Ever really wondered about teaching writing and reading?

Ever felt like some children don’t get it, no matter which way you explain it? Ever thought you would like to make every child literate regardless of their culture, background or learning ability? Ever dreamed that you had a magic recipe that could make this so?

WE DID TOO! Our journey began by training in a step-by-step, systematic approach to teaching literacy. We learned, taught what we learned, learned more and taught even more until we completely understood from experience, how to turn literacy failure into literacy success for every child. Unexpectedly, we learned how children’s literacy struggles and failure could be avoided altogether.

After these experiences we wondered some more. We wondered what would happen if other teachers had this magic recipe for every child’s literacy success, and we wondered what the future of this country would look like if every child became literate. We concluded it was time to share.

About Words is a little New Zealand company that publishes resources and provides training in a magic recipe that makes every child literate. For the first time we are able to offer the comprehensive training in bite-sized workshops which logically and systematically unfold the complexities of teaching writing and reading. We make sense of teaching and learning writing and reading.

If you wonder as we did, you may like to check out the workshop programme and join us if you can.

We know we’ll enjoy working with you.

Two gals and the issue of illiteracy in New Zealand

TWO GALS: on an uncommon journey full of revelations, realisations and student failure that no one knows what to do about.

TWO GALS: observed the literacy struggles and subsequent student failure. They just wanted to know why every student wasn’t literate and what could change that.

TWO GALS: found out what would change the failure, taught the failed
and witnessed the success, time and again. Children, adults and those
for whom English is a second language have all benefited from their work.

TWO GALS: different backgrounds, different motivations, same
conclusion – every student can become literate regardless of background,
culture or learning ability.

TWO GALS: with a process that gets students advancing in the
essential skills of literacy. They have put together a practical workshop
programme that will prepare you to teach, step-by-step, the essential
skills that will make every one of your students literate.

About Us: Two gals


Having seen first-hand the anxiety, and academic failure the absence of literacy skills cause, Rachel made up her mind to find out how students got to Year 10 with such big gaps in their literacy knowledge.

Rachel taught English and Accounting at secondary school, but a relieving position teaching a Year 10 English class changed everything. She realised to her dismay that the students could not learn what was expected because they lacked basic literacy skills. It was this experience that led to her to About Words to learn how to teach the essential writing skills, beginning with the code of English.

For the past seven years she has been teaching these skills to students from five to nineteen years. Those for whom English is not their first language have been among them.

Over the years there have been many moments when literacy failure has become literacy success but one experience stands out for Rachel. One of her students, a gang affiliated 14 year old boy, who had been using drugs since he was seven, couldn’t write or read and scored 0% for Level 1. Within three weeks of introducing him to the code, he scored 100%. “This experience taught me that regardless of background or culture a brain taught this way can learn.” It was a defining moment.

She relates the response of parents to their children (of all ages) learning this way, “Parents would tell me they didn’t know about the code of English. They found themselves being ‘the student’ and their child ‘the teacher’, resulting in unforeseen learning and confidence building on both sides.”

Rachel comments on the response students have to the consistency, routine and rigor that are built into her lessons. “These are all unpopular approaches in modern learning and yet they promote calm brains, students enjoying the challenge of learning, practicing the knowledge and correcting their errors. The success is earned, they advance and develop confidence in their ability.”

What she witnessed was that failure at writing and reading created a lack of confidence and anxiety around learning that got worse the longer a child was at school. Teaching the essential skills of English, beginning with the code, Rachel saw again and again, failure turn into success. But more importantly she realised that children who were taught the essential skills of writing, beginning with the code of English at the very start of their schooling, never experienced failure.

These first-hand experiences have inspired Rachel to work alongside Maree to deliver a programme that teaches the essential skills of writing, beginning with the code of English. “It makes so much sense: I loved teaching it and the children loved learning it. I am excited to share with other teachers what has made the difference.”



Two decades ago Maree experienced her own child’s failure to learn to read and write. She set out to find out why this happened. She questioned, read books and research, and eventually happened upon a programme that taught the essential skills of writing, beginning with the code of English. It changed her son’s failure. It changed the direction of her life.

Not content to have assured her son’s literacy success and confidence in learning, she established About Words where she taught children, adults and those for whom English is a second language, the essential skills necessary to achieve literacy success. This gave Maree vast experience with students who failed or struggled with literacy at every level. This experience confirmed to her that it is the teaching process that is all important if every child is to become literate.

The consistent success of her students provided the catalyst for further developing a training programme for adults, including teachers, who wanted to teach literacy using a code based approach. The development of resources to support New Zealand learners followed.

