Reading in Science – The SURE approach

Literacy has been a large focus for us over the last few years and as a school we have invested a significant amount into enhancing the literacy skills of our students. However, up until last year, this has been largely focused around a whole school approach to reading. More recently we have been exploring disciplinary literacy and how we can support this work at a department level. More about our literacy journey can be found here and here. As many will find, students struggle to read and comprehend scientific texts and find it difficult the extract any necessary information to take notes. Whilst this is clear in the classroom, it was even more evident once our students were learning remotely. Often students would watch a lesson video or go through a lesson PowerPoint and copy down every little bit of information. Or they would be directed to read a passage from a resource and they would still be none the wiser as to the task at hand. Our journey started last year when as school we began looking at the Secondary Literacy guidance report from the EEF. A common thread between many of the recommendations in the guidance report is the impact of having a focus on disciplinary literacy and having targeted approaches for reading and vocabulary at a subject level. We initially started out looking at resources like the Frayer model and how staff could use this to explicitly teach tier 2 and 3 vocab in lesson. We also looked at the SEEK approach which staff used to select appropriate texts and then deliver them effectively to students. However, both of these are classroom based and didn’t address the issues faced by our students when they are working independently. During lockdown, myself and a couple of colleagues started to explore how we could address the issues our students were facing. As well as exploring the research highlighted in the Secondary Literacy guidance report, we also spent time reading Closing the reading gap by Alex Quigley. From this book we were able to select a number of strategies that could be useful for reading in science. The way we approached this was twofold. Firstly, we looked for a student friendly solution to reading and note taking which could be used by pupils both in class and at home. Secondly, we wanted to enhance the tools that staff had for the classroom and to find strategies which would enhance the current use of the Frayer model and SEEK approach. At the bottom of this post is a link to both the student resource and staff guide that we created.

The SURE approach

Any strategy that is to be used by students need to be simple and straight forward. Students need to understand the process the strategy is taking them through and why it is effective as well as just being able to use the approach. With this in mind we came up with the SURE approach. The student resource is shown below. Each step is explored in greater detail in the staff resource attached below.
Students were introduced to this new approach in their first science lesson of the year. Staff heavily modelled its’ use with a variety of texts. The texts used were deliberately chosen to be very simple because the focus of the lesson was to learn and understand the SURE approach so we didn’t want students to be getting lost in intricate and high level scientific texts. Once it had been modelled to students and they had then had time to use it independently, time was also taken to explore each step and discuss with students why it was important to do each one in turn. I personally took the approach of discussing why it is important to approach a scientific text differently to when reading for pleasure and that scientists have specific skills that they use to understand and retrieve complex information from texts, before going through each part of the approach. To complement the SURE approach my colleague also created a student friendly version of Cornell Notes to help them consolidate information once they had read a passage. This approach was also heavily modelled with students.


To support staff in delivering the SURE approach, I created a staff guidance resource based upon a number of strategies from Alex’s book. Within this it explored each step in SURE and how it can be used in the classroom. For example, when at the ‘Underline and understand’ step, it explains how this would be a good time to use a frayer model to explore pre-selected vocabulary. Something which is effective in the classroom, but not what a student would do on their own at home. Likewise, for the ‘Extra information’ step, it explores more collaborative ways in which this could be done in a classroom environment. We also included strategies for whole class reading too. I wanted to provide staff with the tools to feel confident in using the approach so that it could be used consistently with each class. In addition to the resources we created, I also went through and highlighted opportunities in our SOL where it could be used. We have a spiralled curriculum at KS3 which is broken into phases, each of which build upon the key ideas throughout the year. I designed it so that each phase has one stipulated text which needs to be read with students using the SURE approach. That way students experience an appropriate and relevant scientific text in each phase and staff have a go to resource to use so that the SURE approach is readdressed throughout the year.

Where do we go from here?

Even though it has been introduced to students and staff, our implementation process does not stop there. Throughout this year we will be reflecting on both resources and making any tweaks needed to make sure it continues to be effective. Although the initial work was done from the viewpoint of our KS3 cohort and how we can build their overall skill sets, it has now been rolled out to KS4 groups too. The initial texts that I selected for the phases will also be reviewed to make sure that each of the texts is useful and any tweaks to them can be made.


Below is both the student SURE resource as well as the staff guidance document. Which the staff document, I have referenced which parts have been taken from Alex’s book. (I do strongly recommend his book as it was very valuable in us developing our disciplinary literacy approach)