Transition Treasure Trail

Every now and again you create a lesson that is just a winner – we are delighted to share our tried and tested transition day session that always goes down well with nervous Year 6 students and teachers dealing with the unknown dynamic of a new group.

The lesson is framed around an ‘adventure’ and students work as teams to tackle obstacles in the pursuit of treasure and prestige. Although the lesson runs itself once you get going, there is a bit of preparation of the room and resources before the lesson. Thanks to Kate Newman who came up with the original idea – a winning formula that has served us well for a number of years now.

Pre-lesson

  • Arrange the tables into groups
  • Sellotape down the giant treasure maps in the middle of each table
  • Select some appropriately exciting adventure music – we like the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ soundtrack available here
  • Set up six folders with the puzzles students will need to tackle as they work around their treasure map
  • Make sure you have stocked up on ‘treasure’ we use chocolate coins. Remember to check allergies and intolerance before the lesson just in case

Starter – Breaking the Ice Continue reading “Transition Treasure Trail”

Why we should still be having fun

Last week my class were totally absorbed in a set of lesson on synthesis. They spent hours carefully poring over several articles and meticulously sifting out quotations, information and inferences to create a precise and accurate summary of what they had read. The subject? Not Paper 2 skills as far as they were concerned but ‘Animal Attacks’. The most bizarre, gruesome and delightfully shocking accounts can be found in abundance thanks to the excellent Guardian Experience range here (I was swallowed by a hippo is a personal favourite). Here’s the thing though – I am totally convinced that my boy heavy,  gore loving class would not have enjoyed working through the specimen papers provided by AQA nearly as much – in fact I would go as far as to say that I would have inevitably lost some of them along the way; however clearly I broke down the process of synthesis and summary, the extrinsic motivator of being able to perform in a GCSE exam would not be enough to hold their attention or help all of them really embed that skill. It’s not that they don’t care about their GCSEs, it’s more that summary and synthesis are not necessarily fun skills to master for most of us. Useful? Yes. Necessary? Well sort of. But fun? Not really. Animal attacks are intrinsically interesting to them and picking them as the source material would have made any subsequent activity a winner.

I read the debates on Twitter about engagement (or ‘investment’ as James Durran elegantly re-terms it in his post here) and I do agree that much of what we do is intrinsically interesting and that when we approach it with enthusiasm and passion, we shouldn’t need to rely on gimmicks and ‘empty activities’ that are more about entertaining classes than really bringing on their knowledge and skills. It is also true that there is nothing worse than observing ‘fun’ lessons that are full of activity with no real thought or value behind them. Continue reading “Why we should still be having fun”

World Cup: Lessons in the Language of Football

I will admit that the start of the world cup leads to my partner and I adopting stereotypical roles: him an excitable, uncharacteristically optimistic die hard patriot and me beleaguered and abandoned, seething with resentment at having to switch over Love Island in favour of yet another crucial match. This year though I have decided to embrace it. Well in the classroom at least. During the World Cup, students who are sometimes almost comatose with apathy in class are transformed; it is quite amazing to see them so energised and animated in the corridors as they debate the relative chances of different nations with an encyclopaedic knowledge of players, coaches, managers and strategies. It seems too good an opportunity to let pass which has got me thinking about the power of not just the topic and subject matter but of the language which surrounds it.

There’s a sense of passion that pervades the rhetoric of football and how writers achieve this is really interesting. We can break down lexis into its component parts and consider the power of semantic fields, euphemism, idiom, colloquialisms and even cliché. The dense complex sentences brim with embedded clauses and provide efficient delivery of lots of information; they become goldmines for constructing and dissecting syntax. Continue reading “World Cup: Lessons in the Language of Football”

Tapping into Fortnite Fever

Computer games and Literature have more in common than we might first think. Complex narratives, immersive escapism and compelling characters are often the most appealing elements of the books that we read and computer games often offer these in abundance. Far from the passive act of watching television, gamers are highly engaged with their activities applying problem solving skills,  weighing up moral conundrums and working out successful strategies in tense and fast moving situations. Am I trying to convince you that all computer games are intellectual pursuits? Of course not but there is an awful lot for us to tap into here (explored with more academic rigour in Ki Karou’s blog post here)

The wonderful thing about so much of English Language is our ability to teach skills that can be applied in any context. As ‘Fortnite’ is the game of the moment, this lovely summer term, in which there is time to experiment with approaches, seems the perfect opportunity to tap into something that so many young people (interestingly of both genders) are so fascinated with. Its addictive blend of fast paced cartoon violence and ruthless competition has inspired widespread joy and a plethora of  near hysterical journalism about the corruption of the next generation; This presents us with the perfect opportunity for some really engaging reading and writing work.

Don’t worry, you don’t need to have played it at all to use these resources. Though as we are all exhausted and crawl toward the end of term, a bit of post-exam virtual massacre might be just what you need…

Continue reading “Tapping into Fortnite Fever”

Creative Approaches to Feedback

Let’s be honest, however much you enjoy teaching, English teachers are rarely thrilled by a huge pile of marking and English teachers inevitably have one of the biggest workloads of all curriculum areas. I’m sure we’ve all felt the rising dread as a student delightedly declares that they have written a brilliant story proudly citing the eighteen page length as an endorsement of its brilliance. Even with carefully constructed success criteria, crafted models and an insistence on proofreading, feedback will often frustratingly focus on students’ failure to utilise these steps in the writing process.

Feedback isn’t always merely a necessary evil though. When we’ve taught something really well, of course there a sense of joy in seeing students demonstrate what they’ve learned. Traditionally, this is followed up with a comment highlighting strengths and areas for development but does the act of writing a lengthy summative comment at the end of their work really maximise the impact we are going to have on a student’s next piece of writing? Consider this comment:

You’ve used a really wide vocabulary here and included a good range of devices. Next time you need to proof read your work more carefully to spot errors with commas. I’d also like to see you build more clear links between your paragraphs

Thirty odd comments like this (along with some helpful annotation and literacy error marking)are a significant investment of our time but is there really any impact here? Surely the student was aware that they had deliberately crafted their vocabulary and included devices that had been meticulously covered in the lesson. Telling students that they have done what you asked them to do doesn’t feel like a particularly useful step. The targets are potentially useful but is this a student that misunderstands commas or just hasn’t bothered to put them in? Similarly, do they have a range of techniques for cohesion between ideas, if not, this target isn’t going to have any real influence on their next piece of work. Of course this might be followed up with a conversation, additional teaching or some other well crafted follow up activity, but if it isn’t, perhaps a different approach would save time and have more impact on developing the individual child as a writer.

The following principles are crucial for maximising the impact of feedback:

  • Feedback should be more work for students than us.
  • Feedback strategies have to help students improve their work – if there’s no impact, we shouldn’t be doing it.
  • We must refuse to accept work that doesn’t reflect real effort.
  • A wide range of formative strategies are good for students and teachers

So what are the alternatives? Below are twenty approaches to summative comments and fifteen reflective activities that encourage students to engage and respond with the work they have produced and the work of their peers.

Continue reading “Creative Approaches to Feedback”