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Learning to read and write: Children 5-11

Many children now have enough language and early literacy skills to begin to read and write. Don’t worry if your child isn’t ready yet. It’s good to take things slowly and to spend time on early skills so your child stays motivated, engaged and feels successful. Children who use British Sign Language (BSL) will learn about spoken language, before they learn to read and write. This is because BSL doesn’t have a written form. You can find out more about learning BSL here.

Helping your child practice new reading and writing skills is really important. Your child may start to come home with reading books from school - these are great for practising reading  skills,  but children still need to read lots of real books with you as well. These could be information books, fairy tales, poetry books and comics. You can find more suggestions on the School Reading List website.  

Even when they’re reading independently, your child will like having a more challenging book read to them by you. This is especially important for deaf children, as it helps develop their language and vocabulary.

Reading and writing involve lots of different skills including:

Stories and narratives help children learn how to organise their thoughts and events and share information and ideas. Children will learn about how different people think, behave and feel and how to communicate to different audiences.

You can help by:

  • acting out simple stories.
  • Role playing different events and scenarios.
  • Making up stories together.
  • Putting on a show or play.
  • Making a film.
  • Sequencing pictures to retell a familiar story.
  • Using pictures and objects like puppets and toys to create a new story.

Decoding is a vital step in the reading process. Children use this skill to sound out new and unfamiliar words and to help with spelling. Decoding relies on an early language skill called ‘phonemic awareness. ‘Phonological awareness’ or ‘phonics’ is the ability to recognise individual sounds in words (phonemes) and be able to ‘play’ with sounds at the word and syllable level. Children will also learn to match sounds to letters.  Grasping the connection between a letter or group of letters and the sounds they typically make is an important step towards sounding out words. The Twinkle website provides more information about how to support your child’s phonological awareness. 

As your child gets older they will be following a phonics and spelling scheme at school. You continue to play a key role in supporting your child to decode and spell, There are lots of online games and activates. The BBC Bitesize website is a good place to start.

Deaf children who sign or who have reduced access to sound, may need extra support to learn how to decode through using sounds linked to visual information. You can find out more on the Elmfield School for Deaf children website.

You can help by:

  • Continuing with books, songs and rhymes.
  • Playing games like ‘I spy’.
  • Counting syllables.
  • Matching objects which start with the same letter.
  • Matching objects which sound the same, like ‘hat’ and ‘cat’.
  • Making letter shapes in sand, foam or out of playdough.

To read fluently, children need to instantly recognize words, including words they can’t sound out or common words – sometime known as ‘high frequency words. You can find out more about words they can’t sound out on the Understood website and you can find out more about high frequency words on the High Frequency Words website.

Sounding out or decoding every word can take a lot of effort. Word recognition is the ability to recognize whole words instantly by sight. Children who read smoothly and at a good pace are able to group words together to help with meaning. Reading fluency is essential for good reading comprehension. Deaf children may show early reading success because they learn how words look, but they will also need to be able to work out unfamiliar or new words using their phonic knowledge.

How can you help?

  • Play games like bingo, snap and pairs to help remember new sight words.
  • Use word sight words in sentences to help with meaning and understanding.
  • Label common objects around the house or give your child the label and ask them to find the object.

To understand what you’re reading, you need to understand most of the words in the text. Having a strong vocabulary is a key part of reading comprehension. Children can learn vocabulary through teaching, but they typically learn the meaning of words through everyday experience and reading.

Support your child to look up new words in the dictionary or to find different words with the same meaning, using a thesaurus. There are lots of online versions and Kiddle is a great visual search engine to help younger children to learn independently.

 You can help by:

  • Having lots of conversations on a variety of topics. Try to include new words and ideas.
  • Telling jokes and have fun with words.
  • Reading together every day. Stop at new words and talk about them, but also encourage your child to read alone and use what they know to work out what the word might mean.
  • Explaining new words and phrases using pictures, photos and objects. Real-life experiences can provide useful information as well. For example, if a story talks about ‘the bustle of a market’ or ‘the waves crashing onto rocks’, seeing or experiencing these things will help your child understand the language.

You can find more ideas on the Understood website.  

Understanding how sentences are built and connecting ideas within and between sentences, is called ‘cohesion’. Knowing how ideas link-up at sentence level helps children get meaning from passages and entire texts. It also leads to ‘coherence’, or the ability to connect ideas to other ideas in an overall piece of writing.

You can help by:

  • asking your child they think might happen next
  • questioning, for example, ‘why do you think he did that?’
  • encouraging them to explain what they have read,
  • helping them to give a simple summary or overview of the text
  •  using what they know to make sense of new learning.

Deaf children may also need extra support to build sentences and use grammar. They may miss quiet sounds like ‘s’ and ‘ed’ which give extra information about whether something is happening now or in the past. Spending more time working out what’s meant is not only tiring but makes it harder to remember what went before. Children who use sign will need to learn about tenses and the small words which carry meaning such as ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘of’.

