Three gifts from Team English

With only a few weeks to go until the new GCSE curriculum is put to the test, I thought this would be a good time to reflect on what my teaching has gained from three brilliant ideas I picked up from other members of Team English and have put into practice in my classroom. My grateful thanks to, among many others, Andy Tharby, Rebecca Foster and Joe Kirby from whom I magpied the ideas.

Analytical writing

It was clear to me from very early on that, given the time constraints of the exams, being able to form beautiful – and meaningful – sentences under pressure would be a key challenge for this cohort. I had spent quite a bit of time poring over Andy Tharby and Shaun Allison’s book Making Every Lesson Count and I was eager to try out Andy’s resource 16 analytical sentences which I felt had a lot of potential to help pupils develop a framework to express their ideas. I duly laminated 30 copies and put them with a selection of other resources on the help bar on my classroom windowsill.

Starting off with my current Y11, I modelled using these sentences to create topic sentences for literature paper questions and encouraged pupils to use them as much as possible when drafting exam-style answers. The improvement in some pupils’s work really began to show when they had memorised a few of the sentence structures. At this point they started to use them naturally in their writing and the effect was particularly noticeable in the mock exams:  the two most improved pupils in the class were those who made the most use of the sentences to help them frame their ideas about texts. I now  use this resources with all my classes  when teaching analytical writing. Below are some samples of work from a recent Year 9 essay on the novel Things Fall Apart.example 1 example 2 example 3

My fear was that using a resource like this might be too prescriptive and overly scaffold pupils’ responses, but I think it has had the opposite effect, as it has allowed them a framework within which to develop their thoughts, leading to more considered and reflective comments about the text.

One important thing I did learn was that, to get the best out of this resource, it is important to model using the sentences to construct an analytical paragraph before letting them loose with the hand outs.


Starters for Five

Many thanks to @TLPMrsF for this one. Again, I had been reading around the idea of memory and retrieval and wondering how I should go about building memory platforms into my KS4 lessons. I happened on Rebecca’s 5 a day starters and decided to open each KS4 lesson with five questions on a Powerpoint slide that mixed up current and previous topics. It took a few reiterations of the thinking behind it for pupils to understand the purpose of these, but they have grown to enjoy testing their knowledge against them and it has definitely had an impact not only on memory but also on their ability to see thematic links between the various texts. I’ve linked to one here  as an example. The beauty of this is that they only take a few minutes each week to create and are infinitely reusable, particularly if you mix them up and retest every couple of weeks.


Knowledge Organisers

Obviously, these have been extensively discussed on Twitter but it was @joe­_kirby with  this blog post that first drew my attention to their potential in distilling the key knowledge required for a topic or text. I made some of my own, borrowed and adapted some from the collection curated by @jamestheo  and my classroom windowsill is now home to a wide array of class sets of laminated organisers to be handed out for a quick memorise and recall starter or to help with planning and writing essays. Next year, I plan to issue personal copies to pupils at the beginning of each unit, as Michaela does, and set learning from them as homework to be tested in class.


These are just three of the things I have put into practice this year that I probably wouldn’t know about were it not for Twitter and #TeamEnglish. Thank you all for creating such an amazing community.

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