A Planning Activity for Extended Writing

I don’t know about you but I can’t count the number of times when I have told my students that they MUST plan in the exam. And now their plans have become an essential step in the Controlled Assessment process, it has become even more important. We all know that planning will produce a better structured piece of writing but convincing our students can be another matter entirely. Part of the problem lies in the fact that many of us don’t teach students how to plan. And maybe that stems from the fact that we weren’t taught ourselves. When it comes to planning, we have all been expected to ‘just get on with it’.

But that just isn’t good enough. If we are finding this a problem in English, then it is sure to be a problem elsewhere in the school, which means that bad planning or lack of planning could be affecting our students’ chances in a variety of subjects. If we are looking to tackle Literacy across the Curriculum, then I think this is an excellent place to start. What follows is an activity that I have used to start students thinking about how they plan and how that affects the end product of their writing.

The attachment contains three example planning sheets: the pizza plan, the list and the mind map. I start by giving my students a piece of writing to read (usually an exam or controlled assessment essay). I then give them the ‘Example Planning’ sheets and ask them to choose one and use it to write the plan for the essay they have just read. We are then able to discuss the merits and demerits of each plan (e.g. the pizza plan forces them to think about the cyclical nature of their writing; the mind map allows them to get their ideas down quickly on paper but without numbering can lack direction or cohesion). We then move on to talk about how well planned the piece of writing was (e.g. Are there any gaps in the argument? Is it too repetitive? Do the introduction and conclusion link together?). The final step is to give them a topic and get them to choose their preferred method of planning. A lot of my students have opted for a combination of the mind-map (to collate ideas) and then either the list or pizza (to refine them).

What I really like about this activity is that it opens up a discussion on planning and the impact of how we plan. Once students begin to see how planning affects structure then it becomes easier for them to see a reason for doing it. And the more practice they get then the easier it becomes for them to ‘just get on with it’.

Naomi Hursthouse

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