I’ve had a lot of fun doing Verbivore. Don’t worry, this isn’t a blog detailing how I’m leaving it all behind. I’ll give you a moment to mop your suddenly sweaty brow …

Last week, I attended the Induction Day for my NPQSL. It was a deeply challenging, but fantastic day; a day that has left me nervously excited for the twelve months ahead of me.

My resources in the name of Verbivore take a long, long time to do. I do not give less than 100% effort and commitment to anything I release. Therefore, I’m going to find it – I already am – very difficult to keep up with things.

I’ve had lots of emails and messages about the planning/PowerPoints and about the Y3/4 Word 101 document. These things will remain on my radar, but I have reached a point where my own school and my own opportunities take ultimate precedence.

Thank you for your understanding and continued support of Verbivore! I will be back.

Review: Closing the Vocabulary Gap

Vocab Gap

I still remember Alex Quigley posing to Twitter the choice of two front covers for this book. After waiting a long time for the book to be released, I jumped at the chance to read it a little bit earlier through downloading the eBook to my Kindle (forgive me father, for I have sinned). Initially, I raced through the book in just two days. However, since then, I’ve read the book again at a much slower pace.

If you take, or want to take, vocabulary seriously, you must buy this book. It’s a steal on Amazon right now: BUY IT HERE. I forbid you to read any more of this review until you’ve bought it.

With this book, Alex has skilfully laid the foundations for all teachers to begin teaching vocabulary, and give it the priority that it deserves. Quigley guides the reader through the range of issues currently surrounding vocabulary, and actively promotes teaching vocabulary directly and explicitly. The crux, for me, of this book is that ‘reading for pleasure’ alone will not be enough to close the gap; words must be taught alongside. This is not to say that Alex plays down the importance of it. In fact, on numerous occasions, he makes it abundantly clear that that is not what he’s advocating.

^^ I don’t want to give too much away, but some interesting reading on James Coady’s ‘Beginner’s Paradox’ can be found here.

Finally on this point, Alex perfectly sums it up with this:

Teaching vocabulary and reading for pleasure should mutually reinforce one another.

The book then moves on to talking in detail about the ‘academic code’. Alex identifies that a ‘structured approach to wider reading, alongside a focus on oracy, with both being wedded to direct instruction of academic vocabulary’ will enable us to start getting nearer to a solution. Quigley calls upon an anecdote where he spends a day following a GCSE student around school (not as sinister as it sounds upon reading). Alex is floored by the sheer amount of different lexicons that the student must process, understand, and apply throughout just a single day at school. Alex puts this down to the student having a solid ‘word consciousness’, which helps every student ‘make the unfamiliar academic vocabulary of school accessible’.

… we must give our students the necessary tools to develop their vocabulary independently.

The book concludes with a host of practical strategies for teachers to begin teaching vocabulary, with inspiration being drawn from a staple book in vocabulary: Bringing Words to Life.

Alex, thank you for this book.

Let’s just get them learning words.

Yes, it’s 00:09 at the time of writing this post. I’m sitting downstairs; shivering in my ‘pyjamas’ – which isn’t much, let me tell you.

Let’s just get them learning words.

All my resources will now be free for the foreseeable future. I just want kids learning words.

Teachers assemble.

Let’s. Teach. Words.



Follow this: @VerbivoreTeach

Spread it. Spread it far and wide.

We’re on a mission, folks.

Words are the key to everything.

Let’s go.

Guns, drugs, and illicit vocabulary.

Title inspired by Clare Sealy (@ClareSealy). Blog inspired by Philip Pullman via Tim Roach (@MrTRoach).

Primary Rocks talk 18

Yesterday, it was an honour to lead a session at Primary Rocks Live ’18 (The Presentation). Thank you to everyone who came to watch it.

This blog is a war cry. It is unlikely to be succinct or cohesive, but it is guaranteed to be borne from a coiled spring of passion itching to be unwound.

