Writing in reverse

I want to outline how we can reverse some of writing techniques found within The Writing Revolution to get students to reflect, review and improve on writing they have produced. I’ve seen some great work on writing in reverse by Andrew Davis and Dan Warner-Meanwell.

Why is it important to develop writing in reverse?

Before Easter, our Year 10s completed a set of GCSE style questions on Christianity Practices. This was their second attempt at answering a set of GCSE style questions. The 12 mark question of the AQA RE GCSE requires students to evaluate a statement. This involves:

  • Providing a range of arguments in response to the statement
  • References to scripture and tier 3 vocabulary
  • Logical chain of reasoning
  • A clear, justified conclusion

In preparing for their previous attempt at answer a 12 mark question, we spent a lesson planning for the 12 mark question. The resources I used for this are outlined here. For this second attempt at answering a 12 mark question, we didn’t do a planning lesson other than offering some sentence starters or phrases to develop points. We wanted to see how students would get on with the removal of scaffolds which have been put in place.

From marking the 12 markers, a few trends appeared:

  • Students not writing enough
  • Not enough references to scripture
  • Misreading of the question
  • Lack of a range of arguments
  • Missing tier 3 vocabularly

As a result, I wanted to do something that would allow students to recognise these trends in their own work, remind students of key features of writing within a 12 mark answer and give them opportunity to improve at the skills necessary to write.

Here is an outline of some strategies which I used to get students writing in reverse:

Step one: What is the question asking?

The first stage is to remind students what the question is asking of them. There is little point getting students to reflect on their own writing if they are not clear what they should be writing about. With this stage, it’s important to explain what the key parts of the question are and why. For me, the key parts of the question are highlighted in red. I use the prompt questions around the highlighted parts to get students to recognise what the question is really about, recap tier 3 vocabulary and start to formulate some ideas which could be referenced in their writing.

Step two: What are the key ingredients in a successful paragraph?

After breaking down the key parts of the question, the next stage was to remind students of the key ingredients within a successful paragraph:

The construction of topic sentences, supporting details and closing sentences is something I have talked about in this blog post. For 12 mark questions at GCSE, I change the wording of the success critiera slightly to make it more specific to what is expected in this style of question. For me, the key ingredients of a successful paragraph in this 12 mark question are the following:

Argument – what is their argument either agreeing or disagreement with the statement?

Evidence – what pieces of scripture or Biblical examples have been used?

Explanation – how does this argument and evidence show Christians should spend time helping others?

Key words – what tier 3 vocabulary has been used?

Closing sentence – how have they used a closing sentence to link back to their line of argument and their question?

After reminding the students of these key ingredients, it’s important to demonstrate to students how this is reflected in a paragraph. I could do this in the following ways:

  1. Write a paragraph live with them and highlight how it meets the success criteria
  2. Use a paragraph I have pre-written and highlight how it meets the success criteria
  3. Get students to read through their paragraphs and highlight how it meets the success criteria

Step three: Do you paragraphs show the key ingredients?

I decided to go for a mix of option 2 and 3 in order to reverse the writing process. To reverse the writing process and deconstruct it, I put a sample piece of work under my visualiser and highlighted where it included the key ingredients. After highlighting certain sections, I asked the student to explain why they chose to include certain tier 3 vocabulary or why it was important to explain this idea. This allowed the student to develop their meta cognition – to reflect and think about the decisions they made in their writing. Once I had modelled the process with the sample work, students completed the process themselves. students to read through their own paragraph and highlight where their paragraphs show the key ingredients.

Here is a sample of student work having completed the process:

I think this stage of reversing the writing is really important as it enables students to see where the gaps are in their writing:

  • Have they provided a clear argument?
  • Have they used scripture?
  • Have they explained key ideas?
  • Have they ensured there is a closing sentence which links back to their line of argument?

Step four: Reversing the writing onto a Multi-Paragraph Outline (M.P.O)

The M.P.O allows students to produce a clear plan of the arguments and supporting details which they will be including in their extended writing. I use a slightly adapted M.P.O at KS4 which is more focused on the style of writing needed for a 12 mark question.

In preparation for answering their previous 12 mark answer, students completed an M.P.O which looks like this:

This time, I wanted to reverse the writing and get students to map their answer back onto the M.P.O. The purpose of this was for students to deconstruct their own writing, identify any gaps in their paragraph and have a visual of how well formed their answer is.

Using their own work, here is what their M.P.O looked like.

By working in reverse, the student was able to recognise the gaps in their work. These included lacking explanation of arguments, scripture to support the importance of attending Holy Communion services and a justified conclusion. The next step for the student would be to use their class notes to finalise their M.P.O.

Final thoughts

I think that practice of writing in reverse can be really helpful in developing student confidence in writing because:

Encourages a focus and reflection on their own work

Provides opportunities to revisit key ideas or skills which have been misunderstood

Helps to develop students meta cognition

Enables students to revise and edit work

What does our KS3 RE curriculum look like and why?

In this blog post, I will talk through our RE curriculum choices at KS3. I presented a session on this topic at RE Curriculum Conversations/Wayne’s Worldviews hosted by the amazing Wayne Buisst. A recording of the session on Thursday can be found here.

The boxset narrative

Analogies and stories play a pivotal role in RE and I believe they provide a powerful way of viewing the curriculum itself. A big inspiration for my understanding of curriculum was taken from this piece by Neil Almond. As humans, we live for stories and RE is full of them. Similarly, Josh Vallance writes of how we should view curriculum like a novel. Be it the analogy of a novel or a tv boxset series, viewing the curriculum as a plot driven narrative with threads and concepts which are constantly revisited with added complexity is an excellent way of planning a curriculum. From this extract in Neil’s post, I looked to view it from an RE lens:

  • What is the narrative we want to tell in our RE curriculum?
  • How do our topic choices within our curriculum contribute to this narrative?
  • How do our lesson choices within our topic choices contribute to this narrative?
  • As we progress through the narrative we are telling, what are the plot points we are going to continue with?
  • What are the key concepts/knowledge we need to return to later?
  • Is there any isolated knowledge in our curriculum which serves no purpose at all?
  • How can we create the narrative we want to tell in our RE curriculum?