You can help by: 

  • Drawing your child’s attention to tenses, plurals and small words like ‘a’ ‘the’ and ‘of’ in books and in everyday speech.
  • Saying what you’re going to write before writing it down
  • Using simple writing frames like ‘beginning, middle and end’ to help children organise their thought and ideas
  • Using language like ‘first,’ ‘once upon a time’, ‘next,’ ‘finally’ and ‘happily ever after’ to guide the writing.

When we read we use what we already know to help make sense of stories and information. The more children know about their world, the more easily they can make sense of what they’re reading. They also need to be able to ‘read between the lines’ and draw out meaning, even when it’s not obvious. This is sometimes known as ‘inference’.

You can help by:

  • building knowledge through reading, conversations, films, the internet, life experience and hands-on activities. You can find out more about this on the Understood website.
  • discussing what you’ve learned from experiences you and your child have had together making connections between new and existing knowledge. This video gives ideas on how to use animated videos to help your child make inferences.

As children get older they will learn that there are many different types of reading and writing depending on what type of information is being shared and who it’s being shared with.

You can help by:

  • Supporting your child to read aloud. Suggest they use different voices for different characters, pitch their voice loud or soft and add in expression. Get them to think about the pace of their reading – too fast and it may be difficult to understand, too slow and the audience might lose interest.
  • Encouraging your child to read a wide range of texts, including information books, story books, comics, instructions, recipes and rules.
  • Discussing the difference between facts and opinions. Using information books is a useful way to do this. For example, a fact is ‘acorns grow on oak trees’ and an opinion is ‘oak trees have the most unusual shaped leaves’.
  • Looking at the differences between pieces of writing. For example instructions and rules are set out differently to stories or adverts.
  • Looking how we use punctuation to show meaning. For example, ‘Let’s go?’ or ‘Let’s go!’

When children read, it’s their attention which allows them to take in information from the text. Working memory helps them to hold on to that information and use it to gain meaning and build knowledge from it. If children have to spend too much time working out what they’re reading, they’re less able to hold onto information and are less likely to engage, stay motivated or keep going when they get stuck.

You can help by:

  • Developing visualisation skills: Encourage your child to create a picture in their mind of what they’ve just read or heard. For example, Goldilocks sitting down to eat porridge. Encourage your child to imagine what the table should look like, and then draw it or describe it.
  • Encouraging active reading: Highlighters and sticky notes are great for helping to keep information in mind long enough to answer questions about it. Talking out loud and asking questions about the reading material can also help with working memory. Active reading strategies like these can help with forming long-term memories, too.
  • Helping make connections: Help your child form connections that link with learning and make it more memorable. One way is to grab your child’s interest with fun mnemonics – this is a tool you can use to help your child remember lots of information or how to spell difficult words. For example, remembering how to spell the word ‘because’ – ‘Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants’. You can find some more ideas of memory aids on The School Run website.

Books with deaf characters can help to give your child a positive self-image and an understanding of their deafness. We've published a number of books featuring deaf characters for different age groups - you can see all of our children's books here. You can also ask your child’s Teacher of the Deaf for suggestions. Book Trust also have suggestions for books which help develop positive self-identity.

You can help by:

  • Making an experience books: Buy a blank notebook or scrap book and make a note of different topics, such as family, hobbies, holidays and places your child has visited. You can draw write or stick photos in. Encourage your child to share these book with important people in their lives and to tell them their stories
  • Supporting your child to make their own books from wrapping paper, card, scrap paper and other recycled materials and then be an author and write or draw a story. Let them tell you what their story or book is all about.
  • Asking your child to tell you a story and then you can write it down or ask them to describe a picture and see whether you can draw it.
  • Playing lots of games with sounds, words and stories. Oxfordowl has lots of good ideas.
  • Putting labels around the home and them mix them up. See how many objects your child can collect which start with the same letter. Send your child a note from their favourite toy asking them to do something fun. For more ideas and games visit Reading Rockets.
  • Showing your child that you enjoy reading: Let them see you reading for different reasons and explain what you’re reading to show how important it is in everyday life. This could include signs or notices, instructions for games, recipes, magazines, cafe menus and emails.

Learning to write is one of the most important things that your child will do at primary school. Good writing gives your child a voice to share their ideas with the world. Reading Rockets have some great ideas and tips to get your child writing.

In order to write children need to:

  • know enough language and how it works to be able to tell the story or deliver information, often called the ‘content’ or ‘message’
  • learn to organise their thoughts and choose the most appropriate words and language (vocabulary, grammar) to make sure their message is understood
  • know why they’re writing and who they’re writing for. This is sometimes known as ‘audience’ and ‘purpose’.

In order to be able to write in lots of different ways for different people, children will need real life experiences and to know what different types of writing look like. For example, in order to write stories children will need to have read lots of different kinds of stories and in order to write an instruction leaflet, they will have to have followed a recipe or built something from a kit. BBC Bitesize has lots of information on the different types of writing your child will be learning about at school.

