Why Your School Should Have an Intervention Menu

When you visit a restaurant with your friends or family, the waiter doesn’t force you all to eat the same meal. Instead, you choose something appropriate for your individual wants and needs. Aunty Ann has a small appetite so selects a meal from the children’s menu, Cousin Yassa is vegetarian and selects a cheesy pasta. Big Dave is into body building and looks for the large steak. Grandma isn’t hungry but fancies a sugary desert.

Likewise, when a student’s reading age falls below their chronological age, we shouldn’t dish out the same literacy fodder to all the students. The intervention teacher will need to diagnose each student’s individual needs and satisfy that requirement.

Students who have a standardised score of 85 or below, often need a phonics intervention, but not always. Therefore, they should have a diagnostic assessment to ensure that is the right intervention for them. Similarly, if they have already had one particular intervention and it has made little or no impact on their progress, there is no point in repeating the same intervention. Therefore, schools need to have a menu of interventions to choose from, matching the appropriate intervention to the students’ specific literacy needs.

Recommendation 7 in the Education Endowment Foundation’s “Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools” guide states “provide high quality literacy interventions for struggling students.” It further recommends “tiers of support.” Over the years, I have used a variety of different literacy interventions. As a result, I have cooked up a menu from which I can select the best intervention to meet the needs of each student. There are four important considerations when selecting an appropriate intervention:

M = Measurable: You must be able to measure the impact of the intervention to truly know if it is working and therefore worth the time and money spent. In addition to the intervention specific assessments, I always cross reference against reading tests to check they correlate.

E = Explicit: The intervention should explicitly teach what the student needs, rather than a blanket intervention for all.

N = Number of sessions: Intervention is a big commitment from the student’s point of view – if they are missing subject lessons or using up their own free-time, they need the time to be spent efficiently. Therefore, the length of individual sessions and how many sessions they need to make progress, is an important factor.

U = Useful / Ubiquitous: Literacy is in all subjects, including non-academic subjects. Consider whether the intervention is positively impacting literacy across the whole curriculum.

Literacy Intervention

Stars out of 5
Target and DurationMy Comments
Accelerated Reader & STAR Reading  


20+ minutes per day, 5 days per week.
😊 This is the cuckoo in the nest. I dispute that this is an intervention. Rather, it has two different but incredibly important uses: The STAR reading test is a diagnostic tool to discover, not only their reading age but also which areas of literacy they need to work on to make progress so that you can select the appropriate intervention from the menu. There is lots of additional data which can be taken, including growth/progress and zone of proximal development. Through the use of quizzes, Accelerated Reader is a fantastic monitor of whether students have actually read and understood the texts and also how many words read which indicates an estimate of time spent reading. After all, practice is an important component of intervention. Most students find the short quizzes fun. I recommend Accelerated Reader and STAR Reading to be used in conjunction with any and all interventions being run in your setting.  
☹ Must be delivered correctly and closely monitored to be effective. Can be time consuming for the administrator and can be costly. Initial set up is a huge task for the librarian. Limits the choice of books although there is still a very wide choice. Often administered incorrectly. See my blog here on how to use it effectively:
Inference Reading  


40 minutes x twice weekly for 12 weeks. Groups of 4 students.
😊 This is designed for students who are able to read well but appear to misunderstand what they’re reading. Inference is a common difficulty for students with ASD. Students are explicitly taught the reading skills of advanced readers. Enjoyable, snappy and easy to set up.  

☹ No measure of progress.

Word study, grammar, comprehension  

Personalised but ideally 20-30 minutes every day.
😊 Computer based engaging game-based learning. Can be continued at home. Excellent for differentiation for mixed ability groups as students are given moving individual goals. Students enjoy building streaks and reaching goals. Lots of data and progress reports available.

