Explicit Instruction Stage 1: Retrieval Practice. 10 Minute writes

This is the first post in a series that will focus on the different stages of a typical explicit instructional sequence. You can find a generic lesson plan for an explicit instruction lesson here. Although many of the stages within that lesson plan may happen within a single lesson, they may also span multiple lessons.

Retrieval Practice Strategies

For an overview of some of the theory and a range approaches to retrieval practice, see these posts:

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 1

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 2

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 3

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 4

Low Stakes Quizzing and Retrieval Practice 5

While closed questions and extended quizzing can be really useful to build, organise and connect knowledge (particularly with students who are novices in that they lack relevant prior knowledge), asking student to apply their knowledge in small bursts of extended writing can also be really useful.

10 minute writes

I often start lessons with a recall/application task that asks students to write about what we have learnt and discussed in the previous lesson. Students are asked to write for 10 mins in response to a question prompt. Here are some examples:

Example 1: Jekyll and Hyde

Sometimes I ask students to list the prompts first as a retrieval exercise before asking them to write; sometimes I provide the list of prompts to remind them of things that they could write about, making it clear that there may be many other things that you could explore and that this is not an exhaustive list. As they write, I can go round and check that they are on the right track. The prompts can also act as a useful AfL strategy: if students can’t remember or do not fully understand them, I can stop and reteach the ideas, perhaps through some notes or live modelled writing under the camera.

Example 2: An Inspector Calls

In this example, I asked students to initially make some notes for 2 mins in response to the question. After that, I took suggestions from the class, writing notes under the camera and telling students that they should add anything that they don’t have to their notes. Each idea, once displayed to the class, then can form the basis of a think-pair-share discussion. For example, after writing ‘Entrances and Exits-women leave when discussion is serious!’, you could ask  What does that tell you about gender? How do the entrances and exits mirror Edwardian society? This process could be repeated for each note before then asking students to write for 10 mins using the ideas.

Example 3: Jekyll and Hyde

In the previous lesson, we had read, annotated and discussed a model essay that explored some of the dichotomies within the novella and these are listed as prompts under the question.

Example 4: An Inspector Calls

Sometimes, if I think it is necessary to build knowledge, I will start with a model answer to one of these questions:

Sometimes this is written live under the camera as I explain my thought process and choices of language; other times I display the model and ask students to borrow and adapt ideas from it. At this stage, student answers are close to mimcry but this may be an important first step on the journey towards flexible knowledge and independent practice.

Example 5: An Inspector Calls and Macbeth

Because I want students to remember these ideas-they have high utility and fit many possible examination questions-I often ask students to write about them again at a later date, sometimes increasing the scope of the question like this:

Example 6: Macbeth

This example points students to a particular page in one of our booklets which they can use to support them in writing their answer. In later lessons, I will ask them to write without this support, increasing the challenge.

Possible Benefits of this Approach:

  1. It provides students with lots of writing practice, building their writing fluency and stamina as well as helping them to think deeply about important content.
  2. It acts as a useful form of AfL: if students cannot incorporate a particular note or prompt, it probably needs reteaching.
  3. Students can use the ideas that I provide or they are free to add their own.
  4. When they are writing, I can walk round and check. I often stop the class to draw their attention to something that someone has written to give them additional ideas and interpretations: Rachel has cleverly argued that Macbeth’s anagnorisis doesn’t really come until his nihilistic comment that life is ‘but a walking shadow’.
  5. Students who regularly write about high utility, abstract ideas in response to a range of different question prompts are more likely to be able to apply these to a different question prompt. Transfer is difficult to achieve but one way of helping students to achieve it is to show the similarity across different tasks, essentially helping them to group examples (in this case the ideas) under a superordinate category (in this case the questions) through a process of induction.

