Tag Archives: literacy

#TMRGS presentations – Geography TeachMeets really are awesome

RGS So last night saw the very first TeachMeet hosted by the home of Geography, the Royal Geographical Society in London. The event was organised by the amazing Claire Brown from the RGS, Steve Brace (Head of Education), sorted by David Rogers and a tiny bit of effort myself.

What an evening! Geographers really are an awesome bunch. It was a later start than usual to allow for travel, but the enthusiasm in the room and in the virtual room from Twitter was palpable. We missed the company of other illustrious Geographers like @aknill and @robgeog, but did get a wannabe geographer from @Miss_J_Hart. And thank you to Richard Allaway for sponsoring refreshments!

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I’ve got the fun job of sharing the presentations from all the amazing presenters that night. In true TeachMeet style these were 6minute snapshots into truly professional teachers’ work and their presentations won’t be the same as hearing them speak, so for questions I suggest getting in touch! The great thing was seeing such a wide range, and each presenter kept coming back to the need to have carefully thought out sequences of learning, building curiosity and developing rigour and skills, but also making everyday lessons memorable. There was also the challenge by David, to remember that Geographers change the world!

So here’s a rough idea of who did what!

  1. We kicked off with Steve Brace defending the importance of Geography, and how statistically speaking geographers still are more employable and that the skills of GCSE and A Level v highly valued by universities and employers alike. Did you know that 10% of all PLC revenue is based on data from the OS…and geographers?! Slideshare link to presentation.
  2. The adventurous Jamie Buchanan-Dunlop from Digital Explorer shared the beautiful resources of D:E. including citizenship materials so critical to current key global issues such as refugee crises such as My Voice, My School. He also reminded us of the stunning Catlin Seaview Survey resources, e.g. virtual dives (Oh, and he’s a historian that is now working for geoscientific research!) His slideshare link here
  3. The wonderful Liz Pattison shared a range of differentiation ideas, including lead learners, learning grids (always love a learning grid!), silent debates, use of SOLO.Her slideshare presentation here
  4. Deborah Syme talked about underachievement and barriers to learning, through ‘executive dysfunction’, and potential smart solutions to these. Slideshare link
  5. Andrew Boardman shared his use of ActivInspire software for verbal feedback through sound recording and screen capture for students to keep coming back to. Loved that he emphasised the need to ‘talk like a geographer’ – so critical for success. Link: tinyurl.com/qxuheao
  6. Richard Maurice shared ideas for developing more challenge and use of better questioning. The 5Ws are not enough, we need better deeper questioning. I also liked his suggestions for subverting the #5minlessonplan by getting kids to use it as a structure for note taking / forming and answering Qs. His presentation here
  7. Rachel Hawke shared lots of ideas for encouraging creativity and curiosity, plus great use of SPAG model for proof reading – CUPS: capitalise, understanding (do your sentences make sense), punctuation, spelling. In fact, by 10pm @dukkhaboy had already created his own style version of this and was preparing to use in class next day – and he was only following on twitter! #TMRGS making an immediate impact. Slideshare link
  8. Deborah Gostling spoke about making real world links to architecture and urban design, through tricky projects such as redesigning Cairo. Building rigour and knowledge while using Google Earth and CAD software to add challenge Slideshare link
  9. Rupert Littlewood talked about making favelas and creative hands on learning – always love a bit of model making and really getting the feel of things. Slideshare link
  10. Anna Forshaw gave loads of practical ideas and suggested activities for embedding DME skills and problem solving activities Slideshare link
  11. Ewan Laurie shared some fab ideas for ‘hijacking Geography’ and getting it taking over school. Love the idea of the Pop-up classroom, or teaching something for ten minutes in the corridor at lunch, letting geography take over the school.Slideshare link

