English Unit Planning : part two

Jane Considine’s blog series on the planning of an English Unit

Part two of a series of blogs that attempts to explain a coherent model for planning in primary.

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A lesson of two halves

Many English lessons fall into being a lesson of two halves. The first half being the teacher half that is a stimulating time, full of engaging moments that is punctuated by paired talk.  The other half being the activities that the pupils are involved in and these are invariably writing based. If we are being observed, we might find time for a plenary but if not it might be a part of the lesson which ‘falls off the end’.

The English Writing Lesson

Structured Sentence Stacking

Teaching in Learning Chunks

In my experience, after closely considering the commonalities between successful lessons there appears to be a similar approach of breaking a lesson into smaller learning chunks. In English writing lessons these chunks are most productive if they are underpinned with the purpose of crafting and constructing sentences.

The component parts of a learning chunk

Each learning chunk has three distinct parts for a writing lesson; Initiate, Model, Engage. Initiate is a time to inspire pupils. This needs to be short but effective. Model is the bridge between ideas gathering and articulating the thought processes of a writer at work. Engage is the opportunity for pupils to showcase what they can do within particular writing parameters.

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Initiate

The nature of an initiate aspect can take any form. A text extract to analyse, drama convention to explore characters further, a soundscape to recreate an environment, a film clip to provide a shared plot point or a powerful image to stimulate ideas. Quite frankly, this part of the lesson can be packaged in any way but must serve the purpose of rinsing from it a word and phrase bank that provides a wealth of choice before a model is introduced.

Model

Teachers often talk to me about pupils being over-reliant on a model and ‘just copying it’. To avoid this trap modelling must be presented as a generic construction where the rich word and phrase bank collected previously can be applied to generate various different outcomes but still fulfil the guiding principles locked in the model. It is at this stage teachers need to be crucially aware that the model can be driven through an ideas lens, a grammar lens or a technique lens. The ideas lens from the children’s perspective is known as the FANTASTICs that captures the nine ideas for writing. The grammar lens is known as the GRAMMARISTICs and the technique lens are known as the BOOMTASTICs. This empowers the breath and strength of our model so it entwines all the aspects that contribute to skilled, precise writing whereby there are high levels of control around content, tools and effects.

Engage

This learning chunk is the chance for pupils to construct sentences that have be previously demonstrated. Pupils must follow the sentence construction rules laid down by the teacher and they will have many ways they can make choices due to level of input during the initiate phase. Pupils who complete this quickly should be encouraged to ‘deepen the moment’ whereby they make choices to write more about the writing focus and could choose which lens to showcase. ‘Deepen the moment’ requires some training on the teacher’s part so that children really understand the auction of it is to enrich plot points and they are required to write down rather than write on. The auction of this strategy allows purposeful differentiation at the time when higher attaining pupils need but mustn’t be used as time to write on and move the story forward. This is so important so that we stay in control as the teacher of where we are as a collective group of writers within a narrative or non-fiction.

The Initiate-Model-Engage Sequence 

One movement through this process is defined as a learning chunk for writing.The most effective lessons move through this process three times on average in an hour lesson which will yield three writing chunks that could equate to three sentences or maybe more across lesson depending on how many sentences become the goal at different learning chunk points.

I have built a unit planning tool that correlates to this planning method that will save you valuable time. It is free to download. I have also uploaded some exemplar unit plans that I have written to refer to in your own planning, or to use in your teaching. Click here to download. 

Please feel to contact me on jane@thetrainingspace.co.uk if you have any questions or require any further assistance with this planning approach.

Jane Considine’s Blank English Planning Tools

English Unit Planning

Part one of a series of blogs that attempts to explain a coherent model for planning in primary.

Part one of a series of blogs that attempts to explain a coherent model for planning in primary.

Planning is so time consuming and exhausting. Sometimes, the detail in which we plan doesn’t always lead us directly into the classroom.

A guiding principle:

Although genre outcomes are sometimes considered by some as a hangover from the ‘National Literacy Strategy’, I believe they provide ‘big picture’ direction. Unit plans are sharper when we start with the end in mind, knowing clearly the genre that we are trying to create. I don’t think we need to be too prescriptive about these genres or the amount of time spent on them or whether they are taught over a few days or a few weeks. This is all teacher discretion. More important than any of this is that what the pupils are writing is deliciously intriguing, purposeful, ambitious and imaginative.

Once we provisionally know the common sense amount of time we are going to spend on a unit then it is worth taking a wide angle view of it and consider which lessons are going to be working sequentially towards the larger genre based goal and which are functioning to excite and stimulate their engagement.

Broadly over a unit there is probably a mix of these two types of teaching;

1. Experiences:

Open ended in nature, research-based, drama-heavy, visits out, visitors in, exploratory, immersive, creative, no set structure, experiential, practical. More time to explore things properly and slowly.

Purpose of this type of lesson is to be enriching, information yielding and highly engaging. A powerful opportunity to share, talk and explore. Invest in time to develop awe and wonder.

2. Structured Lessons:

Highly didactic, teacher agenda driven, closely modelled, explanations, clearly directed, sharp focus, underpinned by success criteria, well paced, bite-sized chunks.

Purpose of this type of lesson is to help pupils remember, to scaffold ideas and to practice key aspects. To apply something new learnt, to demonstrate understanding, to polish up newly acquired techniques. Invest in time to provide feedback and strengthen smaller skills.

Wide Angle View of the Unit

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The key to the successful completion of work is the art of keeping all pupils chronologically at the same point each day so that during the structured teaching times the work produced that builds over time can be pieced together to make a whole text.

There is nothing more tricky to try and teach a text type over time. By lesson four many of the pupils are at different points and we have lost control of the ‘moments’ that we are exploring together to insert in the next section of our story or non-fiction piece.

Ultimately, a unit is most successful if it is a mix of these two modes of teaching and ‘togetherness’ is prioritised through the highly interactive whole class teaching that is sequenced logically over time.

To blog or not to blog…

I’ve watched the teaching and education blogosphere for years…

Going Naked to School

I’ve watched the teaching and education blogosphere for years. There are some bloody brilliant blogs out there. I’ve read hundreds and many have challenged my own beliefs and pushed my thinking forward. What fascinates me what is it that makes those blogs that are popular compared to those that are less so, or those that strike a chord and those that just infuriate.

Successful or not, I’ve followed all of these blogs with deep admiration. Blogging takes a special kind of guts, without the luxury of time, to feel confidently expert. Often, a quick response to a particular event of directive is required and freshly formed opinions exposed. This scares me quite a lot. In my mind blogging brings up memories of the recurring dream of going naked to school. What will I expose? What if people laugh? What if I get my knickers in a twist? What if I commit something to paper in haste and three months down the line I don’t believe in it anymore? Will I be held to account and under pressure to qualify things that I’ve changed my mind about or don’t care about anymore? What if I have an emotional response to something that is hot-headed and with more evidence I soften my response but by then I already exposed myself? What if I make a spelling mistake? Worse. A grammatical error?

Surely, every blogger worries about these things and this fear, up until now, has prevented me from taking part at all. Now, I just feel left out of this enormous blogging love-in and I want to take part. So folks, I’m stripping bare (all be it a little self-consciously) and going to run wild through the education environment. Please don’t laugh and be gentle with feedback, it’s taken me a long time to expose myself.

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