Possible detriments to this approach:

  1. If you don’t gradually fade away the support (remove the prompts etc) then students are unlikely to be able to do it independently.
  2. If you don’t use distributed practice, students may not retain what they are practising.
  3. If your students didn’t pay attention to the previous lesson where the content was originally taught, retrieval will be ineffective. Failed retrieval can, however, be mitigated through feedback after the task: this could be through deconstructing a model answer under the camera and asking students to make amendments so that their answer is of a similar quality.
  4. If the ideas that you are asking them to write about are not as transferable as possible (i.e. they only fit a very narrow set of possible question prompts), this may not be an efficient use of their time: some ideas are more useful than others!
  5. If students do not fully understand the components that you are asking them to combine in these wider tasks, you may be better focussing on more restrictive practice tasks before gradually combining them.

Moving From Drills to Wider Application

Teaching writing through restrictive practice activities can be an efficient way of developing student expertise but how can you bridge the gap between drills and wider application? One of the concerns about using restrictive practice activities is that they result in ‘splinter skills’ where students are unable to apply what they have learned in wider writing. In Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching, the authors suggest that this can be avoided if

‘students understand how the pieces (i.e., skills) fit and by bringing the pieces together through contextualized practice and expanded instruction.’

But what does this mean? How can we avoid ‘splinter skills’ so that students are able to independently apply what we teach them to the widest possible range of relevant contexts?

Here is an example lesson for year 8 where students were asked to apply components to a piece of extended writing:

TASK 1: Retrieval Quiz

This was to activate relevant prior knowledge that they would need in their essay

Success Criteria

Because they had spent the previous lesson discussing the ideas in vocab table and annotating an extract, we went straight into extended writing. I wrote these success criteria, explaining that they needed to include all of these things AND that this may mean their writing would be slower and more deliberate than normal:

Apart from ‘vocab table’ which reminds students that they could use words that they had learned last lesson, the other success criteria were initially taught in sentence drills across multiple (15 or so) lessons before this point. Students had also completed shorter paragraph length pieces of writing where they were asked to include one or two of the components. At this point, all (except 2 students who still make errors) were able to use them accurately and fairly fluently. This lesson was one of the first where I asked them to integrate so many components in a more extended piece of writing.

I asked them all to begin with an appositive sentence. I wrote mine as an example. They are free to use my ideas but they are not allowed to directly copy my sentences:

They then wrote for 30mins or so while I wrote under the camera, labelling where I had met the success criteria:

Writing my model in front of the class gives further support for students who need it. As I write, I occasionally stop and ask them to watch me complete a certain components so that they are reminded to include the same construction or skill in their writing. Sometimes I stop writing and walk around the class to check student work in order to find students who have included the components in their work. Temi has included a brilliant appositive construction, listen: ‘A symbol of his increasing savagery, Jack’s stick makes him seem like a predator’ Well done Temi. These interruptions necessarily slow everyone down but at this stage, this is fine as they help ensure that students bridge the gap between drills and wider application. Further along an instructional sequence, these reminders are removed and students write without a labelled model to support them.

Check list for self-assessment

Once students have finished writing their extended piece, they could be asked to underline where they have included the components in their essay. Alternatively, they could tick off each success criteria that they have met. If they have missed any out, they could write these as stand alone sentences underneath, providing some additional practice.

The teacher could either display a good piece of student work under the visualiser to demonstrate how a student has integrated these components or they could ask individual students to read out specific components, providing further models for the class to hear.

What is Next?

This lesson can be seen as guided practice (Or the ‘We’ stage from I-We-You) as students are being asked to perform with a lot of assistance. Later lessons in an instructional sequence may involve:

  1. Asking student to list the success criteria, providing retrieval practice of the components that may form an extended piece of writing
  2. Asking students to write in the absence of a model
  3. Asking students to write without interruptions from the teacher
  4. Distributed practice, gradually asking students to complete it in shorter time frames to help build fluency

Whole School Home Learning Strategy Part 2

In my last post, I outlined how we have helped staff ensure that they are setting appropriate home learning. I also explained how staff can help increase submission rates.

This post will explore how we have helped students become more organised and develop better study habits.

Home Learning timetable

Class teachers are asked to set and collect home learning on the same day each week to make it as easy as possible for students to meet their deadlines.