My own presentation got a little distracted on Monday night when I stumbled across some tweets claiming that Geography is ‘confused’ or ‘not a subject’. The controversy! Some were claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. It’s the same story as has been heard before, but it does frustrat me that this is seen as a weakness, and also that people don’t appreciate that other subjects are equally diverse – it just goes unhidden. There is no one History: there’s a vast difference between ancient and modern history, and I’ve yet to meet a Historian that likes every era. There is no one English: pit a medieval romantic literature lover against 21st century science fiction lover and there are sparks – the skills employed to decipher the different English types vary as well as the content, and the language itself has clearly evolved. There is no one Music! I could go on. And as with all these other varied subjects, it is not a weakness to be a diverse hybrid. There is always something to hold it all together – and in our case it is the way that Geography marries together the world of hard scientific fact and process, with human interaction and reaction, through skilful application. That is the strength. We don’t study for the sake of it, we problem solve. We don’t learn skills to sit in a room and stare at them, we go out and fix issues. There were some great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x as well 🙂

So this led into my presentation: that not only is Geography not confused, but actually the 4 key strands that hold it together as ‘awesome geography’ are essential. The talk was a variation on the #GAConf15 theme: Shakespeare was a Geographer, so was Pythagoras. Looking at embedding whole school priorities of literacy and numeracy through simple Geography activities in different year groups. My main point is that since we are all responsible for teaching these components, and since we should do anyway as it empowers students to become more successful Geographers let alone having great skills, we should make sure we use the same language as our Maths and English departments. I was responsible for numeracy across school last year, and each department (or faculty for smaller areas like Hums) has a lead teacher for literacy and numeracy who takes part in regular reviews and auditing the curriculum of every area in school. We met as a full staff on Tuesday, and going through the list of key skills for Maths and English as a Geography team we could easily say ‘Yes!’ or ‘Tick, Tick’ to every kind of skill since we are so literacy and numeracy heavy. The weakness at the minute, is that we do not use the same language as our specialists in schools. I don’t often say to a class ‘oh that’s a homophone, be careful on the spelling’ or ‘great use of compound sentences’ or ‘don’t forget your factoring operation’…it’s not my natural patter. But it needs to be. Having a uniformity of language in the classroom for core concepts will develop transparency for students, and encourage the idea that these skills are actually pretty important in a range of different environments and situations. Otherwise, how often do you hear ‘yeah but when will I need to do that in the real world’?!

If you’ve made it this far and want to read a brief kind of summary of what I said for each slide, here you go:

My presentation notes:

Slide 1: The controversy! Twitter debate on Monday evening. Some claiming that because Geography is diverse, this is a weakness and makes it confused. Great responses to support Geography’s corner from @RobGeog  @RJCGeog @Jennnnnn_x

Is Geography confused, or is it a brilliant blend of science and art that is held together by that essential application.

Slide 2: The strengths of Geography are clear within the new national framework – there are 4 strands to being a great geographer: those of knowing, thinking, studying, and applying like a geographer. Value of skills and knowledge combined but with the life-skills essential component of having to apply those, to problem solve. Synthesis and making relational links is the key to Geographical genius.  And what makes Geography strong, is how we meet whole school issues of literacy and numeracy, as well as building whole child skills.

Slide 3: So meeting whole school aims of literacy and numeracy – because if we do, we not only support the wider school community but we will empower children to get power results in geography and across the board. Particularly with more rigorous examination systems, content, and emphasis on skills we need to be building these skills from day 1 in year 7.

Slide 4: So Shakespeare. 21/38 plays were set in the Mediterranean…yet he never really left London, apart from a brief trip to the Netherlands. So it was entirely based on geographical imaginations. Imagination is key part to our subject, and to curiosity. Many of our students, particularly our disadvantaged students, may not leave their own areas either – so we need to encourage imagination.

Slide 5: Use Shakespeare quotes / DARTS text analysis to talk about describing places. Encouraging the idea of speaking like a geographer. Analyse text for context, introduction to places, to listen to silently and picture, descriptive mapping, and for picking out use of literacy techniques e.g. synonyms, compound sentences, rhyming couplets, metaphor, etc.

