‘Take Five’ to Power-Up Early Language and Literacy at Home

By Kelly Ashley (@kashelyenglish)

What are your earliest memories of listening to and sharing stories at home?  Did you revel in the excitement of Going on a Bear Hunt or did you take a tentative stroll through Gruffalo wood?  Did you sail away to discover Where the Wild Things Are or did you have a cheeky adventure with The Cat in the Hat? Your memories may be linked to a specific book or to a particular person who brought stories to life. I have vivid memories of the stories that my father used to tell me about his childhood in Florida.  These stories, told decades ago, are still with me today.

The development of early language and literacy is directly related to these earliest experiences with books and sharing stories.  Early literacy recognises that language development, reading and writing evolve from these early experiences. In their Early Years Toolkit, the EEF (Education Endowment Foundation) identifies the following, high-impact early literacy approaches that can be employed to improve young children’s skills, knowledge and understanding:

  • storytelling and group reading;
  • activities to develop letter knowledge, knowledge of sounds and early phonics; and
  • an introduction to different kinds of writing.

Further details about early literacy approaches from the EEF website can be found here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/early-years-toolkit/early-literacy-approaches/

In order to strengthen pupils’ early literacy skills, we must plan opportunities to boost communication in both the school and home environment.  The Word Power ‘Take Five’ approach offers ideas and strategies for families to ‘take five minutes’ to amplify word learning at home.  This amplification is focused on enriching the quality of conversations and interactions between children and adults.

TAKE FIVE is an acronym outlining eight different strategies for boosting communication and interaction at home:

Talk time – Encourage conversation about shared experiences.

Awareness of words around us – Notice words in print. Label objects and places.

Knowledge of new words – Introduce new words discovered together, in context.

Exploring new skills – Choose and use new words together with a purpose.


Fun together – Play, explore and imagine together using language as the guide.

Interests (personal) – Share personal interests to make word learning more meaningful.

Vocabulary-building gamesRecharge new and familiar language with word games.

Environment at home – Think about how language and conversation can enhance the physical and social environment at home.


Here is an example of how the Take Five approach can be applied in the context of a family walk.  Which idea(s) will we choose as we take five minutes to amplify the conversation?

Take Five posters, additional ideas and resources can be downloaded using the following link https://kellyashleyconsultancy.wordpress.com/word-power-display-tools-and-additional-ideas/

As well as rich interactions and conversations, it is also important to encourage families to put reading and sharing stories centre stage at home.  Here are some top tips for making the most of shared reading time at home:

  • Make reading part of everyday. – Find a time in the day for sharing stories that works best for your family schedule. Bedtime stories are great, but don’t work for everyone.  Make ‘breakfast stories’ the new normal in your house.
  • Make books accessible. – Ensure that children have the opportunity to choose and revisit books that have been shared together in their own time. Take note of which stories they enjoy and want to re-read and try to find other books to share by the same author.
  • A few minutes is OK. – If you don’t have time to finish the story, don’t worry! The important thing is that you are in the moment together with the child – sharing and enjoying books rather than rushing through to finish.
  • Don’t shy away from new or challenging words. – Explain what new words mean and try to link these words to others that might be familiar to the child. For example, if you were to come across the word ‘meander’ to describe how a character was moving, you might act out this word together or tell the child that it’s a fancy word for ‘walk’ just like ‘stroll’ or ‘gallop.’
  • Don’t forget about books or other reading material that aren’t stories. – Share non-fiction books that are linked to the child’s interests. Are you going for a day out?  Why not pick up a brochure or leaflet about the place you’ve visited to read together after the experience?
  • Let the child turn the pages. – Let the child set the pace for reading to leave plenty of space for talk between pictures and pages. Allowing children the freedom to turn pages helps to develop early concepts of print and how books work.
  • Let the child use the pictures to tell the story themselves. – It’s ok if the child doesn’t read the exact words printed on the page. Let their imagination run wild as they tell you a story about what they see and what they think.  Oral storytelling is a powerful tool.
  • See everyone in the family as a reader. – Ensure that everyone has the chance to share and read stories together at different times. How often do children see other adults or older siblings in the household reading?  It’s often the unspoken messages that are shouted the loudest.

These strategies for supporting early literacy at home are being explored by 18 schools across Boston, Lincolnshire who are involved in the Boston Reading Project.  This is an Early Years school improvement programme focused on raising attainment for all children in the Early Years. The Boston Reading Project (which commenced November 2019) involves Word Power professional development training sessions for schools and follow-on, linked PLC (Professional Learning Community) network meetings where teachers and leaders have the opportunity to discuss and embed key principles with the support of LLEs (Local Leaders of Education).  The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy guidance is also being explored as a discussion tool, ensuring that strategies employed are evidence-informed and high impact.

The EEF’s Preparing for Literacy guidance report can be downloaded here: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/preparing-for-literacy/

One of the schools involved in the Boston Reading Project, Park Academy, shares how they have used Word Power approaches to Power-Up new language relating to spring in their EYFS setting.  Children were struggling to remember newly introduced words such as daffodil, bud and blossom, so teachers set up an outdoor experience to help children recharge new language. Teachers took the tarpaulin down to the wood along with some clay, books, photos and flashcards.  Children then made clay flowers by looking at the environment around them and talking with interested adults about what they could, see, hear, touch.  This provided a golden opportunity for children to choose and use new language relating to springtime for a purpose.

To learn more about The Boston Reading Project or to find out how your school can get involved, Lisa@equatetsa.co.uk;

For additional ideas on how to build Word Power, how to Power-Up language and vocabulary at home and in school or to learn more about my new book Word Power: Amplifying vocabulary instruction, visit https://kellyashleyconsultancy.wordpress.com/


With 20 years of experience in education, Kelly Ashley (@kashleyenglish) has worked in the UK and UK as a teacher, leader, consultant and author.  She currently works with schools and organisations across the UK, offering bespoke training and consultancy support on all aspects of the primary English curriculum.  Kelly’s keen interest in vocabulary and language development has led to the publication of her first book, Word Power: Amplifying vocabulary instruction (2019).