Academic Planner

All students are provided with a simple A5 academic planner which they are expected to have with them at all times. This contains their lesson timetable and home learning timetable at the front. Students record all their home learning in this planner, making it easy for parents, teachers and leaders to check that a student is being organised. For each piece of home learning, they are expected to record the following things:

  1. What is the home learning?
  2. When is it due?
  3. When will I do it?
  4. Where will I do it?

This approach borrows ideas from Harry Fletcher Wood’s writing on behavioural psychology. Asking students to write down when and where they will do it will hopefully make it more likely that students will complete the task. Not only are they holding themselves to account by being more specific with their intentinos, but they are also developing the kind of organisational habits that we would associate with efficient, successful people. Regularly thinking about the week ahead and arranging their time will hopefully translate into the ability to plan their time better. I cannot do it on Tuesday evening because I have football practice…Wednesday looks good, I can do it at 7:30pm after my dinner. I’ll do it in the kitchen. My brother needs the laptop so I will go to home learning club on Wednesday at 3:20 and borrow a laptop to complete it.

Home Learning and Study Skills Curriculum

Every week, we dedicate one form time session to teach students how to be better learners as well as checking that their academic diaries are being used properly. Here are some of the topics that we cover:

  1. The science of learning
  2. Ineffective study strategies
  3. How to self-quiz efficiently
  4. Deliberate Practice
  5. Spaced Learning
  6. Interleaving
  7. The Pomodoro Technique
  8. Using flash cards: the Leitner method and other approaches
  9. How to use your academic planner

Home Learning Club

Every day, we run home learning club after school and anyone is allowed to attend. This is a quiet study room where students can borrow a laptop if they need to. This is to help students who may not have a suitable place to study or who may have problems with accessing the internet or using a suitable device at home.

Accountability and Communicatoin

For a whole school strategy to be effective, everyone involved needs to be clear as to what their responsibilities are as well as how they will be held to account by others.

Here is an overview of who is responsible for what:

The intention here is to be as clear as possible whilst also creating the conditions where we can easily work out why a student has not completed their home learning. Is it because they are not using their planner properly? Is their teacher fully supporting them to complete their home learning?

Here is a more detailed version for Heads of Department:

Here is a more detailed version for class teachers:

So far, these expectations have not changed since the start of the year and I have been repeating them through as many relevant channels as possible, including staff briefings, emails and meetings.

Using data

If students do not complete their home learning, they are given a detention, which is logged on our behavioural system. Our school has a centralised detention system which means that this is easy for teachers to set detentions and difficult for students to avoid them. We can see which teachers are setting home learning detentions; which departments set lots of detentions; which students receive them and finally, we can monitor trends over time.

Every two weeks

I check which staff have given detentions-if a staff member has not logged a home learning detention, the assumption is that all their students have done their home learning properly. While this is possible, it is also possible that they are not holding students to account properly so I can speak to their HOD to investigate further. Perhaps they are not setting regular home learning? Perhaps the home learning is not reasonable or suitable? Perhaps they are not checking that students are recording their home learning properly? Perhaps they are not being consistent with sanctions? Or, perhaps they are doing everything right and deserve some well earned praise!

Every Friday

I check which students have been given the most home learning detentions in each year group. These students are asked to come to compulsory home learning club.  I send a list to the office who contact home using a script that outlines why the student needs to attend along with a list of answers to some to questions that parents may ask. These students attend compulsory home learning club on Monday and Tuesdays where they are supervised by a senior member of staff. Class teachers provide outstanding work for them to complete in these sessions so that they can catch up and this also functions as a further deterrent against non-submission.

Last summer, I visited Stepney All Saints School and Ashcroft Technology Academy. We owe a debt of gratitude to these fantastic schools as much of our approach is inspired by their approaches.

Whole School Home Learning Strategy part 1

One of my senior leadership roles, and one of our key strategic priorities as a school, is the improvement of whole school home learning.

But what is it that makes a good home learning strategy?

For it to be truly successful, it will require staff, students and parents to be doing the right things. An effective strategy will upskill all of these groups, providing clear guidelines and support whilst also having an efficient quality assurance process, holding them to account if they fall short of what is expected.

This post will focus on staff.