Slide 6: Read the text (perhaps excluding some bits that are too obvious!) and kids have to guess what the feature is being described. Then turn into modern descriptive text.

Hamlet piece- read it to them, and tell them it was written in Denmark and finished in 1599. Ask them to figure out what the features was that was north-north west from Denmark and sulphurous (Hekla in Iceland that erupted in 1597)

Slide 7: Compare descriptive text of geographic features through the ages. What are the similarities and differences? How does the language, and the understanding of science, change over time?

Slide 8: Use text to describe climate as Shakespeare recorded the Little Ice Age

Slide 9: BUT – since he didn’t visit locations, there were misconceptions! So give children the text and then get them to prove what is real vs unreal, fact and fiction

Slide 10: Example of differentiated activity with class

Slide 11: Where does our subject meet maths? Everywhere! The key thing is to be liaising with our maths departments and ensuring we teach at similar times, but most importantly that we all use the same language and teach skills in the same way. E.g. Science and Maths teach line graphs differently, do we? Are we using the language of everyday maths classrooms in our classrooms? Because we certainly do plenty of data analysis and graphicacy, just need to hit the terminology to make it explicit to learners.

Slide 12: Using Google Earth polygons to identify shape patterns of landmasses – just simple shape work but builds confidence with using Google Earth tools. Can also use alongside measuring tools and estimating area, discussing different types of shape and calculating area from them.

Slide 13: Create layered data presentation, e.g. climate mapping: base layer for temperature, tracing overlay for precipitation – then analyse. Helps with learning locations and climate patterns, as well as analysis skills. Or proportional mapping for tourist locations. Key is using different methods to learn locations, become confident with features of the UK, and having to do numeracy skills.

Slide 14: Use your school for urban steps. Calculate the number of steps required to climb the equivalent of different mountains indoors. Have to measure each step, multiply it up, divide by number of kids, etc. Make it a House competition challenge.

Slide 15: Links to STEM. Produce equipment. From simple weather equipment to earthquake sensors. This example was a beautiful cloud cover measuring Oktas device. Student had to scale it all up, measuring and calculate, etc.

Slide 16: Geocaching – measuring distance, direction and bearings.

Slide 17: Make graphs 3D and tactile. Brings to life population pyramids and statistics, easier (especially for lower ability) to analyse and interpret the data.

Slide 18: Use numbers and ask students to discuss, interpret, tell a story with them.

Answer in this case: it’s all to do with elderly dependency

Slide 19: Transform one kind of data presentation into another form of graph – have to recalculate, compare, translate. This is from the London National Park statistics on the amount of green space in the city. Analyse the patterns.

Slide 20: Because it all comes down to skills. Skills web based on GCSE criteria. Geography ticks off so many skills and really builds literacy and numeracy, so make it explicit!

Slide 21: And at the end of the day, it is worth the challenge!

The next bit of Geographical TeachMeet fun will be at the GA conference in Manchester at Easter. Check the conference pack for more details, the GA website, and follow #GAConf16 

GA conference 2015 materials #GAConf15

Well it’s been a long time coming but I’ve been a wee bit distracted with leading an Iceland trip and getting back to school mode! The Geography Association conference this year was ace. Really enjoyable. Thank you so much to all of you who came to my Revision Games workshop! I was truly surprised to have standing room only and flattered by the lovely comments you gave in feedback. I really hope that you can find one tiny thing that is useful and then take it and make your own.

Below is the presentation from the Revision Games session. If you download the file you can see in the comments box in powerpoint which explain each section.

I was also privileged to help with delivering a Discover the World workshop alongside Simon Ross sharing the website resources from Discover Geography . This excellent site shares teacher resources for Key Stage 3 – 5 for a range of locations including Iceland, Norway, Azores, etc. that have been created by teachers from experiences in the field and can be used before, during and after trips or as virtual fieldwork and just great case studies. I shared some materials from the website that had been created from a teacher inspection trip to the Azores, and just explained how I have modified and used these materials for myself in the classroom. If you want to have details on the different sites and what we saw in the Azores, then check through my posts from the visit in April 2014.