Here are some thoughts on how my department have looked to answer these questions:

Step one: What is our box set narrative?

This is a broad overview of the narrative I want students to appreciate it throughout their KS3 RE curriculum. It’s a useful starting point to work backwards, to consider what we want our students to explore and what we want them to be able to do. At this point, I haven’t focused on substantive knowledge. Rather, it is a general overview of what sort of narrative we want to tell.

Step two: Plotting the box set narrative

Next, we looked at our current curriculum and asked the following questions. Our answers to these questions allowed us to explore the purpose behind the topics we teach, why we teach them and why in that order. It was such a fruitful department discussion, all of us offering are different perspectives and reasons for why we think each topic is important. I think it’s good that we all have different reasons for why we teach certain topics as they all help build a clearer rationale for our curriculum design.

For our KS3 curriculum, we created a one page document which provided reasons for the importance of each topic we teach in our curriculum. It was nothing fancy, just a simple justification for the various reasons why each topic at KS3 and links with other topics.

Step three: What are the key plot points in each topic?

Not only should we look to justify each topic in our narrative, we need to consider the key plot points in our narrative. For each SOW, I’ll write a short overview of the ‘plot’ for the topic and the title for each lesson. Each lesson question is chosen carefully to support the narrative we want to tell.

Here is an example from a Year 8 SOW looking at the key beliefs of Islam. Many of the lesson titles are taken from the superb Knowing Religion textbook series. However, given the constraints of curriculum time, I have looked to focus on the core plot points I can cover in significant depth.

Step four: What knowledge is required to understand each plot point?

In the past when designing a SOW, I would have provided lesson objectives for each lesson. However, I think these are too vague. They didn’t provide an insight into the key knowledge we want students to takeaway from each lesson or ‘episode’. For instance, a lesson objective such as ‘To explain the origin of Islam’ offers little guidance to a teacher, and ultimately the student, as to what substantive knowledge is needed to answer this lesson question.

As a result, I’ve looked to map out what I believe to be the core knowledge and tier 3 vocabulary should be explored in each lesson. I believe this provides teachers with a clearer overview of what knowledge we need to provide our students in each lesson.

Step five: How can we enrich the narrative?

Whilst mapping out the core knowledge for each lesson is very useful, it is also important to consider how we can enrich the narrative we are telling our students across a lesson, topic and the entire curriculum. Like a well written tv series, we want a narrative that is rich, complex and challenging. I think there are various ways this can be done.

Scholarship

In a previous blog, I have outlined how I look to use scholarship within RE lessons. With an emphasis on high challenge and low threat, using scholarship can be an excellent way of adding further academic rigour to our curriculum. Students love the challenge of reading difficult texts and when carefully scaffolded, they provide brilliant opportunities for students to engage with complex thought.

Here is an example of a Karen Armstrong extract we use in the Year 8 SOW on the history of Islam. I use this extract during the lesson ‘How did Islam begin?’. We use this extract after students have looked at the Night of Power when Muhammad received his first revelation from Allah via the angel Jibril. I use this extract to make students aware of the significance of the revelation and how it affected Muhammad. Moreover, the extract details the nature of Muhammad’s revelation. Similarly, this extract is useful as it allows us to make links to prior plot points which have been laid in Year 7 such as the nature of God, God’s relationship with humanity and what it means to be a prophet.

Here is an example of a short extract from Sigmund Freud’s Civilisation and its Discontents which we use with Year 9. After a lesson exploring Freud’s wish-fulfilment hypothesis, we can go deeper and look at some of Freud’s writing. The use of the guided questions allows students to focus on some of the key ideas which are found in the extract. We discuss the questions together as a class and make notes as we go. This carefully selected extract allows students to draw upon their knowledge of previous plot points regarding belief in an afterlife, the nature of God and the appeal of having a religious belief. The use of the because/but/so sentences allow students to produce some independent writing based on the extract.

Trips

I am very fortunate to work at a school which recognises the importance of school trips which can help enhance the curriculum we teach. In The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence, Mary Myatt writes passionately of how school trips can enhance and deepen knowledge when carefully planned. What I love most about school trips is that they provide our students with the opportunity to see the lived reality of religion and belief. We could spend lessons looking at how mindfulness is important to Buddhists or the importance of prayer within Islam. However, nothing brings this to life more than for students to see these things in person and to ask a believer questions about their faith. School trips take students outside of their world, they pique their interest in things they never thought they would be interested in and they allow students to recognise the diversity of faith in action.

We have three regular school trips which play an integral role to our KS3 curriculum.

In Year 8, we take all students to London Central Mosque as part of their study of Islam. They get a guided tour of the mosque, chance to watch the midday prayer and to ask questions to their tour guide.

In Year 9, we take Year 9 students to London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green or the Kagyu Samye Dzong London Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Centre in Bermondsey. Here, students experience a guided meditation and have the chance to ask questions regarding ideas they have studied in Buddhism.

In addition, as part of their study of the Shoah, we arrange for a survivor to share their story with our students. There is also the chance for students to ask questions. This is arranged via the Holocaust Educational Trust Outreach Programme. There are no words I can find to describe how powerful and important a story this is for all students to hear. As part of their study of the victims, perpetrators and resisters during the Shoah, it is incredibly moving for students to hear a survivor’s testimony. It allows students to recognise the diversity of experience, how we all experience and respond to suffering differently. It makes students reflect on big fundamental questions such as why do we suffer, what does it mean to be human and how do we act ethically.

Step six: What are the connections within our narrative?

