Tag Archives: Literacy

Red Hot Lesson Blog post 1

wordle 2

Well that was (not so) pointless!!

I have stacks to do at this time of year with all the marking, report writing, parents evenings and now CPD. Isn’t strange, yet a testimony to how seriously we take our jobs, that we put ourselves last in all of this?  CPD? What? In February?

It came to my attention during Tuesday’s Bluesky sesh, that one of the ways I was going to achieve my objectives was to improve my starters and plenaries. Basic stuff I know, but easy to let go when you’ve been teaching for a few years.

Sharon demonstrated 4 different plenaries during her Y13 biology lesson of approx 20 students. Here are my thoughts:


Concept: Each square is given the first letter of a key word. Students pick a letter, teacher reads out the definition, student guesses the word.

Evaluation: If you put a cartoon underneath the squares it gives the students more of an incentive to guess the letters and speeds up the game. Works in subjects where the definitions are quite tricky. Would take a bit of time to set up but could last for years.

Original definition, Think, Pair, Share answer box:Capture

Concept: students are given a definition or a question (of around 6 marks at A-level). They put their original definition in next, then think what keywords they could add to improve, pair swop with partner to see if they can improve, share check with the model answer.

Evaluation: Easy to setup, easy to administer, gets the students thinking, revises key terms, good for level one stuff, however not so good at level 2,3 and 4 if you want to develop them a bit further.


Concept: Each student is given a unique answer card so they can confidently submit their answer without fear of being wrong. Question is up on the board. Student holds up the card with answer A, B, C or D, teacher goes round scanning cards with phone.Plicker feedback

Evaluation: Takes ages to scan a large class of answers so in this respect Kahoot would be much more effective. It doesn’t however require any of the students to use their devices, so would work with small groups and you get a cute little spreadsheet to show how you’ve assessed their A01 skills. 


Concept: 3 circles are drawn one inside another like an archery board. Each section scores different marks and first letter of keywords is inserted into the section according to its level of difficulty. Students pick a letter, teacher reads out definition, student guesses word, points scored. (I might get one of those velcro dart boards, so much more fun!)

Evaluation: Fun, easy to set up, good for competition, even better with a real board.

So, it was worth leaving my Y12’s with work to get on with whilst I dashed out for some CPD. Brightened up my Friday afternoon anyway!                                                  Nicola Lilley



SWAT Conference 2015: Top 3


Having attended the excellent SWAT Conference last week I was left with some questions, ideas and thoughts. A change of scenery and the wonderful train journey along the coast are always invigorating and left me with a greater sense of ‘Yes! Now I remember why I do what I do! And I’ve got some more ideas about how to do it…’

Here’s my SWAT Top 3:

  • Why do you do what you do?

Listening to Dan Roberts’ keynote speech was a reminder of the courage and bravery required by the profession at a time of great change. Having taught for several years now, I can’t remember such a demanding and challenging time but have to also confess to enjoying the Rubik’s Cube nature of curriculum planning and strategising. As an English teacher and KS3/4 coordinator I’m conscious of wanting to help lead the team I am part of to successfully plan, teach and assess students ready for the new suite of GCSEs but also to take into account changes at KS3 too. Sometimes it feels like we are climbing a mountain (or maybe standing on the edge of a precipice?!) but I am quietly confident that we will only improve our students’ chances and our ability to encourage their independence as learners. I also loved Dan’s He-Man reference – although I was more of a She-Ra fan myself!

  • Literacy: hot topic

I really enjoyed Helena Baker-Thornton’s ‘A different approach to whole school literacy’ and hearing about Torquay Girls’ Grammar School’s approach to the all-important issue of whole school literacy, a perennial topic that we continue to strive towards improving. I thought the use of a sophisticated media campaign, alongside other methods, was a great way to get students’ attention and to inspire the whole community to be involved.

  • SOLO taxonomy, fostering student independence and ’thinking skills’

As explained in Nicola’s blog post, SOLO taxonomy involves a structured approach to planning and learning which draws attention to processes and stages in students’ development of ideas. This very overt method of sharing with students which skills are being used when complemented and added to my own approach to teaching GCSE English Literature this year, where I have tried a number of techniques and approaches to overtly sharing ‘thinking skills’ with students. My approach has been to emphasise the hierarchical nature of key ‘thinking skills’ required in the Literature exams and to encourage students conscious application of these skills as they approach their literature responses.

I also thoroughly enjoyed participating in the workshop led by very articulate students from Torquay Boys’ Grammar School. They shared some approaches, including ‘Argument Tennis’, which I am keen to try. A very simple but effective and consistent method for providing feedback in students’ exercise books involved a stamp with categories for teachers to write alongside the icons. Teachers provided feedback on content, SPaG and also a question for students to respond to – along with improvements. This type of DIRT feedback is so useful and made me reflect on how it could be used in the English Department at DHSB. I’ve been experimenting with my own ‘traffic light’ system for providing formative feedback this year and perhaps these two approaches might be useful for the future…

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the day and the opportunity to share and learn in a thoroughly professional environment with time to listen, talk and enjoy lunch and coffee. Teachers are consummate professionals and we should always be proud of what we do – and we always strive to be better.