You’re in a classroom with thirty children in front of you. The attitude and learning behaviour of those children is irrelevant at this moment, so shelve the ‘But my kids won’t do that’ excuse. They are still children. Children who are going to eventually leave your class, progress to the next phase of their education, and ultimately leave education to join the workforce in whatever capacity. You, in this moment, have the power. The power to empower. With words.

Words are humanity’s most valuable tool. They are our daily currency; irrespective of mother tongue, idiolect, sociolect, dialect or accent. They convey our thoughts, emotions, and provide a vessel to describe actions. A word can change the world. And if the words you say can’t / won’t change the world, then make absolutely sure that they change your children’s worlds.

You prepare and cook the ‘food’ in your classroom. You control the learning diet. This diet, much like the one our bodies require to function at a high level, must be rich and varied. And vocabulary is the foundation for a good one.

You control the learning diet.

Control: the power to direct or influence people’s behaviour, or the course of events.

Specifically, this means that you do not bombard children with fruity language. Not least without explicit instruction of what those words actually mean, and how they can be used. The whole reason that you provide a rich, varied diet of words is to empower your children to go deeper, to look beneath the surface. To choose. To select *that* word which fits the sentence they’re writing, or *that* word which perfectly encapsulates what they’re trying to say, or *that* word which describes exactly how they’re feeling in a way that just makes them feel instantly better.

Start teaching individual words. Explicitly explain the links the new word has with other words they know. Create a buzz around words. The only person that can do that is you.


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DIFFERENT ANGLE: trying something.

As some of you may’ve seen a while back, I took an interest in a vocabulary programme for parents to use with their children at home called Mrs. Wordsmith:

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Mrs. Wordsmith’s resources involve hilarious illustrations of words (see ‘crave’ below) coupled with a focus on word pairs e.g. vacant > vacant stare, vacant eyes, vacant room. I stumbled across the website, and immediately fell in love. So, I’ve bought into it. My first monthly pack arrived last week, and it’s awesome. Over the next six months, I will receive packs. This block of six months focuses on vocabulary that develops story writing, beginning with vocabulary to describe characters.

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Mrs. Wordsmith’s hilarious illustrations and word pairs.

How is it going to change my practice?

I’ve decided that I’m going to use Mrs. Wordsmith’s resources to teach this vocabulary, with the aim of building a solid base of story language for children to draw upon. This week, the words have focused on the eyes: bloodshot, bulging, vacant, fiery, steely. Next week is ‘beautiful words’: chiselled, dazzling, flawless, impeccable, mesmerising. All of the words are similar semantically, but do possess their own nuances (thanks, Rose and Y8!).

By the end of this half term, the children will have been explicitly taught a range of words that will help with not only character description whilst they’re with me in Y4, but I’m hoping that the impact will be visible as they move to higher year groups. In fact, it would be interesting to take a look at some books around this time next year, and see if it’s stuck.

Mrs. Wordsmith on Twitter.

Mrs. Wordsmith website.


Thought I’d leave you with an insight into how the assessment of vocabulary is going. On Monday, the children sat their first pre-assessment. This is when they self-assess their knowledge of the next ten words they’ll be taught. The process is repeated at the end of the ten days to be able to measure any progress.

With the maximum score for each word being a 4 (I have seen the word and I know the definition), and ten words, the highest score achievable is 40. All I ask from the children is that they are completely honest.

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These scores show a number of interesting things. With 30 children in the class, and everyone scoring a 4, it makes the highest score possible 120 for each word over the whole class. I’m not surprised that dazzling scored highest with most children saying they’d seen it, and some offering a correct definition. I think the biggest thing this shows is that all the words chosen are worth teaching. When the children repeat the assessment, I will blog about their progress.

As always, please tweet or comment on this blog if you have any questions. I would love to talk to you about anything vocabulary related.

Vocabulary Report 2016/17: Part 2


This week’s blog dives headfirst into the aspects of vocabulary development that didn’t go well, or happen, in my classroom last year. It’s been a lot harder to write this one than last week’s, as it’s so easy to show off the positives. This is a vital step to improving teaching and learning next year, which, fundamentally, is what it’s all about.