Finally, this year’s GA conference saw the first ever TeachMeet courtesy of David Rogers‘ badgering which was an epic success. Lucy Oxley and the GA team organised a fantastic event, and it was thanks to sponsorship from Discover the World. When we first stepped into the venue I got nervous – worried we wouldn’t pull it off, that nobody would come, that it was such a big room and I would muck up, all sorts! But it was so so good. The reason it was good? Purely down to the range of presenters in the room, the Twitterati interacting online (thanks to Rich Allaway for live streaming it), and the networking and rapport going on in the room itself. Particular credit has to go to Alan Parkinson for sharing some great ideas in a hilarious way (‘who is David Rogers anyway?’!) and to Paul Berry for closing the show in style. I had known Paul as a fairly quiet, unassuming, gentle kinda chap with a cheeky smile and penchant for vino…but he blew me away with his presentation at the end. Coming up to retirement in a few months he bounced all over the stage squawking blow-up parrots, throwing inflatable globes around, sharing all sorts of whacky and brilliant ideas, and showing that he is a brilliant educator. Loved it. All the other presentations were fantastic as well, and great to see new people who haven’t spoken before too – I merely mention Alan and Paul because they made me laugh so much. Epic evening so thank you all. David has a full run down of the event and the Google Hangout video archive on his blog here. Cannot wait for next year’s!

My own TeachMeet 6 minutes was based on a title thrown on me: ‘Bill Shakespeare was a Geographer’ and just has a few ideas with quotes from text for how to embed good old Bill and literacy in general into geography lessons. Ticks the boxes of ‘literacy in every lesson’ and ‘we are all teachers of English’ as well as just being good fun, useful, enlightening, and ultimately improving literacy and writing analysis which good geographers have to be able to do. If you want to know what I was rambling on about during each slide then look at the video on David’s blog, scroll to about 44mins and you’ll be able to hear some waffle.

All in all, GA Conf 2015 was great. Really enjoyable sessions attended and great to take part in. Roll on Derby 2016.

‘Manglish’ – or putting the Maths & English in

This was written as part of the Staffrm #28daysofwriting and since I’ve been spending time writing posts on there every day it seems to make sense to add over them here! So here it is.

BeBo getting his reading on
BeBo getting his reading on

I remember at a previous school a few years ago when summer GCSE results dropped to floor level…and all eyes turned to the poor Maths department. Suddenly it was ‘them vs us’, they were the ones who had ‘let the school down’. Spotlight scrutiny was placed on them whilst others wandered round feeling slightly smug or perhaps a little self-righteous that ‘it wasn’t me’. My best friends were in that department, and I knew just how hard they were slogging to get kids to make progress. There were many contributing factors but largely they simply didn’t have the support needed: they needed the rest of the school to be a team. The following year results went up, but now others moaned about losing their curriculum time in order to increase Maths lessons. Then the next year it was English’s turn to have a drop. Different circumstances in some ways, but similar responses. The general vibe was still ‘how could they let this happen’ – as if the rest of us could have done better.

Schools still act in silos. Islands of separate identities with internalised strengths and weaknesses that keep themselves worlds apart. It’s all well and good having whole school numeracy and literacy policies, but until it becomes the everyday language of every teacher and until every one of us accepts responsibility for English and Maths results then really we are still just paying lip service. I say this as someone who has a love of literacy, and who is Numeracy coordinator (don’t ask how that happened, I have no idea). Teachers in my current school do have a good team ethos, and at last INSET we chose various training sessions to develop our own literacy or numeracy as it is important to keep ourselves up to speed not just in our own subject areas. But the key thing is consistency. Consistently using the right language (ideally same as in ‘official’ Maths and English classes), consistently making explicit to learners that ‘now we’re developing your literacy skills’, consistently using the same techniques (as a geographer it’s frustrating finding that Maths and Science use different methods for the same graph!), and consistently embedding Maths and English exercises within our curriculum – whatever subject.

