Low stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 4

You can find the first three posts about retrieval practice here: one, two, three.

Everyone seems to be doing retrieval practice now and there is an abundance of research  in support of the effectiveness of self-testing as a learning strategy, particularly with regards to increasing long term retention. Ever since retrieval practice has become popular amongst teachers, there has been a notable concern about how it is being approached and whether or not it really is as effective as its proponents would claim. One line of criticism is that the questions-often closed, recall questions-are nothing like the final performance that students encounter when they take an exam. Merely asking students something along the lines of ‘What word means excessive pride or ambition?’  is, on its own, not going to help students with their understanding of Macbeth. However, understanding the meaning of ‘hubris’ (even in this most restrictive question-answer example) may well be the necessary, inflexible beginning of their journey towards knowing how Macbeth’s hubris is his harmartia. It is the job of teachers to skillfully transform this inflexible, rote knowledge into flexible understanding.


In Learning as a Generative Activity by Fiorella and Mayer, a book that explores 8 learning strategies that promote understanding, self-testing is explained as being an effective study strategy, mirroring the findings of Dunlosky in this AFT paper. One of the strengths of Learning as a Generative Activity is that the authors are careful to outline the boundary conditions under which a strategy is most effective. In the minds of many teachers, retrieval practice has reached the status of ‘universally a good thing’ and this is potentially a problem. Like all pedagogical approaches, the decision when and how to apply it requires thought and judgment. If a strategy reaches the status of ‘100% effective’ then the nuance and theory that supports it will be lost as teachers pursue the surface features, unaware that the deep structure of the approach requires more than the mere robotic delivery of a quiz every single lesson.

Fiorelli and Mayer point out that, for retrieval practice to most effective, there are a number of important things that need to be considered:

  1. Learners need to receive corrective feedback following practice testing

This can act as a laser precise form of AfL as, when corrections are provided, students are able to plug tiny gaps in their knowledge. With instant corrective feedback, students can also benefit from the hyper-correction effect. This is the idea that the more confident students are that their answer is correct, the more likely they are to not repeat the error if they are corrected.

2. Self-testing is often more effective when questions are free-recall or short answer.

Free-recall is also known as a ‘brain dump’ and involves students writing down everything that they know regarding a specific topic.

Here are some examples:

a) Write down everything you know about Hyde

b) Spend 5 minutes writing as much as you can about Hitler’s rise to power.

3.Tests should be taken repeatedly

Distributed practice can massively help with long term retention. If we want students to retain information, then spacing out retrieval practice is crucial. Engelmann highlights it as one of the important shifts of task design-beginning with massed practice and moving to distributed practice. Damien Benney writes in detail about attempting to optimize the spacing gap here.

4. There should be a close match between practice test items and the final test.

Opponents of retrieval practice would point to the disconnect between quizzing and final performance. This is most apparent in subjects where the final assessment is extended writing as there is a stark difference between closed recall questions and essays. Being able to recall that a word beginning with ‘At…’ means relating to characterized by reversion to something ancient or ancestral is in no way going to help a student with writing an essay response that explores how the boys in Lord of the Flies descend into barbarism and savagery. However, proponents of low stakes quizzing would point out that if retrieval practice is being used appropriately, the closed question about ‘atavism’ would not exist on its own, instead being the beginning of a series of questions or being part of a wider recall activity that allows students to make the necessary links between vocabulary, character and theme. If the retrieval practice is effective, the concept of ‘atavism’ would not be retrieved in isolation or seen as an end itself. The teacher would carefully situate it within a wider body of knowledge, asking questions and discussing it in terms of the final test outcome: extended critical interpretation.

A recent paper by Pooja Agarwal entitled ‘Retrieval Practice & Bloom’s Taxonomy: Do Students Need Fact Knowledge Before Higher Order Learning?’ explored the efficacy of different forms of retrieval practice and came to similar conclusions to those in Learning as A Generative Activity.

Here are some of Agarwal’s key findings with some commentary:

  1. Closed, unconnected ‘fact’ quizzing will not help students perform well in higher order tasks

If retrieval practice means merely asking a series of closed recall questions, then this activity will probably not lead to successful performance on higher order tasks like extended writing. Mirroring the findings in Learning as a Generative Activity, the paper again stresses the importance of matching the practice test to the final test.

2. Higher order quizzing helps students with higher order testing

We should ask students retrieval questions that span the higher strata in blooms taxonomy. While there may be some contention regarding the strict hierarchical nature of the taxonomy, it is a good idea to ask questions that involve a deeper level of processing than mere factual recall. As an example, the distributed practice of analytical introductions  is a good method of synoptic recall which involves higher order thinking.

I often have an open recall question on the board at the start of a lesson. Because students tend to trickle into the class over a number of minutes, this means that those who arrive the earliest can begin working instantly instead of waiting for all students to get there before we begin a quiz. Also, the tasks are deliberately open ended-I often give them a 5 minute limit- so that low and high attainers can attempt them successfully, the differentiation here being by the depth and complexity of the outcome. I will often follow these open ended tasks with something that looks more like a quiz.

Here are some examples of higher order, open recall questions:

  • Why is Gerald the most sinister character in An Inspector Calls?
  • Think back to London, how do you know that Blake was a Romantic poet from the content of the poem?
  • What kind of woman is The Landlady in Telephone Conversation?
  • What is the connection between The Blackmailer’s Charter and Jekyll and Hyde?

All of these questions are asking for higher order cognitive processing, ensuring that there is a close link between the practice and final test. However, if students are to produce high quality answers to these questions, it is often important to have previously asked them more restrictive retrieval questions on the required components, initially in isolation, then later asking students to make links between the individual items thereby facilitating the integration of the individual concepts. This process reflects the journey from inflexible to flexible knowledge: well planned and carefully sequenced retrieval tasks can help students move along this continuum. While initial quizzing may be factual and restrictive, later retrieval tasks will look far more like what is expected (extended writing). If I were to skip straight to asking open ended retrieval tasks then students may not be able to retrieve and therefore apply the relevant components, precluding them from producing a high quality response.

Let’s look at an example:

  • Why is Gerald the most sinister character in An Inspector Calls?

Assuming a student has attended the lessons where Gerald’s character has been taught, then they will be able to answer this question at some level. If, however, this was the first retrieval question that they were asked, then their answer may lack some of the specific components that the question requires. Teaching students the components and ensuring that they can retrieve and apply these before they are asked to attempt a more complex task may well be a more efficient approach to mastering the content than beginning with a higher order complex retrieval task. If students skip straight to the open ended retrieval task then their poor performance will necessitate complex and detailed feedback in order to close the gap. Not only will this be time consuming, but it may also be very difficult or even impossible for students to take on board the feedback because of the myriad omissions and errors that they made. It may be far more efficient to insist that students retrieve and master each component before attempting to integrate them into a complex task.