Did I hit the children who struggle to learn new words enough?

Please don’t take that question literally.

Honestly, no. I don’t think I did. This is something I’d barely even given thought until I started really researching into vocabulary development. One of the most hard-hitting realisations so far has been that children don’t have the same life experiences, and, in truth, the difference between certain children in your class in terms of life experience will be utterly shocking. Therefore, it is unreasonable to expect some children to have even remotely similar vocabularies to their peers. It is these children who I desperately want to impact the most in 2017/18.

How do I plan to do this? 

I recently tweeted this:

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The book on the left, first recommended to me by the incredible, fellow verbivore @mrlockyer, has dramatically radicalised my thinking on the whole subject of vocabulary development; it gave me a truckload of logs for which to begin building the fire. The book on the right became the petrol (@WordAware).

Word Aware outlines an excellent way of using small group sessions to teach new vocabulary, specifically words that will be targeted in the next session. Three to five children in each group, and careful planning of activities is key. The book gives lots of examples of how it could look like, structure, activities etc. Towards the end of the summer holidays, I’ll share what my planning will look like for these small groups.

I honestly can’t recommend either book enough. It might be worth asking your school to purchase a copy, as it is around £40 (a steal, if you ask me, considering what you get for it). I’d like to point out that I’m not on commission! I genuinely believe the Word Aware approach could transform schools and their children’s vocabulary.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on targeting those children with considerably smaller vocabularies, and best ways to expose new vocabulary and activate that deeper learning, so the words are actually learned, contextualised, and memorised.

Scattergun reflections

Without doubt, I’ve definitely ploughed into a ‘scattergun’ approach to vocabulary development this year. This has been great in some ways, but the more reading and research I do, the more questions it opens up.

Yes, it’s exposed the kids to a gigantic range of vocabulary. And to good effect. It’s had a massive impact on their reading, writing, as well as their oracy. Yes, they love words. They are enthused by the simple discovery of them, by using them in their speech and writing. These two things are great things to do, and definitely important.

But is there a better way? In the positively-intentioned attempt to immerse children in an exponential linguistic universe, is it possible to overload? Is there enough deep learning of words going on? My current thinking leans towards a more direct/structured teaching approach so that words are learned and retained across the class. Apologies for the repetition, but there will be an entire blog devoted to @WordAware’s STAR approach. Which leads me nicely onto action points for next year … From here on out, I’ll be purely thinking out loud.

Three actions for 2017/18

1. Focus on etymology / morphology of words.

etymology: origin of words

morphology: shape/formation of words (word building)

I want a daily Word Workshop (idea from Word Aware: teaching vocabulary across the curriculum) which focuses on either a root word, then how it contributes to the morphology of other words i.e. help > helped, helping, unhelpful etc, or on a specific prefix/suffix and its meaning and effect. It’d involve lots of games to maintain the enjoyment aspect of word learning

2.Key vocabulary in lessons other than English.

Goldilocks words (from Word Aware: teaching vocabulary across the curriculum) are tier two words (usually, but can also be specific topic-related words) which are not too hard, not too easy, but just right. Quick outline of tiers if you’re unfamiliar:

Tier 1: basic vocabulary e.g. house, cat, car, happy, angry.

Tier 2: useful words, words that appear frequently in books and adult conversation e.g. ferocious, malevolent, swirling.

Tier 3: subject related, content specific vocabulary e.g. evaporation, stamen, permeable.

I want to have a Goldilocks word as a vocabulary focus every lesson. That word will be paramount to the lesson, and the children will have opportunity to use it in their writing and speech.

Further thought: kids who find word learning easy will still benefit from this, as you could provide a list of other words around the subject. They will also learn target words (Goldilocks) at a deeper level. Kids who struggle to learn words, I’m hoping and will be evaluating, will learn words quicker and deeper.