I bought Lisa Jane Ashes ‘Manglish’ book today (admittedly when I first saw the title I thought it was a translation dictionary of ‘man English’ but let’s be honest, could such a thing really exist 😉 ?). I’ve only flicked through briefly so far but it’s the simple statement she asks us to ask ourselves that resonated: asking ‘where is the Maths (or English) in that?’ for any activity. We should do this every lesson! I’ve been observing my team this week and seen some great literacy and numeracy activities, but each time it needed to be made explicit to learners that ‘here comes the maths part’. Why are we shy about saying we are doing something normally found in another subject? Are we afraid children will accuse us of poaching lessons?! Isn’t it about time we showed learners that we, as professionals, can teach ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in our lessons? Time to raise the bar, to accept responsibility. At the end of the day: Manglish matters.

Starting to feel more like mine…display boards

So I’ve been in my new school for 11 weeks now. After being in the same school for 6 years since my NQT year it has come as quite a culture shock, and it takes a while to get used to new systems and simple things like your own room.

When I moved in there was a lot of clearing out to do following a very messy predecessor and a lot of waste: gutting the department to mark a fresh start for us all, and updating Humanities as a whole to make us a bit more cohesive. My amazing parents came in during August to help – well, my dad did sleep in the corner bless him while mum and I got busy with backing paper and trim! Things are gradually getting there and it’s lovely hearing from staff and kids about how different it feels purely because the ambiance is more positive; there is space, the tables have moved, the boards are exciting and have decent student work, and it’s clean! I’m hopeful that a quality environment will have a subliminal effect on kids as well, leading to quality work and a pride in their own presentation…we shall see!

Anyway, just thought I’d share a few of the displays either in Geography or in Hums.

We’re aiming for a strong cross-school, cross-curricular message regarding numeracy and literacy. This idea was borrowed from a Maths colleague @NatalieLoveMath who has a ‘mood board’ with mathematical symbols linking to literacy creatively. In the image is a

Vowel-less words
Vowel-less words

‘Vowel-less Geography Words’ display. Key terms have their vowels removed then kids have to try to guess what the words are. Within 10minutes of it going up on the wall I had students of all ages wanting to have a go. Definite conversation starter.

Command words with reminders of key geographical terms are around the walls and are constantly referred to, as are the ‘heavenly’ and ‘banned’ words to push for better quality

Command words
Command words

geographical literacy. These were borrowed from David Rogers at my past school and then just adapted to suit me.

Humanities corridor numeracy board
Humanities corridor numeracy board

In the Humanities corridor we have a numeracy board with ‘thunks’ and maths questions tied to either History, PPD or Geography thrown in. We also have a key word literacy wall.

Humanities corridor literacy corridor
Humanities corridor literacy corridor

Again, these are referred to and you do hear students discussing them as they wait for the start of lesson.

The PEEL (Point Evidence Explain Link) graphic is repeated around the department to refer to. It’s always amazing how students can recall doing ‘PEE’ type paragraph writing in subjects like History or English when you prompt them, but fail to see that literacy skills are essentially the same across all subjects and therefore require the same skills. So consistency helps.

PEEL explanation
PEEL explanation

Cheesy it might be, but it does seem to get across the idea that extended writing is meant to be a continuous developing process of becoming more complex.

Lastly we are being encouraged to employ SOLO taxonomy more across school, particularly with a view to ‘life after levels’ and possibly using just comments for KS3 to guide progression rather than a summative score. There are benefits to SOLO, although I dislike the language

Solo board
Solo board

used in classification (personally I find ‘unistructural’ a bit meaningless to a young person and also would make me feel quite bottom-of-the-ladder to be classed as), but as with all taxonomies / methods it is not the only tool to use. However I do like the simplicity of the progression, and that you can tally the skills to the stages quite easily and students seem to find the logos very visual and easier to understand. So the display wall is again there to refer to, so that if a child gives the classic gut reaction one idea answer you can simply point to the board and explain ‘currently your answer is only……….you need to be analyse in order to……….’ type conversation.

