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

5 thoughts on “The 6 Skills part 2: The Three Part Explanation”

  1. Hi Tom
    Superb as always on ensuring students benefit from modelling and practice.
    Wondering what your thoughts are on a possible issue (if at all) if the three part explanation is not simply synonyms of the central idea, but opposing or concurrent ideas that would require individual explaining?


    1. Hi Paul,
      You are right that, if done badly, this technique can result in synonyms which may add little to the analysis, at least with regards to depth or the development of argument. If done well, it can provide students with an opportunity to tease out nuance via their three part explanation-they can then go on to develop and explain these ideas further. This post really only covers the teaching of the initial technique.

      Low ability GCSE students (particularly when dealing with unseen language extracts) find this technique invaluable for ensuring that they remember to make a number of comments or interpretations about the evidence that they choose.

      Hope that helps to clarify things!


  2. These posts are superb. Eagerly anticipating the next instalments and would love to collaborate in some form in the future. I have a responsibility for new curriculum planning and so many of my materials are either modelled on approaches explicated within this blog, or using a methodology that mirrors it very closely.


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