Staff: What makes useful home learning?

In order to ensure that staff are setting home learning tasks that seem purposive, reasonable and achievable, we began by setting some parameters. These were initially presented in an INSET and can also be found in our Staff Handbook. They also help subject leads and line managers to hold staff to account as there are clear expectations.

Amount of Home Learning

Home learning should be approximately 15 mins per lesson. For example, if staff teach a class for one lesson per week, they should set 15 mins home learning per week. If staff teach a class for 2 lessons per week, they should set 30mins home learning per week.

Examples of useful home learning

The list below is not exhaustive, instead acting as guide.

Self-Quizzing/Retrieval Practice

Self-quizzing should focus on specific content from knowledge organisers, key word lists or booklets. It should be an achievable amount of memorisation. Staff should teach students how to self-quiz effectively and efficiently, modelling how to do it in class. Submission day should involve a test to check that students have done the work.

Independent practice

This style of home learning will follow on from modelling, explanation and guided practice that occurred in a lesson. Pupils must have demonstrated a high success rate in guided practice in lessons before being asked to complete independent practice without support-all pupils must be able to complete practice without teacher support.

Teachers should give feedback. This could be feedback to the teacher through sampling the work to ascertain what the misconceptions are and what needs teaching next; alternatively, feedback could be for the student. An efficient way of doing this is through model answers, allowing student to compare their work to the model, meaning minimal written marking for the teacher.

Reading and Text Dependent Questions

Chosen texts must be accessible enough for all pupils to attempt without support and text dependent questions should be used to check for understanding. This style of task could involve wider reading to broaden their knowledge base connected to what is being learned in class, or it could involve information that will then be discussed and used in class. Submission day should involve a focus on the text that students were asked to read for home learning to check that it has been completed.

Online learning Platforms

Wherever possible, we use online learning platforms to assist with home learning as they can often save teachers time as well as providing an easy way to check if students have done their work. Here are some that we use:

Seneca learning

This has modules and courses for most school subjects and allows teachers to set specific assignments and see exactly how much of the work a student has completed.


Mathswatch has thousands of explanatory videos and practice questions that staff can assign to students.


Commonlit has thousands of articles, poems, speeches and extracts on a wide range of topics. We use ‘guided reading mode’ to set KS3 English home learning each week.

Examples of bad home learning

In order to define something, it is often useful to provide non-examples . Here’s a list of home learning tasks that are unlikely to be useful:

Open ended research type activities e.g. research glaciation/use the internet to find out about The Peasants Revolt

There may of course be times when this style of task is appropriate but more often than not, such tasks are an inefficient way of learning. As an example, I used to teach in an international school in Penang and I remember a history teacher asking his class to research Chariots as part of their unit on the Romans. Two students submitted some writing on The Chariot, a hardcore punk band from Georgia, USA.

Independent Practice before pupils have demonstrated a consistently high success rate in guided practice

If students are given independent practice, skipping guided practice, this may result in disengagement as students will find the independent practice work too difficult and, as a result, will quickly give up.

A mismatch between content and task design

Home learning where the nature or medium of the task detracts from or limits student thinking about the actual content should be avoided. Asking students to make posters, models or powerpoints may be examples of poor task design in some subjects.

Tasks that can only be completed by the most dedicated or high attaining pupils in the class

Memorisation home learning that focusses on low utility knowledge or things that aren’t really relevant

Too much variance in the nature and style of home learning tasks: novelty can cause confusion.

Behavioural Nudges

After defining effective home learning may look like, I wanted to help staff to increase the amount of submissions by nudging students in the right direction, using insights from behavioural psychology. This (and many other) blogs from Harry Fletcher Wood and this report from ‘The Behavioural Insights Team’ have massively helped shape our approach.