Once, you’ve got your complex narrative, it can be really useful to plot the connections and threads which run across your curriculum. Nikki McGee writes brilliantly on how to plan for an interweaved curriculum and Dawn Cox writes so well on the importance of golden threads within the curriculum. I remember hearing Mark Enser speak passionately about an interweaved curriculum at the national ResearchED conference in 2019. With carefully mapping and rationale for each topic and lessons within the topic, we can now step back and spot the connections which allow for the beautiful narrative we are telling our students across the KS3 curriculum Some knowledge may be purely ornamental as Wayne Buisst puts it. However, the curriculum should be full of beautiful ideas which takes students beyond their own world. The connections and plot points in the curriculum are messy and complex. In my opinion, that’s how they should be. Powerful RE is messy and complex, just like a well written tv series.

References

I encourage you to check out the videos from Curriculum Conversations hosted by Wayne. The wealth of expertise in the sessions led by RE folk is truly inspiring. Search for the #WaynesWorldviews for conversations on Saturday reflecting on the RE curriculum.

Here are some blog posts and books which have been of great influence:

Mary Myatt, The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence

https://nutsaboutteaching.wordpress.com/2019/01/04/ramble-6-achieving-coherence-in-primary-science-why-primary-science-needs-to-be-less-like-the-simpsons-and-more-like-game-of-thrones/

https://mrvallanceteach.wordpress.com/2021/03/13/curriculum-what-are-we-really-talking-about/

https://rewithmrsmcgee.wordpress.com/2019/10/29/planning-an-interweaved-key-stage-3-curriculum/

https://missdcoxblog.wordpress.com/2020/07/18/the-golden-threads-substantive-concepts-in-re/

https://teachreal.wordpress.com/2019/09/12/interweaving-the-curriculum/

Knowledge Quizzes: How can we increase challenge and deeper thinking?

In a previous blog for RE: ONLINE, I looked to outline how and why we use knowledge quizzes at A-level. The amount of content we need to cover in such little time can be daunting and overwhelming. Whilst we have spent lots of time considering how best to teach certain concepts and ideas, we felt that not enough time was spent considering how best to assess student understanding of the material we study.

Whilst essay writing is essential given the nature of their actual exam, knowledge quizzes have served many purposes in our assessment at A level:

  • Prior to writing an essay, allows checking for knowledge misconceptions
  • Quick to mark – 10/15 minutes maximum.
  • When giving feedback, I will show a model set of answers on my visualiser and talk through the successful answers.
  • Allows for assessment of more aspects of a specification than an essay question
  • Enables students to check their understanding of a topic before preparing for an essay question
  • Gives students sense of confidence in the knowledge they have looked at within a unit. This can help build confidence prior to writing an essay which can seem daunting.
  • As we go throughout the course, future knowledge quizzes would contain questions from previous topics. This cumulative element allows students to constantly revisit prior knowledge.
  • Students can use them to self quiz as we go throughout the course

These knowledge quizzes have always followed a very similar format:

  • Short recall questions
  • Defining key terms
  • MCQs
  • A longer explanation question
  • Evaluation of different philosophical ideas or arguments

Here is an example of an A-level knowledge quiz on Ancient philosophical influences.

I’ve always been a big fan of this clear, simple structure. However, I’m always for looking for ways to vary the diet of knowledge quizzes. I want these quizzes enable the students to demonstrate deeper knowledge. In particular, I want to include more rigour and synoptic thinking into the retrieval practice which takes place in these knowledge quizzes- encouraging students to make links between philosophers.

Here are some ways I’ve looked to do this:

Philosopher Heads

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I initially saw this used by James Fitzgibbon in History and was keen to apply it to Philosophy. The benefits of using this within a knowledge has been that it clearly allows me to identify any misconceptions students may have made in their selection of the appropriate philosopher. For example, a student may incorrectly select Aristotle as the philosopher who used the analogy of the chariot and horses to illustrate his beliefs about the soul. If they do this, I can recognise that they have confused the analogies used by philosophers in their understanding of the mind/body/soul debate.

In the past, I may have settled on a question which asks them to identify which philosopher used the analogy of the chariot and horses. However, the question next to this asks students to explain what the analogy is illustrating about Plato’s belief about the soul. The use of this follow up question allows me to check the level of understanding the student has about Plato’s analogy. When selecting which philosopher used the analogy, they may have just guessed. The follow up question allows me to check how well they understand the analogy.

Philosopher Odd One Out

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I initially saw this used by Simon Beale and was keen to adapt it to Philosophy as a means of allowing for deeper thinking. With this addition to knowledge quizzes, students have a lot more scope to show synoptic thinking. There are no scaffolds provided as I want to see what synoptic links students can make independently. To do this, I have included philosophers from different topics they have studied: Ancient philosophical influences, Soul, mind and body and arguments based on observation. I think this encourages deeper, and perhaps, more original thinking.

With this addition to knowledge quizzes, I am looking for two things. Firstly, can they identify which philosopher is the odd one out? It could be they have different perspectives on the existence of the soul, it could be that they believe knowledge of God is acquired in different means or they reject a philosophical argument. Secondly, can students confidently justify why this philosopher is the odd one out? As you can see from the above examples, there is some confident explanation with use of key terminology to support e.g. sanctity of life, category error, telos. These are terms which can be used across topics which students study as part of their A-level.

Rigorous MCQs

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I initially saw this used by Rachel Ball on her excellent blog exploring how to introduce more challenge into retrieval practice. Unfortunately, due to lockdown, I have been unable to use this as part of a knowledge quiz. However, I plan to do so in the future.

The process of using this within a knowledge quiz would be the following:

  1. Students select the correct answer to the MCQ.
  2. Students write the letters of the incorrect answers down the side and attempt each task.

I think this way of using MCQs can be really effective in:

  • Addressing any misconceptions about a philosophical argument
  • Encourages students to reflect on why an incorrect answer might be chosen
  • The task of ‘Which scholars are associated with this conclusion?’ allows students to draw on wider knowledge and justify their choice

Final thoughts

These knowledge quizzes are have been an excellent form of retrieval practice for our students. Whilst I will continue to use short recall questions throughout them, I am keen to look at ways in which to introduce more rigour, time to think deeply and opportunities for students to think synoptically. The examples I have shared have worked really well as means of introducing more challenge to knowledge quizzes, and I look forward to seeing further progress students make in their journey through A-level RE.