Here is a list of some of the components that I want students to be able to include in their answer:


  • exploitative
  • objectify
  • infidelity
  • unscrupulous
  • disparity
  • benevolence
  • supercilious

Textual References

  • ‘I suppose it was inevitable’
  • ‘young and fresh and charming’
  • ‘made the people find food for her’
  • ‘I didn’t feel about her as she felt about me’
  • ‘I didn’t install her there so that I could make love to her’

 Initial retrieval questions that focus on these components may look like classic closed questions, things like:

  • Which word beginning with EX means the take advantage of someone?
  • Complete the quotation: ‘I suppose it was inev………’

When feeding back with these initial retrieval questions, the teacher should ask a number of follow up questions to ensure that students begin, even at this early stage, to engage in higher order thinking. Although the initial retrieval question may be closed, these follow up questions will have mixed formats.

Here is the original closed single component retrieval question:

1) Which word beginning with EX means the take advantage of someone?

Here are some possible follow up questions:

  1. How does Gerald exploit Eva?
  2. What is it about Gerald that makes his actions so exploitative?
  3. What is the most sinister part of his exploitative behaviour?
  4. Who else exploits Eva?
  5. How were the lower classes exploited in Edwardian society?

In Direct Instruction programmes, individual components- perhaps vocabulary or sentence structures-are ‘firmed’ before students are asked to use them in wider applications. The term ‘firmed’ here refers to accuracy, fluency and retention and students are often expected to demonstrate these stages of learning by applying a concept in a restricted context before they are asked to integrate a concept or skill into something more broad or complex. DI schemes use track planning where many different concepts are being ‘firmed’, each concept moving along a continuum from inflexible to flexible knowledge and slowly being combined and integrated with others. The idea here is that the atomization of content allows students to experience consistently high success rates which can be really motivating, particularly for low attaining students. Equally, it allows the teacher to give instant, precise and effective feedback on each of the components. In the initial stages of learning, instant feedback is really important and if used in conjunction with some form of atomization where components are taught and practiced initially in isolation, then this can help prevent cumulative dysfluency. If students are asked to skip straight to the higher order retrieval question (Why is Gerald the most sinister character in An Inspector Calls) then the danger is that they may make so many errors and omissions that effective feedback becomes impossible.

Effective and efficient instructional sequences will depend upon two important variables. Firstly, the context and type of retrieval activities should begin as restrictive tasks and move slowly towards wider application. Secondly, retrieval will be distributed over time in order to ensure long term retention.

This graph shows the relationship between the two variables and how specific retrieval tasks may be more appropriate at the start or the end of an instructional sequence:



At the start of an instructional sequence, a ‘quiz’ of restrictive closed questions may be most appropriate; at the end of a sequence and closer to the final test, wider retrieval tasks like paragraph and essay writing may be more suitable. As time progresses, the retrieval tasks should become wider, eventually mirroring the final test: extended writing.

With essay writing as the final outcome, this table explores the benefits and detriments of different question types:

retrieval practice table.png

Next Post: Retrieval Practice 5: further findings and extended quizzing

Analytical Introductions

Teaching students to write consistently well-structured essays is a vital part of our job as English teachers. Successful analytical writing will be made up of high quality components-precise vocabulary, sophisticated sentence structures, judicious use of evidence and perceptive interpretation-but the one thing that often signals truly exceptional performance is a level of crafting at the whole text level. The best analytical essays will be stuffed full of high quality components but, crucially, they will be organized in a logical and coherent way with a strong line of developing argument that threads through them. Not only that, but the writing will be pitched at a conceptual level, dealing with abstract notions and nominalized ideas. Instead of commenting on a hypocritical character, it will delve into the hypocrisy of an archetype; instead of exploring the unfair treatment of a girl, it will delve into the exploitation of the working class as a whole. Characters become constructs; language becomes symbolic and the tenor of the essay will be pitched far in excess of a mere analytical commentary where students move from quotation to quotation.

Exceptional essays do not begin with fine grained language analysis. Exceptional essays do not dive straight into the actions of a character. Exceptional essays begin with analytical introductions.

Here is an example:

Question: How does the novella explore the ideas of secrecy and the unknown?

Analytical Introductions example 1 Jekyll.png

Analytical Introductions will sketch out the big ideas within a text, often remaining at the level of the conceptual, the abstract and the thematic. They will often touch upon authorial intent and will contain a few succinct, well-chosen quotations to demonstrate that even at this level of abstraction, the interpretations are still based upon a close reading of the text. Appositive sentences lend themselves well to these introductions, allowing students to hit the examiner with thematic commentary from the very beginning.

Asking students to begin essays like this has a number of benefits. Firstly, it ensures that students are instantly writing about conceptual and thematic ideas, preventing them from slipping into the formulaic and prosaic repetition of PEEL paragraphs where a sequence of quotations are dissected and the word ‘connotations’ is lavishly slathered all over the writing as the true mark of critical interpretation. We’ve all read these essays before: they are repetitive and boring and the pages are filled with monotonous and relentless chains of language analysis. If students are to get top marks, they need to write in far more depth and with an appreciation of the big ideas that the text is commenting upon. Secondly, crafting an analytical introduction provides students with a plan. In the example above, each of the underlined words or phrases is not only a potential paragraph, but also the nascent beginnings of a topic sentence for that paragraph. Having the plan contained within the introduction can help students avoid getting carried away with one particular part of their essay. It can also help prevent students from frantically and randomly writing about stuff that they remember in a vain effort to fill the page with relevant content. Instead of students rushing to write about the first quote they remembered, followed by the next quote they remembered (from a different part of the text and about something entirely different), they will be led by the big ideas in the introduction. Thirdly, regular practice of these is a fantastic synoptic retrieval practice exercise.

Analytical introductions work equally well for exam questions with extracts and those without. If students are attempting a question with an extract, I will ask them to begin with the introduction, then deal with the extract, then revert back to the big ideas that they have touched upon in their introduction.

How to Teach Analytical Introductions?

We usually teach these in year 9 and they build upon The Six Skills. Although you can teach far simpler versions of these, for the example above, students would need to be secure in embedding evidence, writing appositives and using ‘not only…but’. Like many other things, initial teaching of these should span a minimum of two lessons with distributed practice spanning many more lessons. Initial lessons should involve the teacher writing and labelling a model, making their thought process explicit throughout by narrating WHY they have written it in the way that they have. In the first lesson, it can be useful to get kids to transform and rearrange a model into their own writing. This will inevitably involve a degree of mimicry but inflexible knowledge is almost always the start point in a sequence of learning.