Those who trained turned literacy failure into success for many more students, but for Maree there were still thousands of children whose academic potential continued to be compromised because they did not have basic knowledge about the code of English.

To this end she has teamed up with Rachel and developed a workshop programme for teachers so they can learn how teaching the code will complement and enhance the writing skills of their learners.

“I’m excited to work with teachers to share not a philosophy, but a very useful step-by-step process that teaches the essential skills of writing, beginning with the code of English. I look forward to working with teachers who want to know how to teach the code and advance the writing and reading skills of their learners.”

Teaching Writing: The beginning of our process

We like to establish good writing habits right from the start. When we do this we can systematically take learning from simple to complex and advance writing skills. We have found the following beneficial to junior writing advancement:

Good posture

We model and teach children good posture as they sit at their desks ready for writing. Good posture facilitates the circulation of the blood and the supply of oxygen to the brain, essential for its proper functioning. We think a class of children sitting up straight ready to learn more about writing, is worth getting out of bed to teach! Slouchy, droopy positions are not encouraged, not only do they induce drowsiness but these positions make it hard for children to learn and to write.


We teach all of the early stages of writing using a 2B pencil. Pencil requires only a little pressure for writing, meaning the letters can be formed more easily and it gives a dark line that is easy to read. As it can be easily erased children enjoy being able to improve the appearance of their work, which in turn encourages pride and an appreciation of accuracy. We teach children to erase their errors and print the correction, otherwise there is a danger that the uncorrected error, even if crossed out, will imprint itself on the memory.

Pencil grip

We show children exactly how to hold a pencil and practice the skill daily. A pencil, or later a pen are the tools of writing, and a correct pencil grip will ensure the ability to develop a controlled and well-formed letter style, with speed and accuracy. Our goal is for every child to be able to write without strain on their wrist or fingers.

Letter formation

We pay particular attention to the place at which children start a letter and ensure each stroke is correct in order to finish the letter in the right place too. Being able to form letters correctly is one of the essential skills to writing. In order that children learn to write well we begin by teaching them correct letter formation. Achieving this skill enables children to have neat writing, which can be read with clarity and comfort.

Lined paper

We give children lines to write on as soon as formal learning starts. We find it helps them to apply limits to the task of forming well-proportioned letters. At first this can be challenging, especially to young children, but we have seen first-hand how daily practice overcomes the initial challenge.

Routine, practice, feedback

We use these actions so children can advance in their writing skills!

Routine: we get children and their brains prepared for learning with our ‘Routine to Ready’ before any writing begins.

Practice: every day we practice the essential skills of writing, we want the skills to become automatic so we can teach even more complex writing skills.

Feedback: we use a two-step feedback process that keeps children connected to the learning.


 “The beginning is the most important part of the work.”


The Programme

A series of sequential workshops suited for junior teachers who would like to teach the code as part of their literacy programme.

1. Getting Juniors Writing: The beginning of a process

2. Getting Juniors Writing: The Alphabetic Principle

3. Getting Juniors Writing: Engaging the Alphabetic Principle

4. Looking at Level 2: Where to begin

5. Looking at Level 2: More Early English phonograms

6. Looking at Level 2: Punctuation, grammar and more

2 day workshop

2 half day workshops

2 half day workshops

1 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 day workshop

A series of sequential workshops suited to teacher aides working with learners who struggle with writing and/or reading from all year levels.

1. Identifying the gaps

2. Level 1: Where to begin

3. Level 1: Filling in the gaps

4. Level 1: Keeping up momentum

5. Looking at Level 2: Where to begin

6. Looking at Level 2: More Early English phonograms

7. Looking at Level 2: Punctuation, grammar and more

1 half day workshop

1 day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 day workshop

A series of sequential workshops suited to teachers teaching Year three and above who would like to include teaching the code as part of your literacy programme.

1. Level 1: Finding the Gaps

2. Level 1: Filling the gaps

3. Level 1: Extending the study

4. Level 2: Where to begin

5. Level 2: More Early English Phonograms

6. Level 2: Punctuation, grammar and more

1 half day workshop

1 day workshop

2 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 half day workshop

1 day workshop

There are five levels in the workshop programme. The workshops for Levels 3, 4 and 5 will continue after participants have completed Levels 1 and 2. If you would like to know more please email


We’d love to hear from you:


Phone: 027 919 5200

Email: maree@aboutwords.co.nz



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Email: rachel@aboutwords.co.nz