Writing essay introductions

In previous blog posts, I have looked to outline the many ways in which The Writing Revolution has developed my understanding of how to teach writing. In this post, I want to outline strategies from The Writing Revolution which will enable students to write great essay introductions. Whilst I will take a KS5 focus, I believe that these strategies are equally successful for introductions required in KS3 or KS4 writing.

What is a general statement, specific statement and thesis statement?

The Writing Revolution provides a GST format for introductory paragraphs:

G – General statement –  introduces the topic of the essay and gives context.

S – Specific statement – addresses the question directly and uses key terms.

T – Thesis statement – makes clear the line of argument.

It is often the case that students need and appreciate a formula to help provide coherency and structure to their writing. As Dawn Cox outlines in her excellent post on scaffolding writing, a formula can act as a useful scaffold for reducing the cognitive load on students when writing. In this case, the GST formula can enable students to focus on what is important to include within their introduction and what they want to argue. As students become more confident, we can look to remove the scaffold and provide more independence to allow students to experiment with their writing.

Distinguishing between general, specific and thesis statements

At first, it is important to have students distinguish between each type of statement. Once familiar with the types of statement, students can then look to practice them in their writing.

To start, give students three sentences and ask them to identify the general statement, specific statement and specific statement:

Writing a general statement when given a specific statement and a thesis statement

Next, provide students with a specific statement and a thesis statement. They are to create the general statement:

Writing a specific statement when given a general statement and a thesis statement

Following on, you can given students a general statement and a thesis statement. They are to create a specific statement:

Writing a general statement and specific statement when given a thesis statement

In the next step, students write two sentences. They are provided with the thesis statement but they have to write the general statement and specific statement:

Writing a thesis statement

In this activity, provide students with the essay question and have them write a thesis statement for it: Here are three examples using the essay question ‘Corporate religious experiences more reliable than individual religious experiences’:

Adding more specifics to an introduction

Given the level of depth required at A level, three sentences for an introduction will not be sufficient. However, getting them used to writing the three styles of statement is essential before writing a full introduction. After they have acquired more confidence and proficiency, they can start to add more specific and general statements.

To support them with this, you can give them an introduction with a general statement, specific statement and a thesis statement. Students are to add a couple more specific statements.

Here’s an example using the first essay question:

Here is an example of an introduction written by one of my Year 12’s in their first Philosophy essay. This was a result of using the strategies outlined in this post.

Evaluative language

Given the nature of A level essays, students are asked to evaluate and provide a line of argument. Therefore, the use of evaluative language is essential.

The evaluation of arguments is built into the teaching of the course. For instance, when evaluating the dualist view of the soul, I provide students with various criticisms. They rank them and look to justify their choice of ranking:

These activities provide students with evaluative material to draw upon when crafting their introductions.

Furthermore, I provide students with a word bank of evaluative language which they can select from when writing their introductions:

For further reading, Mrs Saunders provides a brilliant insight into how to include more evaluative language within introductions and the wider body of the essay.

In short, I hope that these strategies from The Writing Revolution will lead to my students producing better introductions in their essays.

Writing an essay in Key Stage 3 RE

In previous blog posts on sentences and writing a paragraph, I have looked to outline some strategies to help students with their academic writing in RE. In this post, I want to outline how I help them plan for writing an essay. This post will be based on upcoming Year 8 essay where students are asked to explain Muslim beliefs about Muhammad and God.

Unpacking the question

The first thing I do is introduce students to the question and briefly explain the success criteria which is:

• Explain key events in the life of Muhammad

• Explain Muslim characteristics of God

• Use key terminology accurately and consistently

Afterwards, it is important to unpack the three key terms in the question and their relevance to the question:

• What is a Muslim?

• What do Muslims believe about Muhammad?

• What do Muslims believe about God?

Using my visualiser, we would annotate the key parts of the question together and make some brief notes of some key beliefs. This allows me to check students understanding and gives them an initial insight into ideas they could explain in their essay.

An annotated version would look something like this:

Unpacking a model paragraph

The next step is showing students a model paragraph. There is no point getting students to write a paragraph when they don’t know what is expected of them, nor how to structure them.

Here is a model paragraph:

I show the paragraph on the board and a key of things which students should look to highlight within the answer. Using my visualiser, we highlight together what role each sentence is playing within the paragraph and highlight it according to which part of the key it meets With each sentence, I look to explain to students why I have included it and how it contributes to the topic sentence. Some sentences may serve more than one purpose and contain key terminology.

A highlighted example should look something like this:

This helps to break down to students the key elements needed within their paragraph.

Planning their own paragraph

After breaking down the key elements of my model paragraph, students are ready to plan their own paragraph. To do this, they use this single paragraph outline:

We start by looking at the topic sentence and I ask them to consider what could be the next belief, either about Muhammad or God, which they could write about. Hopefully, students will realise that they can use their annotated question plan to support them with identifying their main idea for the topic sentence.

After they have identified what belief they wish to write about, they now need to looking at the evidence and supporting details. I have structured this using the questions who, when how and why. The use of these questions is a strategy taken from The Writing Revolution to support sentence expansion. I have used it here as an extra scaffold to guide students in their thinking about what evidence would be relevant to support their topic sentence. Students can write their evidence and supporting details in bullet points.

To find their evidence and supporting details, I tell students to use their work booklet to find relevant information. The previous lessons in the work booklet are building towards this essay question so they should not struggle for finding evidence.

In addition, I include a bank of tier 3 vocabulary underneath. This tier 3 vocabulary will have been pre taught and should act as a trigger for students. I encourage students to tick off the tier 3 vocabulary when they have used it within their paragraph outline.

Here is an example of what a completed single paragraph outline should look like:

Writing the paragraph

After giving students 5/10 minutes, we then move on to writing the paragraph. Students are to be given 10 minutes silent writing time to focus on turning their paragraph outline into a paragraph. To help students link their evidence, I include a bank of phrases which can be used to illustrate ideas and emphasise points.