I also like pretty things so there may be quite a few butterlies around the walls, and some plants…good to have oxygen eh?!

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Redacted literacy challenge

I’ve been trying to embed more literacy challenges this year as this is always something students struggle with and is a whole school focus that Geography can really contribute to.


Year 9 have been looking at Extreme Environments and with a focus on Everest at the end of this due to the recent events at Easter and the conflicts here. We often try to incorporate travel writing and non-fiction novels into lessons as well and encourage students to learn skills through these for extended writing, creativitity, grammar, etc,. With the Everest focus I’ve been sharing extracts from Beck Weathers’ Left for Dead novel about the 1996 disaster and other texts. This week I decided to try something different and set my students a ‘redacted text’ challenge.


Think top secret files and redaction, where text is obscured in order to inhibit meaning and keep a file secret. I thought that maybe this could be a good literacy tool. So, here’s what we did.


1) Students were given a four page extract from the novel and asked to read this silently for themselves, or aloud to each other in pairs. They were then given three minutes to contemplate and reflect on the story, on what it was conveying, on what style of writing had been used (specifically mood and atmosphere) and the literacy techniques used (eg. adjectives, metaphor, etc,.).


2) Using felt pens, I set the challenge that students had to go through the text carefully and redact it themselves by blocking out sections of the text leaving only certain parts visible. They were given two options here:


a) For a more accessible challenge: redact as much text as you like leaving only a selection of individual words visible (particularly adjectives or geographic words). From these, then take the words and rearrange them into a story or a piece of poetry in a similar style to the original story but in your own words.


b) For a harder challenge: redact the text very carefully leaving individual words but also short phrases visible. These words and phrases must be in a logical order and punctuation inserted as needed in order that the visible words now form new sentences that can be read as a new story, or poem. This is actually really hard! It requires text analysis and logic, having to plan ahead and have a vision of what they want the story to look like first and then to be able to create it. Very tricky. I trialled this first with top set students and they found this a real challenge but really interesting. The new stories they created from the visible words had to flow, had to make sense, and could either be in the same style as the original story or actually change the plot.


3) Students have to check the punctuation and grammar makes sense for their new stories, and then these are shared with others.


When I first suggested and explained this activity to a class, one of the (admittedly somewhat lethargic) boys asked ‘Miss, what’s the point of this – aren’t you just making us do something hard for the sake of it?’ To which I replied that yes I was in a way, that sometimes having to do something hard and learn to overcome it is as much the objective as anything specifically ‘geographic’. By the end of the lesson though he, and the rest of the class, were commenting on how they’d had to really push themselves to do well on this. That it was a difficult challenge that required some real logical and lateral thinking, that tested their creative and literacy skills. And they were pleased with themselves.


I wasn’t planning for them to be able to regurgitate the text by the end of the lesson, but I was expecting them to develop essential literacy skills that they have to be good at in order to succeed at anything – if they don’t get their English qualification, life gets pretty hard doesn’t it? It’s also a good tool to be able to say to SLT ‘look here, this is how Geography meets your whole school improvement plan on literacy with this, this and this…’.  The follow up is students making their own geographic adventure novel that must be a blend if fact and fiction.


The images show some works in progress, as the kids wanted to take home and finish some extra pieces bless them.


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#TLAB14 – my workshop on Creative GCSE Geography & Literacy

Here is the slideshow from my workshop at the #TLAB14 conference yesterday. Although aimed at Geography teachers, it might be useful to others for generic revision games and literacy support.

Here’s a vague commentary for the slides:

Slide 3-5. Messy rivers. In groups, students have a bagful of river sediment, piece of A3 paper and some keywords. They have to create a river cross-section from upper to lower course by putting sediment and keywords into the correct location.

