Tag Archives: writing

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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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