Harry’s writing pointed me in the direction of the EAST framework: students are much more likely to complete their home learning if it is Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely. The following list of tips are based on these four ideas:

  • All home learning should be a maximum of a week cycle: if the work is more than can be completed in a week (e.g. a project or extended piece) it must be split up into smaller goals and spread across multiple week-long cycles
  • Habit forming requires repeated actions in stable conditions. Home learning should be set and collected on the same day each week. The nature, medium and format of tasks should be predictable so pupils know what to expect. Novelty and excessive variance of task type should be avoided wherever possible
  • Pre-empt barriers to completion: address possible reasons for not completing work and provide solutions. E.g. ‘Please come and see me if you can’t do the home learning: I can help or reexplain.’If you lose the sheet, it is on TEAMS.’ ‘If you know you will be absent the next few days because of the trip, you need to start this evening.’
  • Get pupils to pre-plan when, where and how they will do their home learning and share this plan with another pupil or the class. All pupils have an academic diary: they must have this in lessons and write their home learning in it.
  • Teach students how to be organised and take advantage of spaced learning by showing them how to plan out the work across the week. E.g. if you set 10 concept + definitions to learn, they need to learn 2 on day 1, 2 on day 2 (checking the first 2), 2 on day 3 (checking the first 4) etc.
  • If you can, remind pupils through the week of where they should be. E.g. ‘Home learning was set 3 days ago-you probably should have learned 4 concepts by now.’ You can include these items in retrieval practice in lessons that fall between setting and submission as a further nudge, praising those who are on track
  • Build the social norm of completing and submitting home learning by telling the class things like ‘most people have done their home learning and this will help them because…’ If compliance is low, don’t advertise this by saying things like ‘hardly anyone has done the task’ as this could reinforce the fact that avoiding doing home learning is a social norm.
  • If compliance is reasonable, think about publicly advertising completion. This could be in the form of a table on the board with green/red squares or something similar
  • All types of home learning require public checking/feedback on hand in day: pupils need to know that the work matters and that they will be held to account
  • There must be a consequence if they don’t do the work. This should be a detention in the first instance. Multiple instances of non-completion must result in parental contact

Next Post: Whole School Home Learning Strategy Part 2: Supporting Students and Quality Assurance

I-We-You/Explicit Instruction: An Example Lesson

I have just started teaching Lord of The Flies to a year 8 class and here is an example lesson that follows an I-We-You/Explicit Instruction approach:

I want students to understand and enjoy the texts that we teach and be able to grapple with the big ideas that are contained within them; however, I also want them to learn how to write with precision and sophistication. Lessons often involve tasks that address both of these aims.

What we did in the previous lesson:

We read Chapter 1 of the book, stopping to discuss bits using think-pair share. I read the first 70% out loud; I asked the class to read the last 30% or so individually in their heads, followed by some text dependent questions.

What they can do already:

We split up analytical writing into distinct skills. We model, drill and practice these before combining them into wider pieces of writing. This is so that students become accurate and fluent and develop flexible knowledge that they are eventually able to apply to the widest possible range of relevant contexts. This class are already proficient at tentative language, zooming in on words and multiple interpretations. They are also able to write appositive phrases.

This lesson:


Students were asked to re-read the final two pages of Chapter 1 and think about what Jack is doing and saying and why.


1. I wrote this question on the board:

2.I added the purple explanation to explain what ‘presented’ means.

3.I asked them to Think Pair Share about how Jack feels and why he is acting like that.

4. I asked for lots of ideas and feedback from the class, using ‘ABC questioning’:

Agree=Paraphrase what someone said about Jack to demonstrate understanding

    Build upon= add an additional idea to what someone said (multiple interpretations)

    Challenge= disagree with what someone said and explain why.

    5. I then showed my LOTF book under the visualiser to model finding evidence.

    • I chose a particular sentence and then made the important point that only 2 words were really of interest (I have drummed into them that evidence should be as short and concise as possible)
    • I wrote my evidence into my book under the camera

    6. I asked them to find 5 more bits of evidence, reminding them that a single word or phrase would be best.

    7. I collected some evidence and wrote it under the camera, telling the class to write down any they like so that everyone has at least 5 (this then helps kids who were struggling and allows them to do the next task)

    8. We discussed these quotes using Think Pair Share

    9. We all wrote this title:

    10. I gave some spoken examples of appositives to remind them of what they are. They had all completed a 15+ lesson instructional sequence last term moving them from models to completion problems to free, independent practice. I knew that they could all write this style of sentence but, in order for ALL of them to be successful in the later tasks, I felt that it was important to activate prior knowledge here and give them some reminder.

