5 ways to engage your pupils in English and Literacy

Sept. 10, 2018

There’s a reason that the English Programme of Study is so long, and why it places so much emphasis on encouraging children to read and, importantly, to want to read. According to research by the National Literacy Trust, a lack of literacy holds children back not only in school, but at every stage of their lives:

“People with low literacy skills may not be able to read a book or newspaper, understand road signs or price labels, make sense of a bus or train timetable, fill out a form, read instructions on medicines or use the internet.”

From The National Literacy Trust: Why is literacy important?

In this article, we’ll look at five ways that you can use Purple Mash to get your children motivated and engaged with literacy, especially reading.


Learning how to create words from their component parts is a major aspect of the English curriculum, as is spelling. Fortunately, Purple Mash has you covered with its SPAG modules. Just look in the English section and you’ll spot it -- it looks like the screenshot below

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Taking the phonics part first, this meets all of the National Curriculum requirements. For instance, Unit 1 is concerned with the sound of the letters ‘s’, ‘a’, ‘t’ and ‘p’. Click on one of those letters, and you come to an area in which the child can listen to what it sounds like, and hear examples of words which begin with each letter. Incidentally, that’s a great feature for another reason: (the emphasis placed on listening in the Programme of Study.)

One thing you might like to do is ask the children what a picture is showing, and then they can see if they were correct by clicking on the picture and listening to its name being read out. For good measure, a mini-animation demonstrates how the letter is formed.

No lesson would be complete without checking that the children have understood and can remember what they've learnt. The Practise section addresses that aspect, and as you can see from the screenshot the child can practice drawing the letters. A handy Teacher’s Prompt suggests a few activities for making the best use of this resource.

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There are several phonics modules and plenty of letters and letter combinations in each one. In short, you have all of your phonic needs for Key Stage 1 through to Key Stage 2 under one roof.

Also explore...

While you’re in the SPAG section, have look at the spelling and grammar modules. Spelling, in particular, is hard to teach (and hard to learn: English is not the most consistent of languages!). The Spelling scheme of work has it all worked out. And in the Grammar section you’ll find some great exercises and games to make the learning go as smoothly as possible.

Writing structure

Children have to be able to understand the grammatical structure of any book they’re reading. The Grammar Analysis app requires them to take a few pages from the book and identify various parts of speech, such as fronted adverbials. They can note where these occur on the grid provided. You can easily find this app by typing ‘book grammar’ into the Purple Mash search bar.

Also explore…

Story Grammar Analysis. This is all about how the story as a whole is structured, such as the: when, where, and how of it. How is the setting described, for instance: A template is provided for the children to write in, but you could use it as a basis for a whole class discussion instead.

Reading motivation

Pupils have to be encouraged to read, both fiction and non-fiction. A great starting point is Serial Mash. As the name suggests, this is a collection of serialised fiction for children from five years old upwards. There’s even a collection of books for reluctant readers.

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Serial Mash is all about reading for pleasure, but it’s not just time off for the kids! Each chapter is followed by a variety of activities which not only test children’s knowledge of what they’ve just read, but also cover some of the other aspects of the National Curriculum too, such as being able to identify joining words.

As well as a teachers’ guide, there’s also planned timetables and other resources to make your life easier.

Also explore...

You might wish to combine reading with writing reviews. The Book Reviews section is in the section entitled Writing genres and themes. The nice thing about the book review templates is that the idea of the standard book review has been supplemented by several exciting variations.

For example, one template invites the children to create a comic strip about part of the book, while another is about sending a postcard from the book.

In addition to the book itself, the children can turn their attention to the author, through an author fact file.

Definitely worth a look.


On the subject of fiction, how good are the children at listening? That’s another key component of the Programme of Study. Obviously, listening is covered by the phonics work but, let’s face it, that can be pretty dry.

Enter Talking Stories. This is a set of five stories aimed at younger children, and which can be read to you in a variety of languages. One of them is the Great Fire of London, for example. As a lover of time travel stories, I enjoyed it immensely!

These stories are interactive in the sense of asking the children questions, such as what can we use to heat up the oven?

One of the skills to be addressed in the National Curriculum is prediction. Now we all know the old saying “I can predict everything except the future”, so you might think it’s asking a bit much of children. But the idea is, to take the Great Fire of London story, to get the children to predict what might happen given that houses were made of wood in 1666, if they didn’t already know about what happened.

Talking Stories also has some non-fiction, which children have to be introduced to, in the form of ‘A trip down the River Thames’.

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Also explore…

Stories 2 Tell. This contains stories read out to the children, and follow-up activities. For example, you can retell the story using words at the sides of the screen. Clicking on a word read it out. You’ll find Stories2Tell in the English Apps section.


To be literate, you have to be able to talk about things you’re read as well. This skill is addressed in several activities of different apps, but if you want to tackle it head on then why not go to the straight to the Debating app?

Now, you may find this an odd suggestion because it’s located under Writing Projects. However, various templates are provided for different topics, such as animal testing. These templates are highly structured, telling you what you need to do at each stage. One of the templates is not aligned with a particular topic, but still possesses the same structure as the topic one. Why not use this to discuss a book the class has just read? For example, the topic could be: “Should Tom have acted the way he did?”.

Even if you don’t have a class debate as such, you could still have a very good discussion in which the children have to address the aspects of the debating template, such as noting the facts, thinking about your own opinion and trying to predict what other pupils’ opinion might be, and why. So this can help to address the Listening theme too.

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Also explore…

The Literary Collection contains stories that cry out for discussion among the pupils! For example, what do they think of the performance of part of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? What clues can they spot in the Sherlock Holmes story? You’ll find this brilliant resource under English Apps.


We hope this article has given you plenty of food for thought! Next month we’ll look at five ways to magically embed maths across the school. But if you cannot wait until then, have a look at 5 Ways to inspire writing with Purple Mash.