Lesson 1 and 2

Analytical Introductions example 1 Jekyll

After writing the model, the teach underlines the big ideas, making it clear that these are the potential headings and inchoate topic sentences of conceptual paragraphs. The teacher then asks student to help them make a list of the ideas under the introduction. This list will be a paragraph plan and it is important to make this link clear to students as one of the functions of writing like this is to create a plan to follow. Asking students to use different words in the plan-essentially paraphrasing the introduction-is a useful check for understanding regarding vocabulary and the meaning of these conceptual phrases. The plan might look like this:


  1. Problems with super strict society
  2. Fixated on manners and how they behave
  3. We are all good and evil
  4. Hyde as a construct
  5. Denial of pleasure
  6. Gothic setting
  7. Paranoia/secrecy

Asking students to paraphrase the ideas also means that when you ask them to write their own, they are more likely to depart from the one above. Once they have compiled their list of big ideas, you can then ask them to reassemble this skeletal plan into an introduction of their own, perhaps changing the order in which they cover the themes and perhaps using different vocabulary or quotations.  Before they being writing, it is worth reminding them of what they should not include:

  • No language analysis
  • No explanations, elaboration or justification
  • No longer than the example

When they have finished writing their own, they can then label it in the same way that the teacher initially did and begin to think about which big idea should be dealt with first. Often, at this stage, it becomes apparent that the order that they appear in the introduction is not the most logical order for the essay. The order will sometimes be dictated by plot chronology; other times it will be because there is a natural link where one idea feeds into another: for instance, in the example above, there is a natural and obvious connection between paranoia/secrecy and problems with a super strict society as well as many other clear links.

Later Lessons

Example-problem pairs work particularly well with teaching this approach. A teacher could present an example like this:

Analytical Introductions example 2 macbeth.png

It can be really useful to group questions for students so that they begin to see the deep structure of what is being asked. Novices often fail to see similarities between questions, instead seeing a task as being unconnected to others. Demonstrating the similarity between tasks makes it far more likely that students will succeed: exam question words often confuse students and this approach can help to mitigate this problem.

The teacher could then ask students to generate the ideas-admittedly the example above could be improved by changing ‘Lady Macbeth’ to something more thematic and conceptual-perhaps manipulation or duplicity. This idea generation is a really useful synoptic retrieval task. The teacher can then write a model answer live:

Analytical Introductions example 3 macbeth.png

Students can then be given a really similar question to attempt, allowing them to use this model as an analogy. The question will be different enough that they cannot just copy this model: this approach is something that is threaded throughout our booklets and is explained in this post

For students to really master this, it will need to be taught across multiple lessons and across the full range of texts that they are expected to respond to. An effective instructional sequence will probably move through the the six shifts of task design and will involve both the alternation strategy as well as backwards fading.

In the latter stages of examination preparation, giving students examination questions and asking them to create these at speed (once they have demonstrated an accurate and reasonably flexible understanding of them that is) can be a really useful way of practicing planning as well as being a useful synoptic retrieval task.

Next Post: Retrieval Practice 4: Extended Quizzing.

The 6 Skills Part 5: Evidence in Explanation

6 skills

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Tentative Language
  2. 3 Part Explanation
  3. Zoom In/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

When writing analytically, proficient writers substantiate their analysis by referring directly to the text. While indirect references have their place, the use of actual quotations is crucial. When students arrive at secondary school, one of the most important things that they learn in year 7 is how to embed evidence fluently in their writing so that they are equipped to respond to the texts that they encounter. The ability to use embedded evidence is a threshold concept, an idea that once mastered, changes a student’s relationship to the texts that they encounter. Before they cross this threshold, students are able to talk about evidence and textual references; after the threshold has been crossed, this ability is transformed into written output.

Initially, students should be taught to embed single quotations which they can then build arguments around, adding tentative interpretations, zooming in on words and commenting on techniques.

While this is an important start point, more proficient analysis involves multiple pieces of evidence where arguments are sustained and developed through the addition of further textual references. Sometimes this development can take the form of several references in support of one idea; sometimes it can involve a number of sequential references that contribute to and develop a line of argument; alternatively, subsequent pieces of evidence can be judiciously added in order to subtly demonstrate that the ideas within the argument are closely matched to the text itself.

Here are some examples with commentary:

  1. Multiple bits of evidence that contribute to one point:

Priestley uses dramatic irony to undermine the Birling’s close minded views on the world through phrases such as ‘the Germans don’t want war’ and referring to the titanic as ‘unsinkable.’

In this example, the use of two quotations potentially provides a more substantiated argument. It also demonstrates that the writer is able to notice patterns-in this case both Birling’s habit of pompous pontification as well as Priestley’s frequent usage of dramatic irony. The ability to collate and combine evidence is dependent on two variables: the amount of text that you are using as your evidence base as well as the depth of knowledge that you have of the text. If you set aside the relative complexity of the language contained within a text-Shakespeare is almost always going to be harder than Priestley for students- it is often harder to collate evidence from across an entire text than it is from two sentences, one speech or one page. The former requires a knowledge of far more content. The narrower the source, the easier it is to see patterns; the wider the source, the harder it is to do so.

2) Multiple bits of evidence that sustain an argument-each piece complements the one that precedes it, building an argument and developing a point across a paragraph.

Tempted by the witches prophecy, Macbeth seems torn and conflicted by their words, exclaiming ‘cannot be ill, cannot be good.’ It is as if he desires the throne but recognises that to achieve it, he would need to commit the worst crime imaginable: regicide. When he says ‘whose murder yet is but fantastical’, the word ‘yet’ foreshadows the upcoming crime. Macbeth has very quickly moved from being intrigued by the witches’ language to a position of certainty where Duncan’s murder seems inevitable. Perhaps Shakespeare is exploring the power of greed and how hubris can quickly dominate a character’s judgment.  

In this example, the writer is using pieces of evidence sequentially, each building upon the previous and each contributing to one chain of argument or a wider idea. In this case, the writer is analysing Macbeth’s initial reactions to the witches equivocal language and commenting upon the malign influence of hubris.

What to teach?

3) Evidence in explanation:

Birling is an Upper Class man who revels at the idea of ‘lower costs and higher prices’, a selfish notion that conveys Priestley’s argument that the rich exploited the lower classes and treated them as ‘cheap labour.’

He has passed the point of turning back and is in ‘blood stepped in so far’ that his reign causes Scotland to suffer ‘under a hand accursed’

Enfield, like all the upper class men, is singularly focused on his own reputation; he avoids discussion and does not pry into the lives of others because ‘asking a question is like starting a stone’, a statement that conveys his fear of gossip and his desire to avoid ‘disgrace.’

Why Teach it?

