account arrow-down-linearrow-down-small arrow-downarrow-download arrow-left-small arrow-leftarrow-link arrow-rightarrow-upaudio-less-volume audio-not-playing audio-plus-volume audio awarded books calendar close-modal closedate document education emailevent Facebookhamburger impact instagramjustice linkedin location-outline location opinion page phonepinterestplay pluspost preview project reports search-bigsearch-old search share startime twitterwelfare youtube zoom-in zoom-out

Book language: promoting literacy and oracy in the early years

Researchers: Professor Kate Nation

By Nuffield Foundation

Project overview

Studies have identified important differences between ‘book language’ and spoken language, for example in terms of the vocabulary and syntax they contain. In order to understand texts, children need to learn the ‘language of books’.

This study aims to develop a detailed picture of the language used in different types of texts aimed at children, through analysis of the 12,000 English language texts contained in the Oxford Children’s Corpus. The results of this analysis will then inform the design of a series of six proof-of-concept shared-reading experiments aimed at investigating whether specific, systematic exposure to ‘book language’ in Reception can improve children’s language and literacy skills.

Exposure to books prior to school entry is known to vary according to social disadvantage. The study will test whether the shared-reading experiments have the potential to mitigate the effects of this variation and support disadvantaged children in learning to understand written texts.

The language skills and exposure to books of 40 Reception-year children will be measured prior to and after each experiment. The children will be assigned to two equal groups, one of which will be read a bespoke story and asked to retell it. All retellings will be recorded and analysed using established measures to assess whether they show that the targeted learning has taken place. This procedure will be repeated three times to see whether children’s retellings became closer to the original text with increased familiarity.

This innovative study complements our work on oral language in the early years, including the evaluations of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention and Talking Together.


  • Professor Kate Nation
    University of Oxford

  • Eleanor Ireland
    Programme Head, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
  • Director, Education
    Nuffield Foundation
By Nuffield Foundation

Explore our projects

Search projects

We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.