What is the project about?

Learning to read in a foreign language can be challenging, especially when learners move from primary to secondary school, where they are expected to be able to understand more complex language. It is therefore important to understand how helpful different approaches to teaching reading are.

The study was a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), based in a diverse sample of 36 schools across the country (nearly 1000 learners in total).  In each school, one Year 7 class took part.  Teachers in all schools gave their students a series of challenging texts to read in French.

One third of the teachers in the study asked their students to read the texts and then complete comprehension exercises on them.  A second group of teachers used the same texts with their students, but additionally gave them explicit instruction in reading strategies (such as inferring the meanings of unknown words and checking that their initial interpretations of the texts made sense).  A third group read the texts and received explicit instruction in French phonics (the sounds of written French), to help them pronounce the texts more accurately.

The study’s main findings were that all three teaching approaches were equally beneficial for learners’ reading comprehension skills, which the researchers attributed to the texts themselves, which learners enjoyed and found motivating. The French phonics approach was the most helpful for being able to sound out words and for learning vocabulary.  The Strategies approach was also helpful for vocabulary learning, but particularly for raising learners’ confidence in reading challenging texts, and especially for lower attaining learners. The team concluded that a combined Phonics and Strategies approach, using challenging and interesting texts, is likely to be the most effective.

Who is running the project?

The project was run by Dr Robert Woore at the University of Oxford in collaboration with Professor Suzanne Graham at the University of Reading.

Who is funding the project?

The project was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

Find out more

Read the project report

A key outcome of this study was the development of a set of challenging and interesting texts in French that teachers can use.

Download the teaching materials for the Strategies approach