In these three models, the final underlined quotation is an example of ‘evidence in explanation’. This approach to using evidence is slightly different as, instead of helping to substantiate or develop and argument, it is being used to justify an argument. When using evidence in this way, the quotation will often come at the end of a line of reasoning, demonstrating that the ideas and interpretations are closely matched to the text itself. If a line of reasoning ends with a quotation-or has one embedded within its final conjecture-then it reads as if the ideas are defensible, lending them a certain credence and making them easier for a reader to accept.

evidence table2

Successful analytical writing treads a narrow line between the need for perceptive and interesting interpretation-essentially the input of the reader-and the need to ensure that these interpretations are based upon textual evidence. If it sways too far from the text, then it can become baseless, absurd or even just plain wrong; if it is swamped with excessive quotations, then analysis and interpretation find no room to breath. A successful essay will achieve this fine balance. It will-to use the language of mark schemes-contain the ‘judicious use of precise references to support interpretation’ and hopefully will avoid the repetitive chaining of PEEL paragraphs where the monotony of the restrictive and clunky structure diminishes the overall quality of the writing. In the absence of a PEEL type structure, students are free to use evidence more flexibly and creatively. While I have touched upon three possible types above, there are undoubtedly many more that could be modelled and practised.

Each category mentioned above is not clear cut and ‘evidence in explanation’ can often be conflated with the sequential use of quotations-this is partly because the process of substantiation is minimally different to justification. While substantiation means to verify through evidence and justify means to explain, in reality the lines between both are blurred. You can explain something by using evidence: a quotation can form an integral part of an explanation. Equally, you can substantiate something by providing further explanation. This ambiguity is one of the reasons why proficient analytical writing can take myriad forms: there are innumerable ways of demonstrating analytical skill and each successful essay will combine a variety of approaches to using evidence. Because of this, helping students to recognise, critique and practice different ways of using evidence can be really helpful in developing their analytical writing.

Next Post: Analytical Introductions-How to ensure students write conceptually.

The 6 Skills part 4: Multiple Interpretations

The 6 Skills part 4: Multiple Interpretations

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Tentative Language
  2. 3 Part Explanation:
  3. Zoom In/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

Why Teach it?

Developing more than one interpretation about a specific textual reference or piece of evidence demonstrates a critical perspective: in depth analysis considers and explores multiple viewpoints, building an argument and resulting in detailed, exploratory responses.

What to teach?

Perhaps the simplest way that students can produce multiple interpretations is by producing analysis that has consecutive interpretations within it. Novice students often produce writing that offers only one interpretation for each textual reference and the initial job of the teacher may be to prompt them to produce additional ideas for each piece of evidence, helping students to make their writing more developed and ensuring that each textual reference is examined and discussed in sufficient detail. Restrictive practice drills, the benefits of which I explain in this post, can help prompt students to add further interpretations to their initial idea.

Let’s have a look at an example:

The teacher writes this example on the board:

  1. Candy tells George that Curley’s wife ‘got the eye’ because he thinks that she is promiscuous. His comment could also demonstrates his misogyny because he sees women as a threat and something to distrust.

The teacher can then present a second completion problem, this time with prompts about what to include:

2. Candy calls Curley’s wife ‘a tart’ because…

  • Include flirtatious
  • Include derogatory
  • Include patriarchy

The bullet pointed prompts can help students to understand what their next steps are and the worked example in number 1 can be used by students as an analogy so that they understand what is required.

Once students become proficient at changing the prompts into short pieces of analytical writing, the teacher can then ask the students to generate the ideas themselves. Usually, before attempting analytical drills, students will have read, discussed and annotated a vocabulary table as well as discussing and annotating an extract, providing them-should they need it-with plenty of ideas to use, critique, reject or develop. This post explains this process in more detail.The explicit teaching of possible interpretations and vocabulary that could be applied within their writing helps students with weaker background knowledge, ensuring that they are not precluded from producing multiple interpretations or more developed analysis.

After students are able to create analysis that contains a number of successive interpretations, they can be taught to apply some specific sentence structures like these:

  • Not only………but
  • Even though/Despite

‘Not Only…..But’ How to teach it?

This instructional sequence assumes that students are secure with embedded evidence and are already able to write in response to texts. Teaching the ‘not only…but’ construction allows students to refine their ability to express complimentary perspectives when responding to texts. Additionally, this construction lends itself well to rhetorical or transactional writing. Although there are many ways of expressing multiple interpretations or complimentary ideas, choosing to teach a construction that has high utility  (in this case one that is able to be used across types of writing) ensures that instructional time is made as efficient as possible. Like with vocabulary, some things are more useful to students than others and as curriculum designers, we should always be thinking about the utility of what we choose to teach.

While the instructional sequence below could be seen as overly detailed, it was written to help the lowest performers in year 7; more able classes could probably cope with less practice at each stage. The sequence broadly follows the I-WE-YOU continuum. Apart from the first lesson in the sequence, each lesson below is not an entire lesson of instruction (we have 50 minute lessons) and the rest of the lesson would be taken up with other instructional sequences, application of previous content and other teaching. This approach aims to emulate the ‘track system’ that DI schemes use.

Lesson 1 Stage 1

Teacher writes an example (The ‘I’ Stage):

not only but lesson1 stage 1

The teacher can then label the example, drawing attention to the ‘not only……but’ construction. It is important to draw attention to the reversal of the subject and auxiliary verb here which has the form of a question (Not only has he decided).

Here are some possible questions that the teacher could ask about the worked example:

  • Read out the first interpretation
  • Read out the second one
  • Which words from the quotation are explained by the first interpretation?
  • What does the word ‘deep’ mean? What are the connotations of the word ‘black’ here?
  • Which words from the quotation are explained by the second interpretation?

When exploring processes and model answers, initial questions are often asked in order to focus student attention to the salient parts of what is being taught.

Whenever a teacher asks a question with only one desired answer (this describes most of the bullet points above), choral responses can be really useful. Choral responses massively increases student response rate, providing the teacher with the ability to make more valid inferences about the understanding of the class as a whole. With choral responses, everyone responds and everyone is expected to take part; with individual responses, most students are let off the hook and, notwithstanding the fact that many others may be paying attention, many may not be concentrating at all!

The teacher can then ask the students to precisely copy the example into their books. Students will then be able to use this initial worked example as an analogy when completing the next stage.

Lesson 1 Stage 2

The teacher writes half an answer. This is a completion problem (The ‘We’ stage)

not only but lesson 1 stage 2.png

The teacher should write until ‘Not Only’ and then stop. Stopping just before the reversal of the subject and auxiliary (Not only does this…) is important as it allows students to practice this potentially confusing aspect of the construction when they give oral responses, which, unlike written responses, can be immediately corrected if necessary. Students can be asked for ideas and interpretations regarding the chosen quotation and the teacher can then ask a range of students to orally complete the half written example. With really weak classes, the teacher may want to give a number of oral examples themselves before asking for student responses. When students give oral examples, it can be helpful to get them to narrate their punctuation, allowing the teacher to give instant corrective feedback regarding accuracy. After a number of students have orally completed the completion problem, all students can be asked to complete it in writing. The teacher can then circulate and find a perfect piece of work to show under the visualiser, using the student model to give feedback to all students: this example has a reversed verb form, check that yours does. This example has a comma before ‘but’, check that yours does. If it is clear that success rate is really high, then students can be asked to do independent massed practice.