☹ Close screen usage. Headphones required if more than one student in the group. Missing human interaction where an adult can explain in a way that students with individual learning styles can understand. Yearly licence fee applies.
Lexonik Advanced  

Disciplinary vocabulary, fluency, automaticity, prosody, morphology  

6 weeks (one session per week). Sessions 40-60 minutes long. Groups of 4 students.
😊 Used for coasting middle ability and stretching higher ability. Can also be used as a follow on from Lexonik Leap. Highly engaging. Greek and Latin roots of words, prefixes and suffixes, morphology, subject specific vocabulary (Tier 3 words), building academic language. Intervention has own assessment to measure and, in my experience, has consistently had a huge positive effect on reading ages.

☹ Delivering staff must be trained by the company and there is a yearly licence cost.
Lexonik Leap  

Phonics, prefixes, suffixes and some morphology  

6 weeks (one session per week) Sessions 40 minutes long. Groups of 4 students
😊 Ideal for very weak learners. Students love it. Short, snappy activities, particularly good for ADHD, Dyslexia and EAL. Intervention specific progress assessments which in my experience have been reflected in reading tests.

☹ Deliverers need to be trained by the company and there is a one-off cost for purchase of resources.
Lexonik Spell  


12 x 15-20 minutes. Groups of 4.
😊 Fun quick. Lots of light bulb moments. Rules to learn and follow for life. Repetitive and short, ideal as a starter. Intervention-specific assessment for progress measurement.  

☹ Not available yet.
Ruth Miskin / Read, Write, Inc.  

Phonics / Reading  

20-30 minutes per day, 4 days per week. Up to one year depending on starting point. First 4 modules 1:1 then groups of 4 thereafter.
😊 This gives the new phonic sounds first and then uses them in the short text followed by short activities. It is extremely thorough, cementing students’ learning.  

☹ Students use lots of booklets which need to be bought from the company. Training and licence costs also.
Pace Reading

Reading engagement and comprehension. Prosody  

20-30 minutes twice per week.
😊 No cost except purchase of books of your choice: everyone reads the same text. The difference is that only the teacher reads out loud because the point of it is that students hear the story read correctly with pace, intonation and expression. It’s best combined with Reciprocal Reading.  

☹ No specific measure of progress. Should be aimed just slightly above students’ current level so difficult to be effective for everyone in mixed ability settings.
Rapid Plus  

Reading and comprehension  

One hour per lesson. 44 lessons available depending on starting point.
😊 A fantastic reading programme, very easy to use, suitable for small groups and with rapid results. Each day’s book is spit into fiction and non-fiction with relevant questions at the end. Once bought, can be used again and again. User friendly. Regular assessments to measure progress.  

☹ Large initial outlay.
Reciprocal Reading

Reading engagement and comprehension  

30 minutes x 2 days per week.
😊 Free. Excellent for engaging students in the text and developing interest.  

☹ Repetitive and dry on its own – needs to be combined with something like Pace Reading.
Toe by Toe  

Phonics / Reading  

30 minutes x 5 days per week. Approximately 5-6 months.
😊 Designed for students with dyslexia. Works well for EAL. Great for very low ability Students work at own pace.  

☹ Should be taught 1:1 so not as many students can benefit.

All opinions are my own, informed by 8 years of delivering literacy interventions and 5 years of teaching English. I am not sponsored by any of the above. Links provided are for your ease of use and not affiliate links.


The Grandparent Effect on Reading

Image by Richard Duijnstee from Pixabay

Grandparents are magic. Fact.

Whereas your children might be fighting with each other at your house, they go their grandparents and act like little angels. Whilst they might argue at the dinner table with you, eating at the grandparents is a relaxed affair. Even though they will refuse or cry about having to read to you, they’ll pick up a book voluntarily to read to their grandparents.

What is this strange phenomenon?

It’s time. Plenty of time.

Those retired oldies don’t have the stress of managing the cleanliness, education, nutrition, mental-health, physical exercise and everything else you have to manage for your children.

Grandma and Granddad have been there and done that. Now they’re retired: relaxed, chilled, taking it easy.