Slide 6: River stories. After the messy bit (or just as another activity instead), get students to produce a written story describing the journey down river having to describe the changes & use key terms but in a creative writing sense (moving from the birth of a juvenile energetic river to sluggish middle age to the very end in old age).

Slide 7-9. Bunting! Not my own idea I confess but I love it. Put topics into a hat, then each student draws one or two out and has to produce a piece of revision bunting to be shared. Gives them ownership & remind them of corporate responsibility. I was surprised at how much the kids got into this last time, they really enjoyed it and produced quality summaries.

Slide 10-13. Cake modelling! Every good geographer has at some point come across the wave cut platform cake model from Tony Cassidy. The only addition here was that I had taught basic wave cut platform theory, then I just gave students some resources and as a group they had to produce a demonstration of how the landform is created. They had: mini whiteboards, paper, pens, mini cakes, sweets. Then they presented to each other and peer assessed. Then we eat cake (new cake, not played with!)

Slide 15-17. Jenga! You can use Jenga (or non brand specific) in lots of ways. For example: 1)Keyword / fact jenga – label pieces and then play the game. Teacher / student reads out a definition, player has to retract the piece that matches the definition. Competition to build tallest tower if played in groups. 2)Use coloured dots / coloured jenga and each colour corresponds to a different theme. Students are given a topic e.g. Hurricane Katrina. When they take out a piece, whatever colour they take they must give an appropriate response. E.g. Red correlates to fact, green correlates to causes, yellow corresponds to impacts, blue corresponds to responses, etc,.

Slide 18-21. Twister! Alternative versions, e.g. 1)Play the game in small groups. Within each group you have a quizmaster. Each time a player moves to a new spot, they have to correctly answer a question (e.g. define a word, recall a key fact, etc,.). If incorrect then spin the spinner again and have to move to a new spot and keep answering Qs until correct. 2)Assign points to different spots. Have differentiated questions worth different points. Students play the game and accumulate points depending on how hard the question is that they answer. Highest points win. Once back in the classroom for whatever option, I always get them to do exam case study questions timed to formalise it – and have been so impressed with how much better their responses have been.

Slide 22-24. Balloons? Various uses. E.g. 1)one student writes a question on the balloon, then throws to someone else who then answers the question and passes on. 2)Get students to draw a world map around the balloon to get across the idea of sphericity / world layout. 3)Create concept maps with lots of interlinking by drawing around the balloon to encourage links right round.

Slide 25-26. Musical chairs. Different options: 1) as the music plays move around and have to read key facts / study a stimulus image…when the music stops they have to answer an exam question. 2) have exam Qs stuck to the back of the chairs (no peeking), keep cycling through and when music stops have to answer the exam Q on whiteboards, etc,.

Slide 27-29. Paper planes. Two versions I’ve used. 1) Students write a question on a piece of paper, fold into a plane, throw at another student, who has to answer. 2) AfL. Fold up an example case study answer (either a model one or one the kids have just written). Throw around room to three different students who then highlight one per go with different colours for use of key terms, developed points, place specific fact. Throw to one final student who gives the question an overall score and final comment.

Slide 32-34. Creative writing & song. Dear John letters to develop explanations and literacy, but with Bingo for keywords. Can be about any topic. Similar for songs, e.g. writing a song to describe tectonic plate movement.

Slide 36. VCOP. Support and guide with literacy. Especially good for lower ability and for structuring extended writing.

Slide 38. PEEL flowcharts. Modelling how to write a 3 developed point answer (like for case study 9 mark questions) through a flow chart built around the PEEL structure.

Slide 41. Learning grids. Students roll two dice to get a coordinate, this then randomly selects what information to include in a piece of extended writing. Repeat as many times as you like (I usually do 3-4 times) and then they must include that criteria in their writing. Also good to use in reverse for AfL: get students to mark on the grid which criteria they think they have met and then when you mark the work you can highlight whether they have actually met this criteria or not, then use in your feedback.