Lesson 1 Stage 3:

Independent Massed Practice (The ‘You’ Stage)

In the initial stages of massed practice, students can be given ‘problems’ with prompts, ensuring that they know what to write about. Yes, student responses here will be very similar, but the purpose of these initial restrictive practice activities are to practice the form of the ‘Not only….but’ construction. In the absence of prompts, many students may stumble over their lack of ideas, precluding them from ever practising the desired construction. Later practice activities in later lessons would see these prompts removed, following Engelmann’s shift from prompted to unprompted formats.

lesson 1 stage 3

With this initial prompted practice activity, the teacher should give an oral example that demonstrates how to turn the notes (‘strength of man’/’witches’) into proper analytical sentences:

LM says ‘come you spirits unsex me here’. Not only does she want the strength of a man because she lives in a patriarchal society and was expected to be subservient, but she also uses the language of the witches, making her seem sinister.

The teacher can then ask for students to give oral responses. The notes (‘strength of man’/’witches’) are deliberately short so that there are a number of ways to complete the activity. If the notes were more detailed, there would be fewer possible responses and students would do less cognitive processing when converting them into proper analysis. All students can then be asked to complete the activity in writing in their books.

After this initial walk through of a restrictive practice activity, students can then be asked to complete a number of similar activities themselves:

not only but stage 3 second pic

Again, feedback can be given through showing a perfect student response and giving comments like:

  • My/Student X’s work starts with a Capital…check that yours does
  • My work has quotation marks around the evidence…………….check that yours does
  • My sentence makes sense….check that yours does
  • My interpretations fit the evidence and comment on it….check that yours does.
  • My ‘Not only…..but’ has a comma before ‘but’….check that yours does
  • My sentence ends with a full stop…..check that yours does.

Giving feedback like this is much more efficient than written marking. It is also immediate, following Engelmann’s idea that initial feedback should be instantaneous, thereby preventing errors from being learnt and misconception going unchallenged.

Later Lessons

While the first lesson was entirely dedicated to teaching ‘Not only…but’, subsequent lessons would probably involve many other foci and the suggestions below would only take up a small part of the lessons.

Lesson 2, 3 and 4

Students should be given more practice using models that contain the steps needed, like in ‘Lesson 1 Stage 3’.

Lesson 5, 6 and 7

The utility of the ‘Not Only…But’ construction can be broadened to include examples that fit ‘rhetoric’ and other texts. These examples should also demonstrate that the expression can be used without evidence or textual references. We should present the widest range of possible examples to students so that their understanding of what is being taught is made as broad as possible. Limited examples will result in limited understanding!

The teacher should present a broader range of examples, perhaps like these:

  • Not only is regicide a heinous crime, it was sacrilegious too, offending God himself.
  • Not only did Priestley believe that the upper classes were selfish, but he also wanted society to change and become more equal.
  • Not only was King James interested in the supernatural, but he also wrote a book about witches called ‘Demonology.’
  • Not only do school uniforms look terrible, but they stifle our individuality.

Using the examples above as analogies, students can then complete examples like these:

  • Not only does Sheila regret her actions, but….
  • As a lower class woman, not only is Eva destitute, but she…
  • Not only does Lady Macbeth subvert the conventions of femininity, but she…
  • Not only do phones provide a faster way to study, but they often make learning more enjoyable.

Lesson 8, 9 and 10

While lessons 1-4 involved students using prompts to help them know what to write about, at this point these prompts can be removed. Students could be given quotations that they know well- a good choice, at GCSE at least, are the quotations that they are expected to memorise and apply in their essays-so that they can then produce independent examples without support.

While lessons 5-7 involved students completing ‘not only…but’ sentences that can be applied in persuasive writing, in these later lessons, they can be given broad topic headings instead. The teacher can then ask them to produce two or three ‘not only…but’ constructions for each one.


Topic 1: Parents are overprotective

Not only do parents patronise teenagers by refusing to allow them sufficient freedom, but this results in resentment, causing teenagers to rebel further.

Later Lessons

Ask them to include ‘Not only But’ in their wider writing

General Points:

  • Do not expect them to use ‘Not Only…But’ in paragraphs or more extended writing until they are able to do it accurately and independently at a sentence level.
  • Success rate should be continually high at each stage (70-80% correct for all students)
  • If it is lower: maybe you need to provide more scaffolding, give more examples or move back a stage on the I-WE-YOU continuum

The 6 Skills part 3b: Techniques

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Tentative Language
  2. Three Part Explanation
  3. Zoom in/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

Why teach it?

If taught badly, focusing on techniques can be harmful, unfortunately resulting in students merely labelling language-often incorrectly- and not interpreting or responding to it. If taught well, students can use the terminology to ‘enhance rather than drive responses’ (AQA English Language Paper 1 Examiner’s Report June 2018), making links between language, form and ideas.

This article , written by Mark Roberts, argues that we should not shy away from teaching specific terminology. Mark makes the important point that ‘Feature spotting is a sign of sloppy teaching, rather than an indicator of an unnecessary term’, an assertion that I would agree with.

For some students, there is a certain allure to the nomenclature of literary techniques. Esoteric and technical, literary techniques are seen by some pupils as a clear marker of expertise. Students like learning and applying new vocabulary, particularly words that seem academic and recherché and one of our main roles as teachers of any subject is to broaden our students’ vocabularies.

However, if this allure becomes a fixation and the search for techniques becomes the sole ‘drive’ of student responses, then this can be detrimental: a student who believes that they must find a technique in an extract will panic and become demotivated when they cannot find one. Students should be taught that commenting upon techniques is one of many possible avenues of interpretation.

All techniques require analysis but not all analysis requires techniques! (Chiasmus!)

Students should know about the different methods and techniques that writers use to create effects: this will not only improve the precision of their analysis, but it can also help them develop the sophistication of their descriptive and rhetorical compositions. Knowing the meaning of ‘chiasmus’ (a rhetorical or literary figure in which words, grammatical constructions, or concepts are repeated in reverse order) can be incredibly useful and exploring how it is used in the texts that we teach is often used as a springboard to students practicing using the technique themselves. While persuasive writing is clearly more than applying a set of techniques, providing students with a tool box of approaches can go some way into improving the clarity, precision and tone of their writing.

‘Technique: What to teach?’

Students should be taught to recognize and identify specific techniques; they should also be taught how to make use of this knowledge by explicitly teaching the sentence forms that they will need to use when responding to a text. At the end of KS3, students should have mastered these two connected areas.

