I wanted pupils to perfect their method of exam planning so that they could produce an effective and purposeful plan within five minutes. Pupils had been taught to plan for writing tasks but they were complaining that they would either take too long and their exam answer would suffer or that they just preferred to begin writing from scratch and did not feel that any kind of a plan was necessary.
The Set Up
I set up seven tables with a different exam question taped to each. The questions were taken from past exams for inform, explain, describe, persuade and argue; for example:
- Describe the view from your bedroom window
- Explain the qualities of a best friend
- You are President of the United States. Persuade your country that you should remain in power for one more term
- The prom is being banned. Write a letter to argue for it to be reinstated
On the desks, I had also provided each group with an A1 flip chart page, divided into four on both sides (I used the back to review later). I told the pupils that they had five minutes to prepare a plan for their given question; their plan had to remain within one of the four boxes and they could not begin to add bits to their next plan as that would be cheating. I warned them that they had to work to an extended abstract level and so their ideas had to attempt to be as original and creative or as close to perfection as possible.
The first time pupils had a go and created something fairly close to the three point plan we had previously used for writing tasks (spider diagram style). However, they were missing various key components. They concentrated very much on the idea that they were coming up with but had not thought enough about the design of their work. How was this going to flow? How would the paragraphs work together to create a coherent whole? Ultimately, they were working at a unistructural level as they were merely identifying ideas that could work well and identifying techniques that they could use. They missed out many multistructural necessities such as the punctuation, the topics and the expansion of those topics.
I stopped the class after exactly five minutes (thank you teach it timer) and asked the pupils to score themselves against my example. I awarded points for everything that they should have included on our typical three point plan using my example as a guide.
I told them that they needed to get better each time and so they had to think through what their plan was missing.
My example to help mark ideas and prompt improvement, the class were asked to take their plans to the next table and begin work on the next question, once again with only five minutes on the clock.
The next time I stopped the class,
everyone had achieved a much higher score. However, I had now added a new element to my plans… Relational links between paragraphs were left out
The class had produced effective multistructural plans containing every one of the building blocks to perfect writing but they needed to add that final link that would demonstrate how their paragraphs would flow as a whole. I could see the look of “Oh man! I knew that!!” on their faces as I revealed my image to them.
Pupils were once again asked to move on and begin planning for the next question. This time pupils produced a far superior plan which included their awesome extended abstract ideas (my favourite being the view from the bedroom window was a metaphor for the soul) but it also included a very clear structure as to how this was going to be achieved, from beginning to middle to end, their work had been very carefully thought through. All of that in five minutes flat! proud.
I ended the session by asking them to review their progress, asking questions of the difference between each stage using the squares on the back of their sheets to separate each level of thinking. Pupils discussed how they were merely identifying ideas to begin with before moving on to a more structured and relational approach.
I think that this lesson demonstrated to my pupils that excellent planning does not have to take forever and the need to have a certain method to their plans was crucial to success, as well as getting them moving around, thinking and enjoying the process of revision.