3. Deeper planning of vocabulary.

Here, I’m advocating that word learning in the classroom should be planned like any other subject. I’m going to spend some time mapping out what this could look like, so keep an eye out for future blogs.

In essence, target words will be chosen in advance. All adults in the classroom will be aware of them, and will attempt to use whenever possible – thus increasing the amount of exposures to each word the children get. The vocabulary opportunities that arise from read-alouds should be planned. Five or six words is sufficient. Again, I want to look carefully at my own planning already for this, and change it (I will share!).

Questions and considerations (these are deliberately the same as last week’s):

  • Choose one thing that you feel has had the greatest impact on the vocabulary of your children this year.
  • Choose one thing that you really, really want to implement in terms of vocabulary development in 2017/18.

If you feel comfortable, share your thoughts and responses either on the comments section that follows this blog, or on Twitter.

Vocabulary Report 2016/17: Part 1


Thank you to everyone who took the time to read last week’s inaugural post. The comments left, and the tweets over on Twitter, were a delight to read, and gave me lots of ideas about what this blog will be most effectively used for. I feel thoroughly welcomed into the edu-blogosphere.

What will this two-part post cover?

Part One

  • What I’ve done this year in regards to developing vocabulary and a love for words in my kids.
  • What’s worked (with an in-between thrown in for good measure)

Part Two

  • Questions and reflections (some difficult ones too). 
  • Main ambitions for 2017/18.

Part One

Showing off

This one took a while for the kids to get used to, but ended up having a hugely positive effect in developing an excitement around words; elevating vocabulary development to the status it needed within the classroom. I’d make a deliberate show of using ‘cool-sounding’ words. These words were relevant, not superfluous, but I’d be purposefully boisterous in my delivery.

This is all part of general teacher attitude and enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm and passion will rub off on your children. My mind immediately beelines to that quote about the teacher being the one who controls the weather in their classroom.

I’ve been off sick for the last few weeks to recover from an important operation. My kids sent me some postcards. This was my favourite quote:

‘I have been a vocabulary show off. You got me into that.’

Walking, talking thesaurus

I go by a ‘Power of Three’ rule. This technique is difficult to plan for specifically. Instead, it relies on the teacher’s own knowledge of words, and the size of their vocabulary. When speaking, particularly to the whole class, get into the habit of giving extra synonyms to certain words.


‘Carla was furious, angry, livid about the events of the previous night.’

The use of angry is also deliberate. It helps to attach clearer meaning to the other two potentially unknown words, furious and livid.

Speaking directly to three children after a playground quarrel: ‘I understand that you’ve had a squabble. I think it’d be a good idea to discuss, talk about, debate the issue as a group.’

Again, as with the first example, talk about is sandwiched between two potentially unfamiliar words to help associate meaning.

It serves two main purposes: helping children realise that there is more than one way to say things. And accelerating the chances of deeper word learning.

Vocabulary Ninja

The Vocabulary Ninja has been a revelation. It (sorry, he/she?!) provides excellent daily resources such as KS1 and KS2 Word of the Day. The Ninja is also beginning to branch out with other useful and interesting resources like Word Power-Up, Synonym Alley, Synonym Circle, and I’m sure I’ve seen a word mat somewhere. I use the resources in a couple of ways:

  • Every KS2 Word of the Day is printed, in colour, and displayed on a giant ‘Wall of Words’.


  • Used as a ‘morning work’ activity. Children arrive at school and immediately begin looking at the KS2 Word of the Day. They discuss it, and then begin to use it in their own sentences. This isn’t marked, but I make a point of glancing at certain children’s sentences to see if they’re using in the right context, then a discussion happens if not.

Check the Ninja out if you haven’t already:

Twitter: @VocabularyNinja

WordPress: https://vocabularyninja.wordpress.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VocabularyNinjaLive/

Essential vocabulary whiteboard


Exactly what it looks like. Any word used throughout the day that is integral to the learning. Try to keep at a minimum to avoid overload. One or two essential words per session.