What to teach: Specific Techniques  

Here are some screenshots from our knowledge organisers, focusing on poetry:

Year 7: Poetry from Other Cultures

In our KS3 curriculum, the first year 7 unit is on poetry and we expect students to learn a number of poetic devices: most of them are word or sentence level techniques.

yr7 poetic techniques

Year 8: Romantic Poetry

In year 8, a second poetry unit introduces terminology connected with structure and form:

yr8 poetry

Yr.9: War

In year 9, students begin with a term long thematic unit on ‘War’ and they learn further terminology, including:




Previously, we asked students to learn almost the same body of knowledge every time they encountered a specific text type: this is what is referred to as a ‘spiral curriculum’ and I wrote about the problems with such an approach here.

Now, students are expected to master and retain the knowledge that we teach to them, something that is aided massively through systematic retrieval practice.  Students are regularly tested on their knowledge of the techniques that we teach and we deliberately ask them varied questions so that their understanding is deepened.

In year 7, the units that we teach are broadly focussed on one text type, the idea being that students will master the basic knowledge required when responding to that text type. From year 8 onwards, units become broader in scope, allowing student to encounter a range of text types, applying and adding to the knowledge that they mastered in year 7.

What to teach: Sentence Forms


In year 7, we teach students basic sentence structures like these:

The simile ‘……………….’ suggests…

The writer uses the noun ‘multitude’ to convey

The writer uses the simile ‘………………….’ to convey…

The use of a simile creates….

Yr8 and Yr9

Once students have mastered the basic forms that are taught in year 7, we teach a number of other constructions which integrate other analytical skills and grammatical structures. Before students are asked to integrate these different skills, they will have practiced and mastered them in isolation. As Engelmann points out, ‘prerequisite skills should be taught before the strategy itself’. Seen through the lens of Cognitive Load Theory , this makes complete sense: if you are asking students to combine different skills, then in order to prevent excessive and unwanted cognitive load, students should be proficient in each of the components, freeing up their working memories so that they can direct their attention to combining the skills.

Here is an example:

Caesar is described as being ‘like a colossus’, a simile that not only conveys the extent of his power and authority but also demonstrates his arrogant, pompous and supercilious nature.

This construction combines a number of different components, each of which were initially taught in years 7 and 8.

Here are some of the components:

1) Caesar is described as being ‘like a colossus’,

  • This particular structure for embedding is taught in year 7

2) simile

  • Although many know this from KS2, students learn this in the first unit in year 7

3) his arrogant, pompous and supercilious nature.

  • This is a 3 part explanation, one of the first analytical skills that we teach in year 7.

4) a simile that not only conveys the extent of his power and authority but also demonstrates his arrogant, pompous and supercilious nature.

5) not only….but

  • This particular structure allows students to create multiple interpretations, one of our 6 skills, and is normally taught at the beginning of year 8.

If we truly want to teach to mastery, ensuring that student success rate is consistently high, then we should teach the prerequisite skills for a strategy before the strategy itself. If students master the components, then they are much more likely to master the whole. Instructional sequences should move from simplified contexts to complex ones and an effective sequence should move from restricted, isolated drills to wider and freer application.

How to teach it?

Like with tentative language , zooming in and three part explanations, from the beginning of year 7 students will have encountered and read many sentences and model paragraphs containing this specific skill: our booklets deliberately model the skills that we want our students to master. Teachers can begin by highlighting and drawing attention to the specific constructions within these worked examples and asking students to copy their annotations.

An instructional sequence that teaches students how to identify and analyse techniques should probably be arranged similarly to the one that I explained in this post, beginning with plenty of worked examples and, through a process of backwards fading, ending with freer application. Initial teaching should take place over a minimum of two lessons, beginning with massed practice, and then moving to distributed practice. Initial practice should involve individual sentences, moving through to paragraphs and then finally wider, freer essay writing.

This table sketches out a possible instructional sequence:

instructional sequence table

Each column in the table refers to one or more of Engelmann’s ‘six shifts of task design’. The second column, labelled ‘Instructional Choice’, includes the shift from overtised to covertised strategies and initial lessons should make all steps explicit through a detailed process of demonstration, questioning and practice as explained in this post. The second column also includes the shift from prompted to unprompted formats.

In previous posts, I have outlined specific instructional sequences for teaching other analytical skills as well specific sentence constructions. The table above is deliberately generic, hopefully giving an overview of how to apply some of the ideas from Cognitive Load Theory and Engelmann’s DI to designing instructional sequences in general.

The sequence of lessons in the table is a rough approximation: how quickly you should move along the six shifts will be determined by feedback to the teacher from student output-if success levels are high, then support can be gradually withdrawn, students can begin to complete more steps independently and the context of practice can be made more complex.

Next Post: The 6 Skills part 4: Multiple Interpretations



The 6 Skills part 3a: Zooming In

This is the third part in a series of blogs exploring different analytical skills. The first part looked at tentative language; the second part looked at the 3 part explanation.

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Embedded Evidence
  2. 3 Part Explanation
  3. Zoom In/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

‘Zoom In: Why Teach it?

Literary analysis requires students to respond to both the bigger picture and the finer details within a text: sophisticated analytical writing will contain a well-balanced mixture of the wider overarching ideas-perhaps thematic concerns or authorial intention-and a ‘fine-grained’ analysis of salient textual evidence. If students are able to identify and interpret a significant word, phrase or technique, then this skill can help to develop the precision of their writing. Although more general textual references can also be effective, zooming in on a noteworthy word or two helps students to be specific, ensuring that their interpretations are firmly based in evidence from the text.

With regular practice in zooming in, students become more economical and efficient with how they use their quotations as they are conditioned into moving beyond merely making a cursory remark and then hastily moving on to the next piece of evidence, and instead ensuring that they analyse each significant word or phrase in turn. This can be particularly useful with lower attaining students who often fail to get the maximum usage out of a quotation.

‘Zoom In’: What to teach?

In the initial stages of instruction, students could be taught to respond to a piece of evidence and then zoom in on one or two significant words or phrases within it.


Creon angrily commands ‘never let some woman triumph over us’ showing his fury towards Antigone because of her defiance. The phrase ‘some woman’ conveys his scathing and dismissive attitude towards his niece.

While the instructional sequence below could be seen as overly detailed, it was written to help the lowest performers in year 7; more able classes could probably cope with less practice at each stage. The sequence broadly follows the I-WE-YOU continuum. Apart from the first lesson in the sequence, each lesson below is not an entire lesson of instruction (we have 50 minute lessons) and the rest of the lesson would be taken up with other instructional sequences, application of previous content and other teaching. This approach aims to emulate the track system that DI schemes use.

Like with tentative language and the three part explanation, from the beginning of year 7 students will have encountered and read many sentences and model paragraphs containing this specific skill: our booklets deliberately model the skills that we want our students to master.

LESSON 1: Step One

Present an example under the visualizer:

lesson 1 step 1 zoom in

The teacher can then label the example, ensuring that there is a prompt that links the zoomed in part to the original quotation. The teacher can then ask questions about it:

  • Why have I used the word ‘command’ here?
  • What does ‘phrase’ mean? Low attainers may need further practice on the difference between ‘word’ and ‘phrase’ and this can be taught through a series of examples and a test sequence much like the one described below in LESSON 1: Step Four
  • What have I zoomed in on? How do you know?