Sima Davarian @simadavarian

KS3/4 English Coordinator

Twine – A interactive tool for telling stories



Did you ever read those fantasy game books as a child? Growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s I have to admit it was a bit of a craze among boys in my school. They were the books where they gave the reader a choice at the end of each chapter of what to do next and would ultimately change the potential outcome of the story. This type of book or game is called Interactive Fiction.

This is the 1st of many posts from myself and @ben40forte about what we learnt from visiting #BETT2015 and thank you to @tecknoteacher who we  picked this up from at the Teachmeet.

Twine is a free tool for telling interactive, none-linear stories, you don’t need to be able to code to write one of the stories. I haven’t tried it myself yet however it is supposed to be fairly easy to use.

Here are some quotes about Twine so far:

A new tool has emerged that empowers just about anyone to create a game. It’s called Twine. It’s extremely easy to use, and it has already given rise to a lively and diverse development scene.

Carolyn Petit, Gamespot

Although plenty of independent games venture where mainstream games fear to tread, Twine represents something even more radical: the transformation of video games into something that is not only consumed by the masses but also created by them.

Laura Hudson, The New York Times Magazine

The simple beauty of Twine is this: if you can type words and occasionally put brackets around some of those words, you can make a Twine game.

Kitty Horrorshow

If you’re interested in making interactive fiction then there’s no better place to start than Twine.It’s possibly the simplest game making tool available, it will take you mere minutes to get started, and it has a wonderfully simple visual editor.

Richard Perrin

And aside from being free, it’s really not programming at all — if you can write a story, you can make a Twine game.

Anna Anthropy

Twine is the closest we’ve come to a blank page. It binds itself and it can bind itself along an infinite number of spines extending in any direction.

Why not have a go yourself, I plan to or set it as a long extended homework for students to see what they can produce?

eBook VS Physical Book Debate – What do you think?



On Thursday the 15th of January 2015 as part of the Learning Commons promotion week the Devonport Union hosted a debate the motion being “This house would have the school emphasise eBooks and online resources over traditional resources.”

The debate had a great turnout and a good range of year groups in attendance. The first point to be raised was about the emotional attachment that is felt from holding and retaining a physical book. Some felt that they could get more from a physical book because it felt more personal, you can fold the pages, mark the pages and make notes on it. Equally many students prefer the way that you can highlight, immediately look up word definitions and search the book for key words.

It was then raised that some research has been done on the media from which we read from which suggests students retain more information when reading from physical books to eBooks. I have looked up this research and it is an interesting study (Read more here). It concludes “This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for e-text books or computerised courseware, however. Neither Nielsen nor Garland is opposed to using new media for teaching. In fact, both believe that there are many situations in which they can offer real advantages. However, different media have different strengths — and it may be that physical books are best when you want to study complex ideas and concepts that you wish to integrate deeply into your memory.” I am sure a lot more research will be done in this area and hopefully some people will do some research to try and find more of the positives that come from eBooks and study different ranges of students.

Several students felt that it may be a generation thing. Younger generations feel more comfortable using digital resources because it is what they are used to using vs older generations are used to paper therefore that is maybe why information might not be retained as well.

Discussions then went on to the topic of costs many students believe eBooks offer great financial benefits with services such as Amazon Kindle offering thousands of eBooks for free. This was counter argued by Local Authority libraries also being free but with government budget restraints many libraries are now closing and the point was raised as to whether the government could provide an eBook service.

There was also a good staff turnout at the debate and from a member of staff some great points were raised in favour of eBooks. Firstly saying you can annotate on a eBook but you cannot on a school textbook. Also eBooks can be updated easily without the need to throw away and buy new books which has high costs and high impacts on the environment. There are also other benefits that eBooks can offer to people with disabilities such as the book being read out or text being enlarged for visually impaired students.

The general consensus was that eReaders such as the Kindle (not Kindle Fire) was a good replacement but devices such as iPads did not make good eReader devices due to backlit screens causing eye strains, too many distractions and poor battery life (a physical book never runs out of battery).

The debate concluded with 14 to 15 in favour of eBooks vs Physical books. So where next…

Ben Forte @ben40forte

Director of Learning Commons

‘Shady characters’ or ‘inky fools’? The proof is in the pudding!

Was it a group of ‘shady characters’ or ‘inky fools’ that met last Friday to discuss approaches to literacy? If we’re teaching literacy by stealth as recommended by @rspear_1 then we might fall into the category of ‘shady characters’! But, although Mark Forsyth’s ‘The Etymologicon’ and ‘The Horologicon’ were on the menu, I’m pretty sure that our hands were clean and not ink stained as we sat down to lunch. Not ‘inky fools’ then after all! If you’re uncertain as to the references here then you might like to look at the following:




These texts informed some lively discussion during the session and they are excellent reads for everyone. Try asking @SimaDavarian about one of her favourite words.

As a group of teachers we were certainly delighted with the opportunity to talk about language and this is how we want our students to feel too. We want our students to be excited about what they see, hear, say and write. One of the key areas that we explored in the session was vocabulary building and some ideas as to how to build vocabulary are included below.