So, when you’re trying to listen to your unwilling child read painstakingly slowly, whilst cooking a guilty but fast, non-nutritious meal and simultaneously trying to remember what important appointment you needed to make and for which one of your children… Grandma and Granddad are pottering around their immaculate home looking for something to do.

You arrive at their picture postcard bungalow early Saturday morning with your PJs on under your outer coat, your wet freezing hair piled on top of your head, hoping desperately it looks like a trendy “scruffy-bun” dragging three half-dressed, sleepy, crying children along with you. The grandparents are already at the door and delighted to see you all. As you leave, the stress and frustration that is part of being a parent and house manager, leaves with you. The door slams shut and the tranquil peace of Grandma and Granddad’s home wraps itself around your children.

Instead of their usual arguing and fighting, the children sit down together and tell their doting grandparents about all the mundane things that interest them. Grandma and Granddad who were bored and frustrated and stressed when you were a child are now relaxed and genuinely interested in what the children have to say. The children pick up on that: there’s no competing for attention because they know their grandparents have time for all of them.

Grandma and Granddad give your children biscuits and juice for breakfast. “Where is the nutrition in that?” you berate them down the phone. “They’ll be off their nuts running around screaming and fighting!” But they’re not. Because they’re at Grandma and Granddad’s. Grandma and Granddad are magic.

After a while Granddad sits in his chair to read the paper. The smallest child sits on his lap so Granddad reads her a story book instead. Middle child comes and listens. Eldest child asks Grandma if he can read to her. “Whaaaat?” you stutter down the phone, “but I can’t get him to read anything, we fight every night, the school’s constantly nagging me.” Grandma didn’t have the boring school reading books. She had some picture books that were written for parents to read to children, not the other way around. If you asked the school, they would tell you the words are far too difficult for such a young child. Grandma doesn’t know this. Eldest child doesn’t know this. Eldest child believes he can read this. It’s his favourite book at Grandma’s that she has read to him a million times before. He knows every detail of every picture. He is able to remember or guess most of the words. Those he doesn’t know Grandma fills in. She doesn’t care about breaking the phonic sounds down. She doesn’t know about graphemes, phonemes and split diagraphs. She’s just enjoying spending time with her grandchild.

Later Granddad shows all the children a new book his neighbour dropped off for them. They all look excitedly at the cover and try to guess what the story might be about. Granddad reads the first page with all the children looking over his shoulder at the words and pictures. The youngest doesn’t quite understand what is going on, so the middle child, patiently and importantly explains it to her. He then guesses what is going to happen next. Granddad reads on and middle child is delighted to find out he was right.

Grandma and Granddad have just used a combination of Pace Reading, Reciprocal Reading, Modelling and Scaffolding. But they didn’t know it. Grandma and Granddad had time. Time to read to the children. Time to let the children read to them. Time to talk with the children. Time for the children to take their time. This is the magic of grandparents. This is the secret: Time.

Schools are catching on to this Grandparent-effect. Recently a 100 year old WWII veteran was awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of his volunteer work helping young children to read at his local primary school. As he points out – the benefits go both ways. He began to volunteer after his wife passed away and it brought joy back into his life. Sometimes people are short of conversation when visiting elderly relatives in care homes or hospitals, having the grandchild read to them is a pleasurable space filler for all present and then stimulates conversation around the book. There is a charity that asks school children to read to elderly people who don’t have visitors showing that it is both sides who benefit.

So next time you berate yourself because you weren’t patient enough when they refused to read or read really badly to you, cut yourself some slack, and pack them off to their grandparents for a couple of hours. The grandparents and grandchildren will love spending time with each other and you can sit down for ten minutes with a cuppa, knowing everyone is happy and safe, before you return to tackling the one million jobs you assigned yourself this weekend!


Ethical Dog Breeder Interview #2

Thank you Halina at Varkata Labradors and Leonbergers for agreeing to this interview. I love following the antics of your various puppies as they adventure around your farm.