LESSON 1: Step Two

Present a second, minimally different example  under the visualizer:

lesson 1 step 2 Zoom in

Following Engelmann’s theory, the intention here is to ensure that all irrelevant aspects of the example are held constant. By carefully manipulating only the relevant aspects-in this case the part of the evidence that is being zoomed in upon-students are less likely to become confused. This second example deliberately zooms in on a word rather than a phrase: students should be presented with examples that cover the full range of the concept that is being taught and with ‘Zoom In’, students need to be able to zoom in on phrases as well as words.

The teacher can then ask questions about the second example:

  • What does ‘obstinate’ mean? This is a retrieval practice question
  • What have I zoomed in on? How do you know?

LESSON 1: Step Three

Present a third, minimally different example under the visualizer:

lesson 1 step 3

This third example contains two separate examples of zooming in, demonstrating how students can combine evidence in their responses. Looking for patterns and links between language and pieces of evidence-the two examples here both conveying a sense of resolve and certainty-is a key skill when analyzing a text. Later skills (evidence in explanation/link across the text) broaden the range and scope of this approach to using evidence.

The teacher can then ask questions about the third example:

  • What does ‘domineering’ mean? This is a retrieval practice question
  • What have I zoomed in on? How do you know?
  • How are ‘must’ and ‘never’ similar?

Presenting three minimally different examples allows students to see the breadth of the skill of ‘zooming in’. While there are certainly other variants of this concept, the range presented here gives a good starting point.

LESSON 1: Step Four


When teaching through examples, it is necessary to demonstrate the limits of the concept by presenting non-examples that are minimally different. One possible misconception for very low attaining students is that they will make poor choices as to which words or phrases to zoom in upon. Staying with the same example paragraph, the teacher can then present a sequence of examples and non-examples.

In the sequences below, the bold text are the examples that are presented to the students and the italicised words are the responses given by the teacher.

Teacher Presentation:

Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

 TEACHER: Can I Zoom in on this word? No. How do I know? Because there is nothing interesting to say about it.

Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

TEACHER: Can I Zoom in on this phrase? Yes. How do I know? Because I can say something interesting about it.

The teacher should stress the underlined words here to make clear the difference between the Yes and No response.

Student Test Sequence:

A student test sequence is designed to test whether students have made the intended generalization. DI schemes teach ‘the general case’ and students are expected to perform on examples that have not been taught directly: their success is dependent upon the careful selection of examples and non-examples within the teaching and testing sequences. Importantly, the test is in an unpredictable order (not YES/NO/YES/NO), ensuring that the teacher can gain valid inferences from student responses. Student responses should ideally be given chorally, maximizing their response rate and further ensuring that the teacher can make valid inferences about whole class performance: if only one student answers a question, this is a pretty poor measurement of the understanding of the group as a whole.

 Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

 TEACHER: Your turn: Can I Zoom in on this word?


TEACHER: How do I know?

STUDENT: Because there is nothing interesting to say about it.

 Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

 TEACHER: Your turn: Can I Zoom in on this word?


TEACHER: How do I know?

STUDENT: Because there is nothing interesting to say about it.

 Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

 TEACHER: Your turn: Can I Zoom in on this phrase?


TEACHER: How do I know?

STUDENT: Because I can say something interesting about it.

 Creon angrily commands ‘We must defend the men who live by law, never let some woman triumph over us’

 TEACHER: Your turn: Can I Zoom in on this phrase?


TEACHER: How do I know?

STUDENT: Because there is nothing interesting to say about it.

 I have deliberately chosen reasonably clear cut cases here as the intention is to get students to recognize that they need to choose interesting words or phrases that are worthy of analysis. There are obviously going to be words that may be worthy of analysis, but I am focusing on the easiest discriminations first. Two of the overarching theoretical ideas from Theory of Instruction support this decision: firstly, we should teach easy skills before harder ones and secondly, consistent instances should be taught before exceptions. This post explores these ideas in more depth.

LESSON 2,3,4

DI programmes never teach something in just one lesson, instead spreading initial demonstration and teaching across at least two or three lessons. In these next few lessons, the teacher should follow a very similar process to lesson one except with a different set of examples for each lesson. While these examples should focus on the same specific types of ‘zoom in’ (a word/a phrase/two separate words that are to be combined to strengthen a line of argument), they should have a different content focus each lesson. They could focus on a different character, be from a different part of the text or even come from a different text altogether. If we are to teach to the general case, ensuring that students learn a skill that can be generalized, we need to present a sufficient range of examples. If we only present limited range of examples, the danger is that students will incorrectly infer that the concept is limited to the instances that they have experienced.

While the examples in lesson one had a prompt arrow linking the zoomed in word or phrase with the quotation that it came from, this prompt could now be removed.

LESSON 5 Step 1

While earlier lessons involved the teacher presenting examples to the students, these lessons should see students completing examples that have been started by the teacher.

The teacher can begin by writing an embedded quotation:

Tiresias explains that ‘stubbornness brands you for stupidity-pride is a crime’ because he wants Creon to recognize he is at fault.

The teacher can then give students further practice on choosing words worthy of analysis:

Teacher Presentation:

Tiresias explains that ‘stubbornness brands you for stupidity-pride is a crime’ because he wants Creon to recognize he is at fault.

TEACHER: Can I Zoom in on this word? No. How do I know? Because there is nothing interesting to say about it.

Student Test Sequence:

 Like in lesson one, student responses should ideally be choral, allowing students to maximize the amount of practice that they complete.

 Tiresias explains that ‘stubbornness brands you for stupidity-pride is a crime’ because he wants Creon to recognize he is at fault.

TEACHER: Your Turn: Can I Zoom in on this word?


TEACHER: How do I know?

STUDENT: Because I can say something interesting about it

TEACHER: What can you say that is interesting?

The teacher can then use this final question as an opportunity for individual students to give interpretations and analysis. The teacher should insist that a student expresses their ideas using the same language that they will be expected to use in their writing as well as NARRATING the punctuation: this maximizes student practice whilst allowing the teacher to make precise and swift corrections with regards to accuracy.

EXAMPLE STUDENT RESPONSE: The word QUOTATION MARKS brands QUOTATION MARKS has connotations of pain as if Creon’s decision is causing him to suffer.

 After listening to the oral example, students can write their own, zooming in on the same word. Because of the restrictive nature of the task-all students will produce something very similar-feedback can be precise. The teacher can either use their own model or another student’s work to give feedback (like LESSON 1 step 3 in this blog).

LESSON 5 Step two

The teacher can then present a series of additional examples, covering a broad range of structures and containing opportunities to practice all forms of zooming in (one word/one phrase/two separate words to be combined). While earlier instructional sequences had prompts and opportunities to practice choosing an interesting word, this and later practice sequences should see students making choices themselves in the absence of visual prompts, fading support so that students gradually learn to complete the skill independently.

Here are two possible examples:

Tiresias warns Creon that ‘Great hatred rises against you-cities in tumult’ in order to make Creon aware of the ramifications of his obstinacy.

 Creon is ‘poised once more on the razor edge of fate’ because of the difficult decision he has to make.

Students could then be asked to copy each example and add in a second sentence that zooms in on a word or phrase. These are completion problems, allowing students to

Later Lessons

This skill can then be integrated with other skills and students can be asked to complete restricted, interleaved practice drills as explained in this post.

‘Zoom in’ should then be included as a success criteria in increasingly wider writing, beginning with isolated paragraph practice. Eventually, this prompt should be removed, the expectation being that students know that this skill is required when responding to texts.

General Points:

  • Do not expect them to use ‘Zoom In’ in a paragraph or more extended writing until they are able to do it accurately and independently at a sentence level.
  • Success rate should be continually high at each stage (70-80% correct for all students)
  • If it is lower: maybe you need to provide more scaffolding, give more examples, move back a stage on the I-WE-YOU continuum

I originally intended to include ‘Technique’ in this post but I will write a follow up that explores this skill on its own. Perhaps this means that the 6 Skills should actually be The 7 skills!

Next Post: Teaching Techniques


The 6 Skills part 2: The Three Part Explanation

The 6 Skills: Three part Explanation

Analytical Progression Model

  1. Tentative Language
  2. 3 Part Explanation
  3. Zoom In/Technique
  4. Multiple Interpretations
  5. Evidence in Explanation
  6. Link Across Text

Why Teach it?

Like a Tricolon in rhetoric, a three part explanation allows a writer to present three, sequential ideas about a piece of evidence. Skillfully unpacking a quotation often results in a range of interconnected yet distinct interpretations and the students who are able to recognize and explore these nuances demonstrate a deeper understanding of the text that they are analysing.

What to teach?

In the initial stages of instruction, students could be taught to respond to a piece of evidence with three ideas.


Napolean spoke ‘in a terrible voice’ demonstrating his tyrannical, authoritarian and oppressive nature.

How to teach it?

While the instructional sequence below could be seen as overly detailed, it was written to help the lowest performers in year 7; more able classes could probably cope with less practice at each stage. The sequence broadly follows the I-WE-YOU continuum.

Like with tentative language, from the beginning of year 7 students will have encountered and read many sentences and model paragraphs containing this specific skill: our booklets deliberately model the skills that we want our students to master.

LESSON 1: Step One

The teacher writes a short paragraph that uses a three part explanation:

3 part henry

The teacher can then label the three part explanation and ask questions about it:

  • Where is the evidence and how do you know?
  • Is the evidence embedded and how do you know?
  • What does ‘respectful’ mean?
  • Why is there a comma between polite and kind?
  • Why does he need to be ‘polite/kind/respectful’?

Students should then copy the model paragraph into their books, labelling it in exactly the same way. At this point, the teacher can ask them to check specific things. Instead of have you checked your work, it is probably more useful-at least with novice learners-to ask them to check for the most likely mistakes:

CHECK 1: Have you got quotation marks around your evidence?

CHECK 2: Full stops?

CHECK 3: Capitals?

LESSON 1 Step Two

Write another paragraph and then get them to label it. They can use their first model as an analogy, allowing you to test their ability to generalise to another example. While you could cold call students and ask them to tell you each of the three parts of the explanation, this only allows feedback from a maximum of three students. Instead-and copying the approach in DI programmes-you could ask for a choral response, allowing all students to respond at the same time.

3 part henry2.png

LESSON 1 Step Three

Following the idea of backwards fading, the teacher can then present a skeletal plan version of a paragraph containing a three part explanation:

3 part henry3

First, the teacher can give a spoken model of how this plan can be converted into a full, written construction:

EXAMPLE: Henry calls his men QUOTATION MARKS noble QUOTATION MARKS because he thinks they are brave, worthy of respect and honourable FULL STOP

Narrating the punctuation draws attention to it, making all important steps overt and explicit. After the teacher has given an oral example, a stronger student can have a go. Yes, this initial task is mimicry, but it reinforces the form and conventions of the structure and allows students to experience instant success. After a further few oral examples from more competent students, the teacher could ask for a choral response, maximising the response rate of all students.

Once the teacher is happy that the class success rate is very high, students should then write a response, using the same skeletal plan. While students are writing, the teacher can circulate and give instant feedback, correcting student errors.

Because of the restrictive nature of the task, the teacher is able to give instant and precise feedback to the students. The more precise the feedback, the more useful it is. The teacher can show their perfect example under the visualiser, or even better, find a perfect bit of work from a student and show that. With the work under the camera and pointing to the relevant bit, the teacher can draw attention to different elements:

  • My/Student X’s work starts with a Capital…check that yours does
  • My work has quotation marks around the evidence…………….check that yours does
  • My sentence makes sense….check that yours does
  • My 3 part explanation has a comma in between the first and second ideas….check that yours does
  • My sentence ends with a full stop…..check that yours does.

Students should be given time in between each of these instructions to complete the relevant check.

Error checking or giving feedback using a model is much more efficient than marking. It is also instant as there is no need for the student to wait. In early stages of instruction, feedback should be instant so that errors do not become embedded. Unpicking errors and misconceptions can take a very long time: it is much more efficient to prevent them in the first place.

Lesson 2, 3 and 4

Students should do more practice using paragraph plans, following the same process as step three in lesson 1:

3part henry 4

If student success rate is high, you could ask them to come up with their own interpretations. You can then ask them to add a further clause that explains why:

,so he can win the battle/so that they will  destroy the enemy

Lesson 5 and 6

No note plans this time, ask them to do it independently.

Later Lessons

Ask them to include 3 part explanations in their wider writing. Initially you should include prompts to remind them to use the skill and these should be removed once students demonstrate the ability to produce the skill. In Expressive Writing, the DI remedial writing scheme, students are asked to underline the construction after they have finished, providing a further prompt to remind them to include it in their wider writing: this can be really helpful. In Theory of Instruction, Engelmann states that if students fail to produce a desired behavior or specific skill within a wider, less restrictive application (in this case paragraphs without scaffolding) then the teacher should highlight the ‘sameness’ between the original restrictive drills (in this case, the paragraph plan exercises) and the wider application.

General Points:

  • Do not expect them to use 3 part explanations in a paragraph or more extended writing until they are able to do it accurately and independently at a sentence level.
  • Success rate should be continually high at each stage (70-80% correct for all students)
  • If it is lower: maybe you need to provide more scaffolding, give more models, move back a stage on the I-WE-YOU continuum