· Using nine letter word grids or word wheels

Introduce topics with nine letter word grids by inviting students to try and find the nine letter word in addition to making as many other three letter words or more that they can find. Use a scoring system that rewards longer words that are spelt accurately.



You might also ask students to write a definition of the word.



Use two nine letter word grids and invite students to find the connection or the link between the words.


(suspicious) + (detective)

· Topic specific vocabulary and key words

Make key words visually interesting by using http://www.wordfoto.com

· Up-skilling

Challenge students to change simple language into more sophisticated language. Try asking students to up-skill lesson aims and objectives or songs!

In pairs see if you can upgrade the language of the following:

Show me the way to go home

I’m tired and I wanna go to bed

I took a little drink about an hour ago

And it’s gone right to my head

Where ever I may roam

On land or sea or foam

You will always hear me singing this song

Show me the way to go home

· PAF (Purpose, Audience and Form)

Provide a different audience for writing tasks. How would students write if they were writing for the prime minister/president, a company director, a newspaper editor etc.?

How about linking up-skilling with writing for different audiences?

In order to develop thinking skills and to promote oracy invite students to identify the odd one out from lists such as the ones below.

· Odd one out

What’s the odd one out between…

  1. a car, a baby and a fridge?
  2. a cello, a saxophone and a trumpet?
  3. Einstein, Pasteur and Stephen Hawkins?
  4. subtraction, division and addition?
  5. Russia, Canada and UK?
  6. Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Fleance?
  7. mass, weight and density?
  8. hydrochloric, sulphuric and acetic acid?

Thanks go to @PhilBeadle for sharing the ideas on up-skilling, Purpose Audience Form and Odd One Out at an outstanding literacy teaching course that I attended some time ago.

How well do these strategies work? Well, the proof is in the pudding, so go ahead and try them out!

Clare McConnell @DHSBEnglish

Head of English

Can a library improve literacy?


We are in the process of reviewing the way that we use our library.

How can we shape a space, physical and virtual, to stimulate and grow our reading culture?

How do we provide a space that both supports digital learning and provides respite from it?

How can the high-profile one-off events of book days, reading weeks and author visits be supported by this space?

How do we move from an information economy to a knowledge economy? Or is this a leading question?!

Check out our two recent blog posts from Kieran Earley @Kieran_Earley:



What are your thoughts and ideas? Do you have an example of a library that is making an positive impact in your school? Please leave a comment

Average, Mean And Fronted: Embedded Literacy And Numeracy In The NC

I had a bit of a shock this week. Trying to help my son prepare for his KS2 SAT Level 6 Maths test, I realised that as a parent, I was functionally innumerate and not fit for purpose. My son was as unimpressed as I was embarrassed. How could this be? After all I have O level Maths from 1979 when exams were ‘proper’, I passed my QTS Maths test first time, I can work out the area of tiles needed to redo my bathroom; how can I not do a test designed for a 10-11 year old?

Participation in a cross-school literacy project also led me last week to look at the new glossary of KS2 grammar terms, available at http://media.education.gov.uk/assets/files/pdf/g/2013%20ks2_egps_glossaryofterms.pdf, with which our new pupils will soon be armed. Glancing down the contents list, I stopped dead at ‘Fronted Adverbial’ – what is that?* Now, I know I get confused between average, mean, median and mode but I’m a language teacher and really, they are all the kind of same aren’t they? Anyway if I need to know the difference I can ask a colleague as they don’t pop up when I’m teaching Latin so no pupil ever corrects me or challenges me on my lack of knowledge. I don’t need numeracy to teach Latin.

But language and literacy is needed to teach every subject within the curriculum. Indeed Point 6.3 of The National Curriculum Framework Document https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/210969/NC_framework_document_-_FINAL.pdf states that pupils ‘should be taught the correct use of grammar’ by every subject teacher and appends a 13 page glossary of commonly accepted grammar terms. Compare that with the following: ‘You will not be tested on your knowledge of grammatical terms, but on your knowledge of how to use grammar correctly.’ That’s the advice given to trainee teachers approaching the QTS literacy test at http://www.education.gov.uk/sta/professional/b00211208/literacy/content.

My point is this: to argue that literacy and numeracy are to be embedded in a similar fashion across the curriculum is disingenuous. I have to think actively about how to include numeracy in my language lessons, but every teacher is displaying his or her levels of functional literacy the moment they speak or write a word on the board. Teacher training specifications and support are clearly out of kilter with the depth of knowledge required by pupils even at KS2! At a time when ITT is in flux and the status of QTS is being challenged in some educational arenas, there is a clear disconnect between the resources and education of pupils and that of teachers with regard to the meta-language of literacy and indeed functional literacy itself. This needs to be addressed if teachers are not to be left feeling potentially vulnerable and embarrassed in class situations in which the results of variation in styles of grammar and literacy teaching become more evident. Some connected thinking is required in the DfE.

*‘Since an adverbial’s usual position is at the end of a sentence, it is

described as ‘fronted’ when at the front and ‘embedded’ when it is in the middle.’ Finally, you know!

Dr Karen Stears @DHSBClassics

Head of Classics