In this blog series so far, we have talked about how to develop students’ spoken answers, which in turn should help to improve their written ones. Strategies such as probing, restating, and rehearsing can help to push students to the next level of understanding and articulacy.
How can we scaffold these rehearsal activities to meet the needs of all our learners? How can we ensure that all students have enough support to create well-structured spoken – and then written – responses? For some students, rehearsing will not be enough to ensure this; these students will also need some extra scaffolding.
Suggested Resources to Aid Writing
The resources suggested below are intended to be useful and used purposefully; they are not ‘gimmicks’. They can be dressed up in colours and given names that make them more appealing to students, of course, but ultimately you should ensure that they are scaffolds for learning and not distractions from learning. Never use one of these strategies for the sake of it, unless you are confident that it is an appropriate way to support your students.
Vocabulary menus give a list of vocabulary that you think will aid the student in structuring or improving their answers. It is a good idea to split the menu up into sections like a real restaurant menu, perhaps having a section for content words (keywords needed in their answer) and another for structure words (discourse markers such as ‘therefore’, ‘furthermore’). To further support students, menus might have images of model paragraphs, as a real menu might have example images of food.
Keyword ‘bingo’ cards
Keyword bingo cards have all the keywords you would ideally like students to use in their answers. Students must try to use each word correctly in their writing. They can scratch off each word as they use it – the more words they scratch off, the more detailed their answer should be if they have used the word correctly. EAL learners might be given time to find the translations of these words, while SEND learners might be given sentence starters on their bingo cards instead of just words.
Galleries are displays that students can view and interact with, either from their seats or in small walking ‘tours’. Galleries can be comprised of pictures to jog their memory of a subject, diagrams of processes, keywords, or model answers. These encourage students to elaborate further on the topic at hand. These are particularly useful for writing if students have already used them for rehearsing. Sometimes, when students know they only have a limited time to look at something, they engage with it more quickly and in more depth, so it might be a good idea to limit the time that students can spend looking at the gallery prompts.
Sometimes, students are not ready to write or speak about a subject independently and would benefit from joint construction – writing as a group. The most important part of joint construction is the conversations that happen around the writing. Encourage students to debate about the correct words to use and to score out or reorganise the writing if they believe it could be structured better. The resulting model can be used for further discussion or it can be used as a model for students who need extra support when it comes to independent writing.
Role cards are an excellent addition to the joint construction process above, particularly where there are a lot of elements to remember to include in a written piece. Try giving students roles in a writing process such as ‘keyword caller’ or ‘punctuation picker’ or ‘quote qualifier’ – making them the ‘go-to’ person on a particular element of the writing means that they are encouraged to consider these elements more deeply and ask their peers complex questions about them. Better yet, swap the roles periodically during the writing so that students consider each element personally. They are then more likely to transfer this into their independent writing later.
It may sound obvious, but having visible and accessible success criteria is a very important element of improving students’ spoken and written answers. If students have a list of what they need to include in their answers in order to succeed, they can easily see what they need to do to improve. That’s why our platform provides students with success criteria for each question and asks them to self-assess their own answers based on this criteria. Do not be afraid to ask students to interact with success criteria so that they become comfortable with them – experiment with highlighting, annotating, and rewriting success criteria – whatever helps students to engage and understand what they should be aiming for.
The value of model answers cannot be stressed enough. They help students to see exactly where they need to go in order to succeed and there are so many ways that students can engage with them. They can highlight different elements of the writing, discuss where it has and hasn’t succeeded, ‘steal’ key phrases or interesting vocabulary, rate their own answers against the model, measure it against success criteria, annotate it with their thoughts, discuss it with their peers – the learning opportunities through model answers are almost endless. That’s why we include model answers after each of our written questions in our English Language content on the Get My Grades platform. Our English teachers know how valuable it is for students to see a high-level example of the answers we are looking for – otherwise, how can we expect them to get there?