You can help by:

  • Checking your child understands what they have to do. Try linking to something your child is familiar with, such as a familiar story or set of instructions (such as a recipe), to give your child something to relate too.
  • Recognising and praising small steps. When your child first starts to write praise them for writing a sentence as they say or sign it even if you can’t read it.
  • Making it multi-sensory: Using multiple senses to process information can help with working memory and long-term memory. Help children to say or sign what they’re going to write before they write it, support them to make mind maps and use a visual timetable. You can find tips on how to make mind maps on the Good Parenting, Brighter Children website.
  • Breaking down the activity into manageable chunks, for example ‘beginning, middle and end’.
  • Organising information into chunks. Using graphic organizers can help children with a framework to structure their writing. You can download printable graphic organisers from the Understood website.
  • Providing extra tools. Having a framework can make a writing activity feel less scary. For example, a letter template or writing frame.
  • Writing down useful words and phrases. These could be names, key vocabulary, describing words or phrases or the words most commonly used. For example in a recipe providing a list of ingredients or action words such as ‘mix’, ‘pour’, ‘weigh’.
  • Reviewing and revisiting. If your child becomes stuck in the middle of a piece of writing, it can be helpful to ask them to read what they’ve written so you can ask some questions about what they want to happen next.
  • Looking out for opportunities to praise your child for their ideas and for what they’ve written well. Make it clear what you are praising, for example, you might say: “I really like the beginning of your story because it’s exciting”.

As your child gets older their vocabulary choices will be more adventurous and they will use these choices to engage with, persuade, or share information with the audience in lots of different ways.

You can help by:

  • Modelling and expanding on what your child signs or says to help them express their ideas in different ways.
  • Using figurative words and phrases. For example, when it’s raining you could say: “It’s raining cats and dogs!” and explain the meaning. You can also support your child by creating a ‘figures of speech’ book with separate pages for the different phrases. They can add to this over time and then use it for reference
  • Thinking of as many words that mean the same thing. For example; ‘big’, ‘large’, ‘huge’, ‘gigantic’, ‘great’, and ‘enormous’. These are called synonyms and are important because they can add variety to writing and very slightly change the meaning of a sentence.
  • Adding in adjectives and adverbs every day conversations. Use your senses to describe what you can see, feel, hear taste and smell. Describe an object or how different people do things.
  • Drawing attention the different language used in newspapers, advertisements and books.

Children who are fluent in handwriting, spelling and grammar are able to spend more time thinking about what they want to write. Many deaf children find grammar and spelling challenging because they hear less language or miss important parts of speech. For example word endings verb, tenses or some speech sounds. Children who use BSL may also take longer to develop English grammar and spelling because BSL has its own grammar and does not have a sound system. Finding a variety of ways of recording information including scribing, drawing, pictures, diagrams and speech to texts apps will help to keep your child motivated and engaged with writing.

You play an important part in developing your child’s confidence in their writing. Show interest in what they’ve written and their ideas and always praise their achievements first. Decide on just a few things you want your child to check, three things is usually enough, for example three spelling mistakes or three missed capital letters. The School Run website has lots of fun ideas and activities to help your child with spelling grammar and punctuation.

You can help by:


  • Ask your child’s school for their spelling programme so you are both working together in the same way.
  • Practise new spellings in lots of different ways. As your child becomes more confident, get them to write each word in a sentence or make up a silly short story. The Oxfordowl website has some fun ways to practise spellings
  • Provide spellings of topic words, before your child starts to write.
  • Keep a list of words your child find difficult to hand.
  • Draw attention to homonyms. Your child will start to notice that some words sound the same but have different spellings and meanings, for example, ‘pair’ and ‘pear’, ‘rain’ and ‘reign’ or ‘night’ and ‘knight.’
  • Use technology such as spell checks to help your child check their work.


  • Show your child punctuation in books, newspapers and signs.
  • Encourage your child to use simple punctuation consistently, such as capital letters at the start of sentences, full stops at the end and questions marks and exclamation marks if appropriate.
  • Ask your child to read back to you what they’ve written. As they read they will naturally put in the punctuation they may have missed, for example, pause when they come to the end of a sentence or raise their voice at an exclamation.


  • Check your child has used the correct tense and the same tense throughout their writing, for example, “I went” not “me goed.”
  • Draw attention to plurals and help them to learn the rules for getting the correct plural, for example, ‘s’ ‘es’ ‘ies’
  • Ask “who/does/what?” to help your child order their sentences. For example, “the girl/climbed/a tree”.
  • Between the ages of 8 and 11, children will be introduced to many common prefixes and suffixes (such as ‘pre’ meaning ‘before’ and ‘ful’ meaning ‘full of’). The Secrets of Words contains lessons, exercises and games and specifically designed books to help with this area of deaf children’s literacy skills.