specific information (good old DARTs activity for those who can remember that far back!) – this could be the outcome for a few children and show their understanding at their level;
  • This child-generated sentence builders can then be the scaffold for them to re-tell one (or more) sentences – again for some children this is their outcome in the classroom;
  • A further extension is for the child, after oral rehearsal, to generate a written sentence (or sentences) using their sentence builders.
Links to Sentence builders you can use for free

The first three have been developed by Rachael Hughes at Black Sheep Publications.

 RH KS2 Narrative Extension Act // RH KS2 Flow Chart5 // RH Esio Trot

The remaining examples are sentence builders I have made during my work in schools. Any errors are totally mine but happy to share!

The Treasure Hunt// The Pirates next door // Tree Fu Tom writing grid // Three Billy Goat Gruff // The Egyptian Cinderella basic writing grid // The Egyptian Cinderella basic writing grid// Mama Panya’s Pancakes sentence builder // Lost and Found sentence builder // Handa’s Surprise sentence builder // Fantastic Mr Fox basic writing grid// Harry and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs Y1 // Harry Potter and the Philospher’s stone Y4 // Maximus and the bean stalk Y5// 3 little wolves and big bad pig writing grid

These are blank frames we have used within schools to support story and account writing using BSP key visuals. Adapt, amend and change according to your need.

story plannerREC// story plannerKS1// story planner KS2 // A5 Narrative squares for class // MASTER writing grid

Research skills: Unlocking the web of meaning woven by the words

As long as we make it very clear that there are stages in how children become critical readers, break the code and decipher what those squiggles running across a page actually mean.

If you try and read a passage ort a book which makes no meaning you will soon weary of it; likewise children need to understand the many meanings words covey. Critical readers apply critical thinking to their reading.

This means helping them to be more than readers of the plot – they need to be able to interpret the story, to read the lines and read between and also beyond the lines. They need the skills to be able to question, rethink and develop their ideas and understanding of what they have read – and continues through their reflection, inferences and deductions, through translating the ideas into their own words and making their own interpretations of what they have read.

By asking supportive questions teachers model what good readers do as they try and make sense of what they have read – make the imaginative leap that expands their children’s thinking. It lays down a pathway to follow and hopefully the questions help develop the habits of mind of good readers.

For many children in our schools we must make sure they have a foundation understanding of the features of a narrative and hence the reason we use the Black Sheep framework throughout our universal and targeted work – once the story features of Who? Where? When? What Happening? and The End? are thoroughly established in their minds children can be encouraged to extend and develop their higher order reading and thinking skills (skimming, scanning, reflective reading, reasoning and evaluation skills).

Children often find it difficult to articulate a personal response to a story or an account as this is a skill which needs nurturing and encouraging – they often have in their heads more than they can say let alone have the grapho- motor skills to quickly encode onto paper.

The following cards contain questions which may be used by the adult and/or placed in the challenge area for children to work independently to extend their thinking about a story or an account whilst interacting with a text (fiction or non-fiction). Many teachers recognise that when children work with non-fiction texts they often do no more than simply copy passages from their reference source albeit a book/web page, with little evidence of learning. They obviously will need to be altered according to the main text / story or account given to the children but provide a starting point for use in class.

Research skills LfL Question cards

Key Aspect Some Questions to ask Extension questions
Setting When is it (now or a long time ago)/  Where is it (here or somewhere else)?What is it like there (like / unlike where you live)?  
Character Who are the characters in the story (can you name them)?  How would you describe them (what do they look like / size/hair colour/ friendly/ sad etc)?  How are the characters related? How are the characters behaving in the story?  How should they behave?  How would you behave?


Plot What happens in the story?  What was/ were the key event(s)?  What might have happened? What happened next?

Why did it happen?

Point of view What does the character think?  What do the other characters think?  What do you think? Do you agree/ disagree? What is your opinion and why?
Dialogue What did the character(s) say?  Why did they say that?  What might they have said?  
Language What special words are there (what new words)? What sound/spelling patterns can you see? What punctuation is used? Why? What kind of story / text is this? Is this like another story you know? And how?
Themes What is the story / account about?  What is strange / interesting / puzzling about the story?  What questions or comments do you have about the story? What genre is it?  What is noteworthy about this story? Is it special in any way? If so, how?


Journal articles

St John, P. & Pickup, A. (2015) Supporting progress in literacy through universal and targeted language work in a KS2 classroom. NAPLIC Conference Seminar Paper, University of Warwick, May 2015 (download pdf)

St John, P. & Vance, M. (2014). Evaluation of a principled approach to vocabulary learning in mainstream classes. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, vol. 30 no. 3255-271 (abstract / download pdf)

St John, P.  (2013). Book review: Conteh J (2012) Teaching bilingual and eal learners in primary schools. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 29(2), 263-265. (extract)

St John, P., Higginbottom, A., & Mackillop, S. (2012). Book review: Hatcher C (ed.)(2011) Making collaborative practice work: A model for teachers and SLTs. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 28(2), 244-246. (extract)

St John, P. (2010) Language for Life Reception Project, Blackburn Centre for Excellence & Outcomes in Children and Young People. (online)