After the silent writing time has finished, I will take a couple examples from students and show them under the visualiser. As a class, we will discuss how they have met the success critieria for the paragraph:

• Have they used clear opening and closing sentences?

• Have they used relevant supporting details and evidence?

• Have they used key terms accurately and consistently?

Completing their essay plan

After sharing a couple of student examples with my visualiser, it is time for students to complete their full essay plan. The full essay plan follows the same structure as the single paragraph outline. Students will have the rest of the lesson to complete their essay plan. For homework, they are to review their essay plan and prepare for writing it in their lesson the following week.

This plan and rationale is a work in progress. I hope it will provide the support and structure needed for students to write knowledge-rich essays. I am sure that I will make changes and improvements to this once I have used it a few times in the classroom.

A special thanks to @Iteachbooks who has provided lots of brilliant advice on modelling, scaffolding and academic writing.

First lesson with a new class: routines, expectations and getting them working

Behaviour, routines and high expectations are always of high importance. However, in light of starting back at school, I believe they take on even greater importance when we start back. For many of our students, this will be their first time back in school since March. As many schools will have teachers moving around the school to ensure that year groups can remain in bubbles, many of us will not be teaching in our normal classrooms during the school day. Whilst this presents logistical challenges, it emphasises the importance of getting the first lesson right and ensuring that we own the classroom space, regardless of where we may be teaching.

In this post, I want to outline some strategies I use for getting the first lesson right.

Seating plan

Before I see the class for the first time, I will devise the seating plan. If I have taught some of the students before, my knowledge of them can be useful. If I have not taught the group before, I will speak to a member of staff within my department (or outside my department) who has taught the group for some insights on which students work well, need extra support, behaviour issues etc. After making some notes, I will put together my seating plan.

I don’t have a set policy of where I place most students in the seating plan. I try to avoid doing a seating plan based on alphabetical order, boy/girl etc. For most of the students, I tend to just randomise it completely.

For any students who have been flagged up for needing extra support or monitoring for behaviour, I look to include these students somewhere within my main eye line in front of me. For students who struggle with behaviour, I usually sit them right next to my desk so I can monitor their focus. Alternatively, I place them at the back of the room on the rows nearest to me. This strategy is useful as it means they often don’t turn around as they will only be greeted with a classroom wall. In addition, it prevents them from being the centre of attention in the classroom and potentially distracting other students. If I have more than one disruptive student, I’ll place them strategically as far away as possible from each other.

It’s important to add that I constantly revise the seating plan. For KS4, I’ll change the seating plan once every half term. I think its important to mix up who students sit next to. On a basic level, students might get bored/irritated with the person they are sat next to. In addition, for my subject which involves lots of group discussion, I think it’s good that students have new partners who might offer different perspectives on the topics we study.

Arranging equipment in the classroom

Before students arrive at the classroom, I will have laid out all necessary equipment which they will need. I usually get two students into the classroom to help me with this. This includes exercise book, knowledge organiser and a glue stick. I will have trimmed round the knowledge organiser so it will stick flat into their exercise books, this pre-empts some students asking for scissors to trim round the sheet and waste a bit of time. I want the start to the lesson to be as punctual as possible.

In light of many teachers moving between different classrooms to teach different year groups, I still plan on doing this as I want everything inside the classroom ready for the students.

On the board, I will have written out what goes on the front of their exercise book. This ensures I don’t get questions about what to include on the front or how to spell my surname (many still spell it incorrectly).

Lining up outside the classroom

As I am doing this, many students may have started to congregate outside. I meet students at the door and tell them line up in silence in a single file along the wall leading to my classroom. Most students do this automatically, but I will wait until I have full silence and a single file line. Once I have got this, I will tell students to enter the classroom in silence and congregate along the back wall of the classroom. As students enter, I will greet them with a smile and say hello. If I know some of their names, I will use their names. I believe this helps to sow the seeds of the warm, but strict balance which makes for good behaviour management.

Putting kids in the seating plan

After getting all students into the room, some mild chatter may have started. I am quick to remind them that I asked them to come into the room in silence. Once silence is restored, I inform students that I will be placing them in their seating plan. Once their name is said, they are to go to their seat, get out their equipment and complete the front page of their exercise book. They are to do all of this in silence. I point at the first table I am starting with, point at each seat and say the name of student who is sitting there. Once I have completed the first row, I allow students to move to their seat.

At this point, some more mild chatter might emerge as students learn that Billy is sat next to Charlotte etc. At this point, I remind them that this first task is to be carried out in silence. If anyone is talking, I’ll stop until I get the silence. The constant reinforcement of how you want tasks to be complete is essential.

After I have completed the first row of tables, I move onto the next and remind students how to conduct this first task. At this point, I will look to the first row and praise students who are completing the front of their exercise books. This encourages other students to quickly follow the instructions which have been given.

Once all students have been placed in the seating plan, I check to ensure that all students are sat in the correct position. Some may have swapped accidentally, some may have swapped on purpose. If they have done it deliberately, I often perceive it as their first challenge of my authority. Whilst swapping seats may seem very minor, it’s important you stick to the seating plan you have created. If you let them choose where to sit, they have won the first battle. By having students in exact seat you want them sat, it is a really powerful way of showing that you are in control of the classroom.

Setting my expectations

Once all students have completed the front of their exercise books, I ask for pens down and eyes facing the front. I scan the room to ensure all students have done this before I talk through my expectations.

I will spend 5 minutes maximum talking through these set expectations. I’ll talk them through how my lesson starts with them waiting quietly in a single file outside my classroom. This is my first indication of how ready they are to learn. With each expectation, I will briefly elaborate on why each one is important. I aim to always use positive language so that students are clear on the behaviour and effort I expect, not what I don’t expect. They broadly cover what I expect in terms of behaviour, punctuality and effort. With the last expectation of doing all work, I stress that all I expect is that students put in 100% effort into all tasks in the lesson. If they leave the lesson knowing they’ve worked as hard as they can, it’s a great feeling which they can take with them to their next lesson. Whilst students probably hear these in every first lesson at the start of an academic year, I think its important that they hear it from all their class teachers so that the same tone is set.