My next book, “The Boy Who Dared” will reveal the horror of unscrupulous puppy farms, (also known as puppy mills) where dogs are treated as commodities, their welfare is neglected resulting in many of the puppies born with life-limiting defects and illnesses. People often think the only alternative is rescue dogs, but there is a case for ethical dog breeders such as yourself also. What are the positives of buying a dog from a breeder?

In October 2018 it became the law for breeders of dogs to have a breeding licence issued by their local council. In order to obtain a licence numerous high standard conditions must be adhered to. The premises are inspected by the council and the dogs by a vet. By purchasing a puppy from a licensed breeder you know that checks have been made and standards met. Many breeders will health check their dogs and only breed if the health is up to breed standard. Great care and research goes into choosing the correct mate for both health and temperament reasons.

Can you tell me, what made you decide to breed puppies and how often do you have a set of puppies to take care of?

Back in about 2003, I acquired a two year-old black Labrador from a friend I worked with. She and I had the most amazing bond and she was the most loving loyal girl I’ve ever had. I decided it would be lovely to have a puppy from her to keep and so it was decided to find her a suitable mate, and that is where it all began. Raising the puppies was an amazing experience and such a privilege.

Just as puppy mills can be a bad start for puppies, a bad owner can be a terrible life for these fur-babies. What checks did you do to make sure that your puppies were going to safe homes?

As a breeder it is important that the puppies go to the best homes. On first registration of an interest in our puppies we like to talk over the telephone and get a feel of the family and find out the work commitments, family members and previous puppy experience. Once our puppies are four weeks old we invite interested families to visit, this gives us a good opportunity to start building that bond of trust. After this visit families may visit again (sometimes this is not possible due to distance).

You have been breeding for a lot of years now. If somebody reading this interview wanted to breed their dog, what would you warn them about that people often underestimate or get wrong?

Many people think that breeding dogs is easy money and easy to do. It’s not as simple as just putting the two together. Firstly, there is the health checks that need to be done, hip and elbow X-rays and eye tests and blood samples for genetic DNA testing. All these tests are costly. There is the licence to apply for and again this is costly. There are risks all along the journey, risks in the mating process where the bitch or dog could get hurt even though it is a natural process. There is the risk of the bitch losing her puppies and the big risk and worry of the whelping. It is not uncommon in a litter for a puppy to be stillborn. Then the first ten days are very important as it is during this time when the bitch can easily lie on a puppy and squash it. You must have plenty of time to spend with the bitch to watch this doesn’t happen. Once the puppies are up and about, they need to be socialised and follow an enrichment program to prepare them for moving on to their new homes. From four weeks the new families start to visit and this also helps the puppies socialise. A written puppy information pack is prepared and given to new families to assist them with raising the new addition. All the puppies are health checked by a vet prior to leaving us.

Many people miscalculate the time, cost and commitment of adding a dog to their family. Do you have any advice to help in any of these areas?

The most important things you can give a puppy is your time and love. The value of your house and belongings is not important to them. We don’t like our puppies to go to homes where they are going to be left alone for long periods of time. Puppies do well with routine and boundaries and you should start as you mean to go on. As well as having play time and exciting times, puppies also need to have calm and quiet times. Puppy classes are a good way of learning how to teach your puppy and it’s important that every house member follows the same training rules.

If you could change something about the breeding process, what would it be?

If I could change something about the breeding process I would like the Kennel Club to only register litters from parents that have been health checked and met the breed standards. I would also like potential puppy purchasers to be more educated about the Breeders Licence requirement.

Thank you so much for your time and wisdom. I’m so pleased there are ethical breeders such as yourself. Especially as we will be looking to purchase our next puppy soon. With your advice, we can make sure that we give our new puppy the best start.

