Disciplinary Literacy


I’d recently put up a post about how the EEF stressed the importance of disciplinary literacy and its role in improving whole school literacy and attainment. Disciplinary Literacy refers to the specific literacy skills that relate to different subjects.

When considering what this means I suspect first thoughts would gravitate towards the vocabulary needed in each subject; our key terminology, but I believe that good literacy instruction moves beyond this to also include ‘subject grammar’. 

Here are three ideas to get you thinking about this.

Capital Letters
Start with capital letters. I find in all key stages, students will still inconsistently use capital letters. Whilst you don’t need to teach a lesson on how to use capital letters, it would be certainly worthwhile to provide a list of the key categories of words in your subject area that will require capitals and also those that do not.  

For instance in media studies; names of films, names of directors, titles of TV shows, etc all need capitals and are common to have to write. Create a list like this in all subjects and keep referring to it. Make them ‘non-negotiables’ of their writing. 

Think about tense. When writing in your subjects, what tense should they write in? Give clear instruction as to what is needed. Perhaps, just as they are used to hearing that ‘this is a ‘short mark response’ should should be hearing ‘this is a past tense response’ 

Consider whether there are any specific phrasing conventions required. In media studies students will not naturally know how to refer to a director or actor and without explicit literacy instruction. I’ve certainly read essays by students talking informally about Roger and Daniel (Bond topic). It certainly doesn’t harm to have a quick refresher on introducing a person with their full name and then subsequently using their surname only (Scorsese, rather than Martin or Mr Scorsese). In English language, critical writing is improved by using a term before the quote rather than the other way round. For instance;

  • The use of alliteration in ‘slowly seeks its silent sleep’ creates a sense of… (term then quote).
  • The quote ‘slowly seeks its silent sleep’ which is alliteration, creates a sense of… (quote then term).

Have a think about whether certain conventions are also worth reinforcing in your own subjects. Check through examples of students writing – what literacy errors are they making that have a link to your specific subject. 

Remember that for learners with lower literacy skills, these points are not second nature. They will certainly benefit from the highlighting of these structures.