Get them working

After the quick run through my expectations, I get them started with our new topic and completing some work. I think this sets the best expectation of what future lessons will be like. High expectations of behaviour, clear routines and a focus on learning as much as we can in our time together.

As students get on with a task in silence, I will walk around the room and ensure they have completed the admin tasks correctly. In addition, I will check in with students who have names which can be shortened and ask them what they prefer to be called. For instance, Oliver might prefer to be called Ollie. I always preferred being called Joe and felt that teachers knew me better if they called me Joe. It’s a small touch but it allows you to establish a relationship with the student. Similarly, I will check in with students who have names which might be difficult to pronounce. This will make me more confident in saying their name and also allows the student to be recognised and feel more comfortable.

By the time all this is done, the lesson will be over. Students are told to pack their things away and wait quietly behind their chairs. I will stand at the door and dismiss students one row at a time as they wait quietly. I will usually personalise the row by saying the name of a student from that row. Yet again, it is a small touch, but starting to use student names as soon as possible helps to develop a warm relationship between yourself and the class. As students leave, I’ll smile and say that I look forward to seeing them next week.

The first few lessons help to set the tone of the experience in your classroom for the academic year. I think getting these first few lessons right can ensure that the tough afternoon lessons in the middle of November go right too. Whilst many of us may feel anxious and uncertain about this academic year, getting the first lesson right with our new classes can ensure we get back to doing what we love in the best way possible.

Writing a beautiful paragraph in RE

In my previous blog post, I looked to explore some sentence level strategies from The Writing Revolution and how they can be applied to RE so students can write beautiful sentences. In this post, I want to focus on strategies for expanding sentences and writing a beautiful, knowledge-rich paragraph.

Expanding sentences

To get students writing more expansive sentences, you start by giving students a complete, but brief, sentence. This is called a kernel sentence. This is a simple, declarative sentence with no modifiers or connectives. For example, ‘The teachers will debate’. They can be used to make more elaborate sentences.

After giving students the sentence, you give them a list of question words to respond to: who, what, when, where, why and how. Students provide answers in the form of notes and then convert those notes into a complete sentence.

You don’t need to use all the words with each kernel sentence. The question words when, where and why are the best starting points.

After students have answers to the question words, the teacher can demonstrate how to expand the sentence. When expanding a sentence, it should always begin with the answer to when. This is a feature common in writing, but not in speech. After completing the model example together, give students another kernel sentence and allow them

Sentence expansion activities enable students to anticipate what the reader needs to know and is an excellent method of checking compression. It also develops their ability to summarise.

RE example:

Here is a couple examples of how this could look in RE:

The next series of strategies will work on getting students to complete a single paragraph outline. This provides students with a road map they can follow for each section of their paragraph. It allows them to plan the beginning, middle and end of their paragraph to ensure it is coherent.

Understanding and writing a topic sentence

We start by looking at the topic sentence. We give students a series of sentences and ask them to identify the one which is the topic sentence and the ones that provide supporting detail. They should mark the one with T. S for topic sentence, and the others with S.D for supporting detail. You could start with two sentences and look to progress from there.

This task is important as we want students to recognise that a topic sentence expresses the main idea of a paragraph. The task also allows students to see how the body of the paragraph should provide details which support the main idea contained in the topic sentence.

RE example:

In this example, I give students four sentences. They have to identify which sentence acts as the topic sentence and which provide supporting details.

As an extension, you could give students a group of 4-5 sentences. They identify the topic sentence and arrange the remaining sentences in the order that would be most logical. This could be based on chronology. Here is an example:

Matching supporting details with topic sentences

To further help students understand the relationship between a topic sentence and supporting details, you can give them a collection of supporting details and two topic sentences. Students write each detail under the correct topic sentence.

RE example:

With this example, the topic sentences give two different perspectives on the Buddha as a religious leader. This requires students to distinguish between evidence that supports different points of view. Students write the evidence under the appropriate topic sentence:

Writing topic sentences

Appositives and subordinating conjunctions can be used to write effective topic sentences. In my prior blog post, I outlined the distinction between these two key terms. An appositive is a second noun, or a phrase or clause equivalent to a noun, that is placed beside another noun to explain it more fully. A subordinating conjunction are conjunctions that introduce an advert clause and signal the relationship between that clause and the main idea e.g. although, while, before, if.

RE example:

If wanting students to use appositives or subordinating conjunctions to write their topic sentences, it would be useful to remind them of what they are and provide examples.

Using notes to create a topic sentence

This is a more difficult way of getting students to draw on what they have learned. It requires students to ring together a number of details to come up with a sentence that brings them all together.

RE example:

Here is an example from a Year 9 unit on Buddhism. Students might use the following supporting details to create this topic sentence:

Creating concluding sentences

A concluding sentence should remind the reader of the topic sentence but not repeat it word for word. A concluding sentence allows students to see the group of sentences that work together to form a whole. It also acts as useful for preparation for when students have to write conclusions as part of multiple paragraph essays.

When writing concluding sentences, it is best if it uses a different sentence structure to the topic sentence.

RE example:

Using my prior examples of topic sentences using appositives or subordinating conjunctions, I have translated them into concluding sentences using a difference sentence structure:

Building a single paragraph outline

After looking at the different elements of a paragraph, it’s now time to create the outline of the paragraph. An outline provides students with the road map for their writing. It provides structure, focus on the topic and aids sequencing of material which students will use.