    11. I showed this model:

    12.I drew their attention to the following things, explaining their importance and function:

    • The ‘When’ clause in the first sentence which contextualises the subsequent analysis
    • The appositive which allows me to label the method as well as connecting it to its effect.
    • The ‘Not only….but’ part which facilitates my multiple interpretations.
    • The final ‘Despite’ sentence which adds another idea.

    13.I then asked them to do their own using the word ‘white’, giving them this paragraph plan:

    Students were able to use my initial model as a guide. The word ‘white’ has a potentially very similar meaning in this context to ‘pause’, the evidence in my first model. This similarity meant that their initial guided practice was very successful, motivating students as they realised that they could do it.

    14. While they were writing, I went round, giving help, checking etc

    15. When they had finished , I showed one kid’s work under the camera, providing a model of success that the others could use to compare theirs against.

    16. I asked them to do a second, restrictive practice task, turning this paragraph plan into proper writing:

    This is a bit harder because the quote is not a word, it is a statement/comment/remark etc and they will need to adapt their appositive slightly. I also asked them what kind of remark it is: angry? Frustrated? Embittered? (adding an adjective before the appositive adds to nuance) e.g. …., a frustrated remark that…. I also asked them to add ‘ZOOM IN’ as well. Because they know how to do this (taught in yr7), there was no need to model it.

    Success rates were very high for all students but I cannot take this as evidence of learning as they have had so much support here, so this is what will come next….

    10+ lessons of restrictive drills practising this construction, moving from MODELS to paragraph plans to independent writing.

    • I will begin to further combine this with other things (Zoom in/Authorial Intent etc)
    • I will ask them to write increasingly more (1 evidence-2 evidence-3 evidence etc)
    • Eventually they will be writing with just success criteria and then with no prompts whatsoever

    Macbeth: Some Ideas and Interpretations

    Here are some collected interpretations and analyses that I have used when teaching Macbeth.

    Cyclical Structure: inversion.

    The witches begin the play by saying ‘fair is foul and foul is fair’, a chiasmus that could convey the cyclical structure of the play and Macbeth’s narrative journey. At the start of the play, Scotland is ‘fair’ because of ‘brave’ Macbeth, a lauded war hero who has killed a traitor. As the play continues, Macbeth commits regecide, changing Scotland into a ‘foul’ place as it suffers under his ‘slaughterous’ reign. The play ends in an inversion of its beginning, just like the chiasmus that the witches ominously say in the opening scene: Macbeth is the traitorous ‘butcher’ who is killed by Macduff, restoring order and making Scotland ‘fair’ again. Perhaps Shakespeare is accentuating the pleasing inevitability of justice and how the divine order will prevail. Perhaps he also exposing the futility of usurpation and insurrection as both insurrectionists, Mcdonald and Macbeth, fail in their attempts to disrupt and therefore invert the natural order. If we take the witches’ opening chiasmus as foreshadowing the ending, this also points to the power of fate and destiny. While Shakespeare could be highlighting the idea that all human action is led by fate or God’s plan, he could also be hinting at the malign agency of the supernatural as if the witches themselves dictate the events of the play. Interestingly, the witches speak in trochaic tetrameter which is an inversion of the usual iambic pentameter within the play: a trochee is the exact opposite of an iamb and their influence could also be seen as an attempt to invert the natural order.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Supernatural
    5. Horror

    The motif of clothes: power is temporary:

    Shakespeare uses the motif of clothing in order to highlight the temporary nature of power. When Macbeth meets the witches, he exclaims ‘why do you dress me in borrowed robes’ as he doesn’t understand how he can be Thane of Cawdor. Later on in the play, Macbeth’s kingship is described as ‘like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief’ as people realise that he does not deserve his crown. Macbeth’s moral failings, the fact that he stole power and his disruption of the Divine Right of Kings suggest that he is unable to wear the ‘robe’ of kingship in a convincing or acceptable fashion. Perhaps Shakespeare is highlighting how powerful men can become obsessed with chasing something that can never really become a part of them and like clothing, that will always be something that can be removed. Perhaps it also hints at vanity like an obsession with clothes and appearances as Macbeth desires the throne for power, status and even the ‘golden opinions’ of others rather than the ability to serve his country. Despite being King, Macbeth is ‘dwarfish’ and Shakespeare wants us to realise that he is pathetic and insignificant when compared to Duncan, the rightful King, but also the monarchy as a whole, an institution that is underpinned by God himself. Perhaps Shakespeare is flattering King James here, making him aware that he is the rightful King, a sentiment that is further strengthened by comparing Macbeth’s failings with the benevolence of Duncan and the piousness of King Edward.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Power

    The motif of Sickness: evil and the natural order

    Shakespeare uses the motif of disease in order to represent evil in the play. The witches, characters that could be seen as agents of the devil or symbols of malevolence, are described as ‘withered’ as if their evil has caused them to shrivel and become physically weakened. The witches are supernatural and by definition exist outside of the natural order and the implication here is that shunning the natural order, a framework ultimately created by God, will result in sickness. When Lady Macbeth is trying to persuade her husband to commit regecide, she fears that he lacks ‘the illness’ to go through with it. Again, Shakespeare is linking evil to disease as if disrupting the Divine Right of Kings will require a moral illness. Not only that, but it will cause the perpetrator to become sick and this is first seen when Macbeth hallucinates, his ‘heat-oppressed brain’ evidence of his initial descent into psychological turmoil and suffering. This mental deterioration can also be seen in Lady Macbeth’s final scene as she babbles in confusion, having been reduced to a deranged automaton.

    The motif of disease is also used to highlight the malign ramifications of disrupting the natural order. Regecide causes reality to warp and illness to descend upon the world. Shakespeare highlights how ‘the earth was feverous and did shake’, personifying the world as something vulnerable and weakened as a result of Macbeth’s evil. Perhaps God has inflicted a punishment as a result of Macbeth’s sacrilegious actions. It is as if Shakespeare is encouraging us to support the Great Chain of Being by exposing the horrific and sickening consequences of rejecting the natural order. 

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Lady Macbeth
    5. Power
    6. Violence

    The motif of religion: ostracisation and damnation

    As soon as Macbeth begins to consider committing regicide, he is aware of the sacrilegious nature of his plans. He says ‘stars hold you fires, let not light see my black and deep desires’. Perhaps ‘stars’ and ‘light’ can be seen as symbolising God as well as righteous and moral thought. Juxtaposed with ‘black’ and ‘deep’-the second word hinting at the underworld or even hell-the imagery of illumination conveys Macbeth’s awareness that he needs to hide his horrific intentions from not only God but also society as a whole. He knows that he will be judged and condemned. It as if, even at this early point in the play, he is ostracising himself from his creator and drawing away from the natural order. This positions him close to the witches, supernatural characters who also exist on the boundaries and outside of the natural realm. This desire to hide from God quickly turns into abject shame when he finally kills Duncan. He exclaims he ‘cannot say Amen’ as if he is too ashamed to praise God. It is as if Shakespeare wants us to realise that God has shunned him. Macbeth asks ‘will all Great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood’. Perhaps his pleading to a non-Christian deity is further evidence of the fact that he has ostracised himself from God. It is as if he has turned to other supernatural forces to aid him, something that continues as he become further embroiled with the witches.

    As Macbeth becomes increasingly ‘slaughterous’, he is described using the imagery of hell and damnation. He is ‘devilish’ and his wife is a ‘fiend’. It is as if they have aligned themselves with darkness and evil as Shakespeare warns his audience of the infernal consequences of regecide. Macduff describes Macbeth’s reign as ‘new sorrows strike heaven on the face’. This brutal personification conveys how Macbeth’s violence has now spread from Duncan to God himself. It is as if he attacked and killed his own chance of salvation and the afterlife. When the witches say ‘something wicked this way comes’, Macbeth’s evil and exclusion from God is recognised by ‘the instruments of darkness’, accentuating his malevolence. Perhaps Shakespeare wants us to realise that he has drawn an allegiance with the agents of Satan. He has been ‘ripped’ from God and plunged into ‘darkness’. Eternal damnation and hell would have been horrifying ideas to Jacobean people and Shakespeare’s increasing use of hell-based imagery when describing Macbeth cements his tragic fall from grace.