“The Boy Who Dared” will be published 1 October 2022 and can be bought here

James has just one chance to save his dad, his friends and a hundred starving dogs. Can he face his greatest fear, before the criminal gang track him down?


In Loving Memory

Last week on 8 September, we in the United Kingdom and all the Commonwealth countries lost our queen. She was a renowned dog lover. Indeed, whenever a corgi is spotted most people immediately think of the queen. She also had Labradors which I’m sure she loved just as much. Anyone who has owned a Labrador can tell you they are quite impossible not to love!

The month before, on 8 August, my family and I lost our cherished family dog Monty (aka The Lord as named by his beloved dog walker). The devastation this caused especially at such a tender age – just three years old – feels irreparable. But I know that one day the pain will ease.

The month before that, on 8 July, I lost one of my closest friends, Judy (Judge Judy I sometimes jokingly called her). She was my confidante, book geek, dog-obsessor. She, more than anyone, would have understood my pain of losing Monty.

It would be easy for all this to overwhelm me and for a while it did. I’m still crying lots. But in between the tears there are cherished memories.

The death of Her Majesty the Queen, has been devastating for the whole country. It is unsettling and like others, I feel a deep sadness. However, Her Majesty lead a privileged and long life. Of course there were troubles and difficulties but overall, I think it’s a fair judgement that the queen’s life was a life well lived.

For me it was harder to deal with the personal loss of my fabulous friend Judy. Although older than me, she hadn’t finished living her life. Not even close. She found her beloved husband late in life and her two Westies were still young and are missing her. She was a wonderful person, although the most useless driver I ever met. She was fun and whacky and we needed at least another 20 years of putting the world to rights. But the positives I take is that she did meet her beloved John. She did have lots of dogs. She did experience being an adored grandma. She did read a million or so books. She was so loved.

And then there is the loss of Monty. We loved him so very much and were determined to make sure he was the healthiest dog in the world so that he would live a long, healthy happy life. He died at three years old. It wasn’t our fault and it wasn’t his fault. A tragic accident (he apparently ate rat poison or an animal recently deceased from rat poison). Initially I struggled to draw any positives. Three years is so short. But I can draw positives. Monty never knew cruelty. He never knew loneliness or neglect. He never knew fear. All he knew was love, fun and joy. From us and from his doting dog-walker.

Fittingly, he was with me as I wrote my book “The Boy Who Dared” designed to teach the readers how cruel and dangerous puppy mills are. My research was harrowing. I learnt about dogs who lived their whole lives never seeing the light of day. Giving birth to litter after litter of puppies in dark dirty pens, only hearing aggressive shouts and the only touch, a hard fist. The puppies born in these dingy conditions were often born with genetic defects causing long-term health issues and early death bringing deep sorrow to their new owners.

Illustration by Michael J Carr

As my initial grief over losing Monty began to settle down, I compared his life to these poor unfortunate dogs. I realised that quality is more important than quantity. He only had three years, but those years were top quality. He lived like a royal. He was happy and loved every single second of his life. I have nothing to regret about the way we raised him. It has made me more determined than ever to spread the word, in Monty’s name: please, for the love of dogs, never, ever buy a puppy from a puppy mill. They are in it for profit only, so if they can’t sell the dogs they will close their business. There are plenty of ethical dog breeders (see interview here) (and interview with a second ethical dog breeder here) and of course there are lots of wonderful rescues. Please in Monty’s name, learn how to recognise a puppy mill breeder. There is information here from the RSPCA. Make sure you see the lactating mum with the puppy and make sure you see the puppy in their home – not in a pub or car park. Click here for RSPCA information on how to find a good breeder.

In Monty’s memory, in my dog-doting friend Judy’s memory and in our dog-loving queen’s memory – let’s all make sure that we never support a cruel puppy farm.

You can pre-order “The Boy Who Dared” here.


Seven Surprising Ways to Break Through Writer’s Block

Don’t panic! It happens to almost everyone. There are ways through. Deep breath…

Write Rubbish!