The general steps for building a single paragraph outline are:

  1. Identify your topic or question
  2. Brainstorm details
  3. Create topic sentence
  4. Select and sequence relevant details
  5. Write notes for detailed sentences
  6. Create concluding sentence

RE example:

Let’s imagine we are planning a paragraph for the question ‘Explain Muslim beliefs about Muhammad’

I might start by asking students to brainstorm as many key words/key ideas about Muhammad which they can recall. At the start, I would want students to do this from memory and discussion with their partner. After, they may wish to consult their knowledge organiser or exercise book for more detail. As students suggest ideas, I would write them down on the board for students to copy. Here is an example of what students might come up with:

After brainstorming all this knowledge, I would get students to work in pairs to come up with some topic sentences for some of these details. I might ask some students to see if they can come up with a topic sentence using an appositive and some to come up with a topic sentence using a subordinating conjunction.

After some discussion, I would hope to arrive at a topic sentence such as:

‘Muhammad, born in 570 CE, is understood by Muslims to be the last of all the prophets.’

What we would now look to do is to choose from our bank of evidence to suggest the most relevant bits of evidence to support this topic sentence. Some of their evidence would support a different topic sentence and paragraph. After some discussion and debate, we might settle on the following bits of evidence as they are focused on what it means for Muhammad to be the ‘seal of the prophets’:

•Muslims believe that over time the messages of previous prophets was changed and corrupted.

•God sent one final prophet – Muhammad.

•On the Night of Power, the angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to Muhammad and revealed a message from God.

•Muslims believe that God revealed messages (revelations) to Muhammad about what people should believe and how they should live their lives

•Muhammad said that it was wrong for Meccas to worship many gods.

The supporting details are not prescriptive and nor do students have to cover all of them. However it provides them a relevant selection of ideas to explore within their paragraph.

Finally, we will look to put together a concluding sentence for this paragraph. As my topic sentence used an appositive, I would encourage students to use subordinating conjunction for their concluding sentence to avoid repetition. An example might be:

‘Although the Meccan tribes did not like Muhammad’s monotheistic message, he continued to preach to others outside Mecca.’

The completed single paragraph outline should look something like this:

In a future blog post, I will look to outline how we can build upon these strategies for a single paragraph and get students writing beautiful, knowledge-rich essays in RE.

References:

The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advancing Thinking Through Writing in All Subjects and Grades – Judith Hockman and Natalie Wexler

World Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam (KS3 Knowing Religion) – Andy Lewis and Robert Omre

Philosophy and Ethics (KS3 Knowing Religion) – Robert Omre

World Religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism (KS3 Knowing Religion) – Tristan Elby and Neil Mckain

Writing beautiful sentences in RE

I have always struggled with getting students to write well in RE. In the past, I have used templates to help structure and focus their writing. However, I often find these templates to be too prescriptive or limiting. I want students to be able to write fluent, knowledge-rich sentences without having to follow a specific template.

A big focus in the next academic year will be the explicit teaching of how to write well in RE. Within KS3, we have spent a lot of time ensuring we have a knowledge-rich and academically rigorous curriculum. I want to spend time exploring how to translate this into knowledge-rich writing. Writing is one of the most challenging skills to learn and teach but in order for us to see the fruits of what we are teaching our students, we have to teach them how to write.

To help with this, I have been re-reading The Writing Revolution by Judith Hockman and Natalie Wexler. The book offers lots of excellent strategies to enable students to flourish as writers in all subjects. One of the key takeaways from the book is the importance of the sentence as the foundation for excellent writing. As an end point, we want our RE students to write knowledge-rich essays. However, we have to recognise the amount of scaffolding needed in order to allow them to do this. By starting with the sentence, we lay the foundation for students to start to demonstrate their knowledge.

Here are some sentence level strategies found in The Writing Revolution and some examples of how I will look to apply them to RE. Whilst I have provided examples of how I am using these within our KS3 curriculum, these strategies easily transfer to content across all key stages. With each strategy and its application, I have looked to provide a model example of how students might have completed the sentences.

Because, but, so

With this strategy, you give students a sentence stem (beginning of a sentence) and ask them to turn it into three complex sentences. When introducing this task, it’s important to make sure students understand the meaning of each conjunction:

Because explains why something is true. But indicates a change of direction. So tells us what happens as a result of something else.

This task requires students to think deeply about the content they have been looking at and consider how their knowledge is applicable to the sentence stems they are given.

Rather than giving students an open ended question to answer, the use of because, but, so offers the teacher are more precise measure of checking the students’ understanding.

RE example:

Within our Year 8 unit on the history of Islam, students will have completed some guided reading on Muhammad’s religious, political and military influence.

Afterwards, I pose the question of ‘Is Muhammad best understood as a prophet, politician or military leader?’. I introduce them to the because, but, so sentences and the purpose each conjunction serves within a sentence. Afterwards, they complete the sentence stems:

After completing these three sentence stems, students would complete the same three sentence stems for how Muhammad is best understood as a politician and for how he is best understand as a military leader.

Using subordinating conjunctions

A subordinating conjunction are conjunctions that introduce an advert clause and signal the relationship between that clause and the main idea e.g. although, while, before, if. The use of subordinating conjunction activities promotes the use of complex sentences, boosts vocabulary development and encourages close reading/references to the text. In addition, it is a successful way of checking student comprehension.

When students learn to use them within their own writing, they become better able to understand complex texts and their oral language becomes more sophisticated. Many of these conjunctions – such as while, although, and even though – are very useful in composing argumentative essay writing.

To finish a stem that begins with although, students have to find contrasting or contradictory information. When using a subordinating conjunction such as before, an understanding of the chronology of events is essential.

RE example:

Here are some examples of sentence stems students could answer within our Year 8 unit on the New Testament:

Here are some more examples of sentence stems, using different subordinating conjunctions, which students could answer within our Year 9 unit on Buddhism:

To make the activity more challenging, you can provide the student with just a subordinating conjunction and a term and ask them to create a complex sentence. Here are some examples within our Year 9 unit on Philosophy of Religion:

Using Appositives

An appositive is a second noun, or a phrase or clause equivalent to a noun, that is placed beside another noun to explain it more fully. For example ‘London, the largest city in the UK, is a major tourist attraction’. The appositive within this sentence is ‘the largest city in the UK’. An appositive usually follows the noun it describes but it can also precede it. When introducing appositives to students, it is useful to tell them that it’s a phrase which can be removed without making the entire sentence incomplete.