    These ideas can be used with these questions:

    1. Ambition/Greed
    2. Good and Evil
    3. Macbeth
    4. Loyalty
    5. Violence
    6. Power

    Short Stories 7

    This is the seventh post in this series; you can find the other ones here: one, two, three, four, five, six.

    Here are some more short stories that I have enjoyed reading and teaching:

    1. The Last Question by Isaac Asimov

    According to Asimov himself, this is his favourite of all the stories that he has written. This short story explores the connection between humans and technology and whether we will ever be able to transcend the limitations of reality

    2. My Father by Rita Chang Eppig

    Eppig’s writing is stunning: her sentences are filled with beautiful imagery and rich symbolism. My Father tells the story of Stella, Lucifer’s daughter, who leaves hell on a journey of self-discovery.

    3. As The Last May Know by S.L Huang

    Winner of the Hugo Award in 2020, this story explores the ethics of nuclear weapons and human sacrifice.

    4. A Witches Guide to Escape by Alix E Harrow

    Books are portals to other worlds, allowing us to escape our problems and find refuge in imaginary universes. This short story, winner of the Hugo Award in 2019, is centred on a librarian who recommends books to wayward teenagers, helping them overcome their struggles in the process.

    5. Sticks by George Saunders

    An emotionally stunted father struggles to connect with his family. This very short story is both comical and tragic.

    6. The Swan as a Metaphor for Love by Amelia Gray

    Love, beauty and grace are concepts that we hyperbolise and idealise; we often gloss over the imperfections, closing our eyes to the full picture and pretending that everything is flawless. This amusing story explores these myopic tendencies

    7. The water that falls from nowhere by John Chu

    Two men visit their parents, worried about revealing their secret romantic relationship. Will tradition clash with young love? This story won the Hugo award in 2014.

    8. Bridesicle by Will McIntosh

    Imagine if you could cryogenically freeze yourself in the hope that you can be reanimated in the future. Imagine if your reanimation was dependent upon a man choosing to marry you.

    9. Mono No Aware by Ken Liu

    The world has been destroyed by an asteroid and the last survivors of humanity escape on a ship. This engrossing tale asks questions about duty, honour, sacrifice and identity.

    10. The Lumber Room by Saki

    Children and adults perceive the world differently. From a child’s perspective, adult decisions can seem absurd. Saki brilliantly satirises adult authority in this playful tale.

    Modelling: A list of Tips/Questions

    The worked example effect would point to the importance of providing novice students with models in the early stages of an instructional sequence.

    Here are some tips and questions about modelling:

    Do you teach and ask kids to practice the components of extended responses before students attempt to create the whole?

        Do you demonstrate your thought process when deconstructing or creating a model?

        Do you use 2 or 3 models to demonstrate different levels of quality or competence?

        Do you use student made models?

        Do you use the alternation strategy (model then minimally different analogous question for kids to have a go at)?

        Do you use backwards fading as an instructional sequence continues?

        Do you model and teach planning, processes and metacognition?

        Do you directly address common misconceptions?

        You can download the whole thing as a word doc here

        Explicit Instruction: A Generic Lesson Plan (I-WE-YOU)

        In many subjects, lots of lessons are focussed on information transmission, building background knowledge and developing students’ ability to independently perform a specific skill. Here is one simple approach to planning such lessons:

        STAGE 1: Starter

        1. Retrieval Practice


        2. Sentence/Vocabulary Practice

        STAGE 2: Teaching New Content (I Stage)

        1. Reading a Text


        2. Modelling a process/skill/type of answer

        STAGE 3: Guided Practice (We Stage)

        STAGE 4: Independent Practice (You Stage)

        Here is the whole thing in a word document: