Tag Archives: learning grids

Improving literacy in Geography

Example of VCOP template
Example of VCOP template

Something we find our students struggle with at times, regardless of key stage, is the creation of extended writing. Such an essential skill, especially with a view to GCSE. The decision making exercise (SDME) essay that our students complete requires them to read, analyse, interpret and synthesise information into a coherent argument. And it is a big hurdle for them. And in KS3, where we have reduced contact time now, we have noticed a difficulty with stretching higher level writing.

This week we had INSET training from our literacy co-ordinator which was insightful. We are going to lead a Humanities-Literacy joint project which I will update you on later but may involve the creation of a makingwav.es platform for sharing work that I have mentioned before. Anyway, I digress. I was introduced to VCOP – a simple way to structure writing through suggesting vocabulary, listing connectives, providing sentence openers, and then reminding of punctuation. I decided to trial this with both KS3 and KS4 classes of all abilities and have been really pleased with the outcomes. Below are example lessons including VCOP from Yr11 Hazards & Yr9 Extreme Environments so you can see how it was worked into the lesson. We talked through the structure as a group first to establish its utility, then a copy was given between pairs for reference during writing. Students were allowed their books for reference, access to their mobile device, but were otherwise silent for 10-15minutes solid writing. After, we then discussed whether the structure had been useful and throughout all abilities and ages they universally agreed it was ‘good to refer to if you forgot something’ or that it ‘gave me something to start off with’. A starting block.

Thanks to @daviderogers for the NYC lesson outline that was his originally until I butchered it!

You can see in the Yr 11 Hazards lesson I also used the Learning Grids activity for their group work. Students had copies of the grids in A3, then had to roll two dice to get grid reference/coordinate for a particular grid and then include the statement within their group work, e.g. grid 6,6 means they must include a link to sustainability within their argument. They had to repeat the rolls 5 times to get 5 statements to include. When the groups presented their findings, I used the dice myself with the grid in order to direct questioning. Using the random name generator on Triptico I selected a student, then rolled the dice to select a question based on that topic. That student then got to roll for the next name suggested, and they got to pose the question, and so forth. That way a selection of random students were able to both pose & answer directed questions and it led to some really informative discussions as well as enabling more in depth AfL of the relative merits of each presentation.

The use of the template was observed by an Ofsted lead inspector for a different lesson who commented on it’s suitability and highlighted that one of their key focuses at present is that of literacy across the curriculum, and that teachers cannot do enough of making overt links to literacy &  the importance of writing skills for GCSE and the workplace.

I think a further development to the use of VCOP could be to provide specific links to English APP AF strands on writing, and make it clear that students are developing skills intrinsic and essential to both subject areas. In English they are exposed to the AF strands routinely so it would make the cross-over more familiar, and more of a development of a known rather than introduction of something new and scary.

I am also thinking of creating some generic VCOP laminated pyramids to be able to distribute to tables as needed. I’d be interested in hearing from others if you have used these. It seems something common in primary schools and strange to not continue when literacy is such a struggle.

“If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” Oscar Wilde

Learning Grids: Something worth trying?

I’m really fortunate to be in a mutually supportive and collaborative department. All schemes of work are living documents saved on the cloud, and each of us share our lesson resources via a team Dropbox account. We all have our own individual take on things, but it does mean we can save ‘recreating the wheel’ and, importantly, ensure that the children within our individual classes still get a consistent experience between teachers.  During department meetings we spend time reviewing each other’s marking or examples of student assessments to make sure we are on the same page, and if someone has seen or read about something we will discuss it, decide whether it is appropriate to trial within the department, and figure out how to do so. 


One such thing recently was brought up by David Rogers who had been reading Andy Griffiths’ ‘Engaging Learners’ book. In the book he had picked up on ‘learning grids’ as a possible activity. We were in the midst of preparations for the SDME exam for Year11 which involves a final decision making essay which is a demanding challenge for most students in terms of how to structure and how to display high level skills (especially on higher tier with minimal structure given in exam). We agreed to trial the learning grids as an aid for structuring the practice essay in a more fun way. We drew up a grid as seen here with suggested themes/skills that students should include in their work. Using a dice, they would roll to find coordinates and then use those coordinates to decide which criteria they had to include. i.e. roll two dice, if you get 1,6 then this is your coordinate so you must include ‘refer to data’, then repeat this three times to build in different strands to your essay. All criteria were focused on the Level 3-4 skills so that by using them students could build a quality essay. 


I trialled this with year 11 in workshops, and it was a great success. The style of throwing dice made it feel less rigid perhaps, more flexible, and like they 

were still building an independent essay. And it did seem to help students to recall what criteria to include by seeing it laid out this way rather than a checklist of ‘please include this in your essay’. This idea was also shared via twitter with @misslkelly who tweeted asking for revision resources, and she was pleased with the results.

I went on to trial this with my year 9 who were completing an assessment as a follow up to the Montserrat decision making exercise. Students were each given a learning grid card and could then use dice and the grid to structure their extended writing. I was surprised with how seriously they took it, but even the lower ability sets were avidly checking their grids to see what criteria they needed. As an additional part of the grid work this time I used it as a bit of mini AfL. I asked students to check off on their grids which criteria they felt they had met during their essay and which they felt they were still needing to work on, then asked them to swap assignments and peer assess whether they had met these criteria or not. When I marked them I also collected in the grids and could use these to inform me whether students were accurately identifying skills and help inform future planning, e.g. I noticed that many were ticking off ‘has explained links to sustainability’ but in their work had only dropped the word in, and not explained…so the grids could show misconceptions and I will return them next time they do an assessment to see if they have developed a better understanding next time. 

As with everything, this isn’t a tool to use all the time but certainly has its place for helping structure extended writing. And you wouldn’t have to always have topic specific grids, you can be resource light and have laminated learning grids with generic factors relevant to particular level / grade criteria. These could then be used for anything, written or verbal, independent work or group.

“You don’t actually have to write anything until you’ve thought it out. This is an enormous relief.” Marie de Nervaud