Honestly. NOBODY is going to see it. You set yourself a time and start writing. It only needs to be 30 minutes. No matter how bad it is, it’s more than nothing. Be as ridiculous as you like. Take the mic and write something atrocious. It’s okay, because it’s like a leaky tap, it starts dribbling and then all of a sudden it just gushes the words out. And somehow, they start to get better all by themselves. You can fix the beginning later – just go with the flow.

Clean the windows/floors/vacuum/exercise

Mundane jobs take no thought but occupy you enough to stop you hyper-fixating on your writer’s block. Moreover, if you’re trying to enjoy writing, knowing that you have visitors tomorrow and your house is a state, it puts you into what Prof. Steve Peters (of The Chimp Paradox) calls “the dark playground” – you are trying to do something pleasurable, but it is ruined by the nagging guilt at the back of your mind that you should be doing something else. This definitely contributes to writer’s block. Just think – if it doesn’t work, at least your house will be gleaming! Exercise can have exactly the same effect – did you tell yourself you would run twice a week but haven’t done it? Get out for that run, you’ve ticked a task off your list and allowed your mind to run free with you.


Have you ever sat somewhere for a period of time with nothing to do? Like a train station for example? I like to “people watch” I look at them and try to guess their story. Who are they? Where are they going? Why are they going there? What are they like at home? I get clues from the way they dress, their body language and interactions, what they have with them and so forth. I’m probably wrong 100% of the time – I’ll never know, but they give me great writing material. You can do the same by visiting your local library and looking at book covers in your genre, then try to guess the story. Or visit a local art museum. There is inspiration all around, once you tear your eyes away from the screen/paper you’re using to write your story.

Walk through nature

The more you panic about your writer’s block, the more uptight you become which just adds to the mental immobility. Go for a walk. Make sure there is nature around you. If you’re lucky enough to be close to open countryside, that is perfect, but if you are in a city, head to the nearest park or graveyard. It is important to understand that you haven’t gone there to think up solutions to your block. You are purely there to allow yourself to unwind and your mind to expand. Engage all your senses: look up at the sky, look around you at the flowers, bushes and trees, listen for the insects and birdsong, smell the flowers, touch the leaves and the petals. Remove your shoes and press your bare feet into the earth to really connect. If you have an animal with you, stroke it. Lots.

Read similar books

Know your genre and age group, know your target audience. Then pop to the library and borrow lots of books in that genre. Allow yourself a break from writing to read, but keep a notebook and pen handy. Sometimes a book will inspire new ideas, sometimes you will think of how you would have written that book differently. Either way, ideas will start swimming around inside your head.

Chat to your book friend about favourite books

We all have that one geeky book friend to whom we can chat overly-enthusiastically about books for hours upon end and they don’t look at us like some kind of weirdo. Go visit them – in person preferably, but over Zoom if necessary. Ask them what they’re reading, tell them about what you recently read, let the conversation go wherever it wants. You’re not asking them for help. You’re just enjoying chatting about books – any genre. Oftentimes that’s enough to unplug the blockage.

Sentence starters / Writing prompts

You can internet search thousands of sentence starters and writing prompts, but here are just a few from me:

  • Henry had an unsettling feeling he’d been here before…
  • It was 2am, too early for sunrise, yet the room was bathed in a bright light…
  • The two old ladies, held on to each other as they laughed and laughed…
  • Just around the corner, Jack’s life would be changed forever…
  • The two girls skipped down the beach hand in hand, never to be seen again…
  • It was the same coffee shop. The same street. The same time of day. Yet there was one big difference…
  • Deep under the ocean, something was stirring…
  • “Two people can see and hear the same thing, yet interpret them very differently,” the detective thought to himself.
  • The apparent strangers exchanged a brief look. Somebody else at the airport noticed that look too…
  • Angela arrived unusually late for work, her face red and her usually immaculate hair wild. She rushed into her office, slamming the door behind her…