Child-led word wall


This is used to display words the children have encountered mainly in books, but in general life too. The children are named and thanked for their contributions – the plane is there to hide an abysmal spelling mistake on my part, only realised after the photo was taken. The kids love this, and the board is regularly updated with fascinating new words they’ve discovered.

Reading aloud to the class EVERY SINGLE DAY.

I’ve chosen to colour this subheading orange for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I haven’t read to my children ‘EVERY SINGLE DAY’. Sometimes it is just impossible. I’d say I regularly hit four out of five days in a standard week. But on those PPA afternoons, the late-back-from-PE days, the school trips, and the plethora of other things that we all know pop up in the chaotic general timetable of a school, it is a challenge to hit five out of five on a consistent basis.

There is a mountain of research supporting the act of reading aloud to children. It has simply massive implications for a child’s development, but this is not what this post is about. I intend to blog about this in the near future.

However, the read-aloud, in my opinion, is a goldmine of opportunity for vocabulary development. Again, there’s a whole post waiting to be written on this aspect of vocabulary development alone.


Part Two will focus more on where I feel I need to develop, and put forward three points as part of an action plan. This was originally going to be included in one behemoth-style post, but, after some great advice from certain Twitter pals, decided that it’d be better split into two.


Questions and considerations:

  • Choose one thing that you feel has had the greatest impact on the vocabulary of your children this year.
  • In prep. for next week’s post, choose one thing that you really, really want to learn more about in terms of your own PD for the teaching of vocabulary next year.

If you feel comfortable, share your thoughts and responses either on the comments section that follows this blog, or on Twitter.


I’m putting on a workshop at Lead, Learn, Lancs ’17 on September 30th. There are lots of brilliant teachers/educators/leaders there providing a vast array of workshops too, it’s worth checking out!


Tickets are £10, and can be purchased here:







MR P HEADWhere did it all start?

Truthfully, I have no idea. Words have just been a fascination to me throughout life. There are certain words that hooked me in. You know, the words that just ‘sound cool’. Maelstrom. Decimate. Frenetic. Incandescent. Perplex. Miasma. I can’t explain it, words are simply awesome. And it’s this sort of attitude that we, as teachers, must be instilling in the children we teach. Lots of children have a natural curiosity towards words. They will ask, ‘oh, what does that mean?’. Of course, there are those that don’t, but that is for a future post. I read a thesaurus on a regular basis. I read fiction with a notebook next to me to record new words, then discover their meanings, synonyms, and etymologies later. And my kids know it.

word cloud

What do I want to do with this blog?

BIG IDEA: an unrelenting, day-in-day-out focus on developing a rich, varied vocabulary will change your classroom; will change your teaching; will change your children; will change their lives.

I want this blog to be a smorgasbord (check out the origins of that word, it’s quite extraordinary) for teaching ideas, strategies, research, links to books, links to other blogs/articles, and, arguably most importantly, a running commentary of my own classroom practice in terms of cultivating an attitude where vocabulary is the driving pulse of everything we do. I genuinely believe it’s that crucial.

Plus, I want to share the bad. And the ugly. Sure, it’s great telling people about all the positive stuff we’re doing. But everyone knows that we must fail to succeed, simply because we all do it. I want to share what’s not worked with the class, what hasn’t been successful for a specific group of children.

NB: I will be focusing on primary, in the main. However, my interest in the subject goes right down to early word learning and speech development. So don’t be put off if you’re an EYFS teacher – there will be something for you at various intervals.

Next up …

So, there you have a glimpse into the reasons why I’m doing this. I plan (always set out with good intentions!) to post once weekly. And, seeing as today is Thursday, Thursday shall be the day.

Next blog: 2016/17 vocabulary review – what have I done in the classroom over the course of this school year that’s worked/not worked/or just … had a stab at?

If you can spare a further two minutes, please answer these questions in the comments section:

What is your favourite word?

What would you like to see most of in this blog? (e.g. teaching ideas, games, strategies, research, classroom-based practice …)

Thank you!

Twitter: @Mr_P_Hillips – please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Always up for a chat about words.