Slide 43-44. SOLO structured thinking. The idea of SOLO being a move from simplistic basic responses and understanding to being more complex with interlinks. I tend to rename the different stages to: 1)Unclear  2) One idea  3) Many ideas  4) Interlinking many ideas  5) Analysing and interpreting these many ideas in different ways. This structure can be used to structure notes / plan essays or for AfL

Slide 45-47. SOLO hexagons. Hexagons allow you to tessellate in 6 directions to demonstrate multiple links. e.g. in this example as a group we had blue statements that were the impacts of difficult environments and in red the causes of these difficulties. Then they have to tessellate to make multiple links in preparation for extended writing.

Model the idea of essay structuring to class. Students to write down as much as possible as they can about a case study on each hexagon. Those aiming for B+ should be making multiple connections between these facts / statements. Then use these hexagons to structure an extended writing piece. Remind to use connectives between.

Slide 48. Sentence escalator. Sentence escalation. Kind of like ‘Chinese whispers’ to start then turning into written sentences.

Slide 49. Story cubes. Laminated dice allow you to swap in and out different images / words / facts. Students throw the dice and have to respond to whatever they see.

Slide 50-51. Revision cube. Students roll the dice and have to revise & produce a resource on whatever it lands on. Can make template online here

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

Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over…

Update to BBC report and what finally made me feel worthwhile this week:

As mentioned before, I lead Priory’s BBC News School Report. This year we are aiming for bigger and better in terms of the scale and hopefully wider scale influence of the project. We don’t like to only do projects for the sake of it, or to only have an impact on a handful of children. Sometimes it is easy to only target or include the same small groups of students, perhaps Gifted and Talented, or ‘the good ones’. On the other extreme I often see ‘the nice children’ feeling left out when they see exciting rewards being offered to those who are disengaged, so it seems as if poor behaviour is being rewarded. So with us, BBC report is advertised across board to all year 8 students. It is sold as a chance to get involved in something different and unique. We are part of a Rights Respecting School and so there is a spin on the idea of having a right to forming groups, to collaborate, to express opinions. In the end I expect to only work with about 15-30 willing committed students who have chosen freely, expressed interest and proven their responsibility to take part. But everyone gets the chance first.

This year the live day (broadcast day) for BBC school report is 21st March which coincides with World Poetry Day 2013. Interesting! So, because I felt that already running a project that involves coordinating kidsmeet Pompey (with approximately 60students from 6 local schools plus teachers and professionals), writing news broadcasts on the mobile policy, geocaching, Historic Dockyards, and more, simply wasn’t enough (!) I suddenly thought let’s include this theme!

The English Department @prioryengdept is also involved in the report this year so it seemed serendipity to include the literacy link. So the plan is this.

1) Have students back in school research the exhibits of the Historic Dockyard in advance in English lessons and practise the skills of research, analysis and synthesis of poetry.
2) At the Historic Dockyards, students on the live day will work with local poets to write poems for each exhibit – e.g. HMS Warrior, the Mary Rose, the Victory, Action Stations, etc., which can then be laminated and framed to display at each exhibit for the public.
3) Each poem to have a QR code tagged on that links to web pages on local poets, poetry styles, history of exhibits, etc,.
4) The poems and QR links will form in a sequence so that visitors actually get clues to follow a poetry orienteering activity that will guide them around the Historic Dockyard.

What do you think? I’m really excited! I love the fact that potentially we will involve more students this way, and leave a more permanent reminder of our work. Something that will have an impact on a wider audience and scream ‘We’re Priory School and we did this!’. Something cheerful and positive in the midst of slightly turbulent times maybe.

So, if you are / or know a local poet or are interested in this in any way then get involved! Or come to the dockyard after the event and see our work.

I will admit, the last few weeks have been really hard, with me questioning myself and my value a lot, and feeling as if I’m not good enough to be doing a job I consider so important. But in the midst of that, I now have this little hope that if we pull this off (and by we I mean the kids, as from now on it’s all down to them!) then it is the kind of thing that to me is spine tingling-ly exciting. And that’s why I do the job.