The use of appositive activities allows students to include more information in a sentence, vary sentence structure and provides an effective strategy for creating topic sentences.

RE Example:

You might want to start by listing key terms or people you look at within a unit of work. List the key terms of people on the left hand side and the noun phrases which describe them on the right and have students match them up. Here is an example from out unit on the Philosophy of Religion:

Next, you can practise students filling in blanks with their own appositives in sentences which you create.

Here are some examples within our Year 8 unit on Jesus in Jerusalem:

An easier alternative for struggling students would be to give them the same activity but with a list of appositives at the top of the page. Students can choose appositives from list and insert them appropriately. Here is an example from our Buddhism unit:

To make the activity more demanding, you can have students write a whole sentence and tell them to include an appositive. Here is an example when teaching Islam:

Sentence combining

Sentence combining involves giving students a selection of short sentences and having them find various ways of combining them into one longer, complex sentence.

This strategy helps to improve the fluency of writing, encourages more complex sentence structure and a greater focus on what is important to include in a sentence.

RE example:

Here is another example from the Year 8 unit on Islam. Students would take the three sentences below and look to combine them into one longer, complex sentence:

Here is another example from a Year 9 unit on the Philosophy of Religion. Students would be given the following three sentences:

When using this strategy in the classroom, it might be useful to provide a cue for how to combine sentences such as ‘use an appositive’ or ‘use a conjunction’

Unscrambling scrambled sentences

By unscrambling sentences, students are developing their concept of a complete sentence and learning correct word order. When combined with content, they allow students to deepen their understanding of that content and of new vocabulary they have learned.

For KS3 students, this will work best with scrambled sentences of 9 or 10 words.

RE example:

I think this can be used in various ways. For instance, key word definitions:

Over the next academic year, I hope to embed these strategies within KS3 to enable students to write better sentences. When these strategies are coupled with academic and challenging content, I hope they will enable our students to develop as writers.

In a future blog post, I will look at how to take the foundation of great RE sentences and how to translate them into great RE paragraphs.

How I use scholarship in RE

In the last couple of weeks, it has been great to be part of discussions with RE colleagues regarding how to use scholarship within our curriculum. With an emphasis on high challenge and low threat, using scholarship can be an excellent way of adding further academic rigour to our curriculum. There has been some superb examples shared online by fellow RE teachers.

I wanted to use this blog post to outline when I look to use scholarship and how I use scholarship within the classroom to ensure it has most effect.

Questions to consider when using scholarship

Before choosing to use scholarship within our curriculum, I think it’s important to consider the following questions:

  • How does the scholarship build upon prior learning and where does it sit within the SOW?
  • How will I make the scholarship accessible for all students in the class?
  • How will I check the students’ understanding of the scholarship?
  • What do I want students to take away from this piece of scholarship?
  • How will the scholarship support future learning?

By thinking about the answers to these questions, we are in the best place to decide how to use scholarship within our curriculum.

Example of scholarship resource

This is an example of a scholarship resource I used with Year 10 when exploring the origin of Sawm, what happens during Ramadan and why it is important for Muslims.

The text was based on a Chris Hewer article. His website is full of superb articles which would serve as excellent examples of scholarship to use with students when studying Islam.

I chose this text because it allows me to revisit prior topics which students have looked at in their study of Islam e.g. the life of Muhammad, prophethood and the importance of the Qur’an.

How would I use this resource in the classroom?

When reading the text, students are to complete three tasks for every paragraph:

  • Highlight the key information
  • Summarise the paragraph in 2-3 bullet points
  • Give the paragraph a title which best summarises it

At the start, I would use the visualiser to display my copy of the resource on the board. After talking through the instructions for the task, we would read through the first paragraph together. When choosing my first bit of the text to highlight, I would explain my choice in doing so. As we carry on reading through the paragraph, I would ask students for further choices of information to highlight and for them to explain their choices. It’s important for students to be clear in what they’re highlighting and why.

After the highlighting the text, I turn to the task of writing summary bullet points of the paragraph. I encourage students to use the highlighted information to inform their choice of summary bullet points. If a summary bullet point offered by a student does not include some key terminology, I ask the class for a further improvement on the summary bullet point offered.

After the summary bullet points, I turn to the task of giving the paragraph a title. Personally, I like to have these phrased as a question which their highlighted information and bullet points look to answer. I think this encourages students to think more deeply about the content within the paragraph.

After modelling the first paragraph myself, I give students 5 minutes to complete the next paragraph independently. For students who are still struggling, I will use my visualiser to model how to complete the same tasks for the second paragraph.

After 5 minutes, I ask students to share their examples of what they’ve highlighted and to explain their choices for why this information was important. When sharing their summary bullet points, I encourage students to add further detail down if it improves upon the notes they have made. Similarly, after hearing some responses for the title of the paragraph, students may look to improve the title they have given the paragraph.

After taking the feedback, students complete the rest of the activity independently.

To support students, I ensure the resource has Tier 3 vocabulary in bold. The key words and their definitions are included at the end of the resource for students if they need to refer to them when reading the text. Most of this Tier 3 vocabulary would have been pre-taught.

At the end of the resource, students write a summary paragraph. This summary paragraph allows students to demonstrate their comprehension and understanding of the scholarship they have read.

In addition, I may use some because, but, so sentence stems. This task requires students to think deeply about the content they have been looking at and consider how their knowledge is applicable to the sentence stems they are given.

The sentence stems would be:

Sawm is important to Muslims because…

Sawm is important to Muslims but…

Sawm is important to Muslims so…

The completed sentence stems may look something like this:

Sawm is important to Muslims because Ramadan is the holy month in which Muhammad first received a revelation from God via the angel Jibril.

Sawm is important to Muslims but the other pillars are also central to Muslim practice.

Sawm is important to Muslims so many Muslims will look to recite the whole of the Qur’an, in daily sections, over the 30 days of Ramadan.

Here is an example of what the completed scholarship resource should look like: