Improving literacy one sentence at a time

Dictated sentences and writing goals produce great literacy outcomes for students at Ocean Grove Primary School.

In 2015, Ocean Grove Primary School introduced a new approach to teaching literacy, with excellent results – dictated sentences and writing goals. As part of their literacy learning, every student across all year levels set and tracked their own weekly writing goals and had weekly lessons of dictated sentences. The pairing of these approaches has improved literacy outcomes across the school.

'The improvement in my students' writing has been amazing,' Grade 1 teacher Emma Powell said.

Whole school NAPLAN data for writing increased from 2015-2016, and the school’s 2016 grade 3 and 5 NAPLAN results were above average in writing, spelling, grammar, and punctuation.

Grade 6 student, Alex said his writing had ‘drastically’ improved since starting dictated sentences three years ago.

‘It’s also helped a lot with my vocabulary,’ he said.

What are writing goals and dictated sentences?

Each week, students choose their own individual writing goal, like using full stops correctly.

In a weekly dictated sentences lesson, students focus on the writing goal they have chosen while they write.

They then assess their work against a list of writing skills, using a ‘rate your writing’ chart.

When their writing goal is achieved, they use their ‘rate your writing’ chart to find a new area of their writing to work on, and this becomes their next writing goal.

Why does it work?

Dictated sentences and writing goals allow students to focus solely on the process of writing – how to write.  Once they understand the mechanics behind the writing, students can focus on what they are writing rather than how to write it, freeing them up for more creative writing.

Allowing students to set their own goals and assess their own learning via the ‘rate your writing’ chart, helps students develop a sense of ownership over their learning. It also makes it really easy for them to see their progress, giving an immediate sense of satisfaction, boosting confidence, and motivating them to keep setting and reaching new writing goals.

A teacher at Ocean Grove Primary School also found a great bonus in the approach. Students were sharing their individual writing goals with family. This gave parents a clearer understanding of what children were working on at school, and empowered them to reinforce this learning at home.

Other approaches to supporting literacy and numeracy in your school

To see dictated sentences in action, see: Video - Ocean Grove Primary School

To learn more about the Department’s Literacy and Numeracy Strategy and to access the Victorian Literacy Portal and Victorian Numeracy Portal, see: Literacy and numeracy strategy

Supporting FISO priorities: Excellence in teaching and learning

Effective teaching is the single biggest determinant of student improvement in the school. While every school is at a different stage of development and operates within a unique context and with a diverse student cohort and staff profile, there is a substantive evidence base about the common teaching practices that have the greatest impact on student outcomes.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit hands schools a number of pedagogical strategies found to have a high impact on student learning.

To learn more about this priority and its supporting dimensions, see: Excellence in teaching and learning