‘Kids who can’t write for toffee are generally less than competent with the spoken word…’ Phil Beadle.
I recently heard the great Phil Beadle talk at a training event. He passionately extolled the virtues of developing students’ use of spoken English, in order to improve their writing. I had been coming to the same conclusions myself, as my GCSE students repeatedly failed to get to grips with writing decent PEA paragraphs (Point, Evidence, Analyse) despite my best efforts at modelling and scaffolding with them.
So, after one too many ‘What do we have to do, Miss?’-moments, I decided to make them talk through their PEAs, before I got them to write them down. Regular readers will have noted that I like a pass-it-on activity (see Pass the PEAs, 24.01.14, and Pass it on– a literary analysis activity, 17.09.12) and Relay Analysis is an extension of this premise.
It is important to prepare students first. Here is my method:
- I ask students to read an extract and then write down one word which sums up what they learn from it.
- Students then have to share their words with their group and then decide on the best one.
- I pick three random students to feedback, then ask the fourth to choose the best word and explain why.
- I write this word on the board.
- Students are then asked to find a quotation to support the point on the board.
- We select the best quotation, in a similar way (see point 3) and I write this on the board.
- We then unpack the word choices in the quotation and, I write up the students’ comments on the board.
And now we are ready for Relay Analysis. I provide sentence starters to begin with, which I display on the whiteboard, and I colour code them. The sentence starters help to model for students the correct style of analytical language; the colour-coding helps to make it easier for students to find their place and prevent the whole thing from grinding to a miserable halt.
I use sentence starters a little something like this:
The writer presents…
For example, ‘…’
The word ‘…’ implies…
Therefore, the writer intends…
The rules are simple. I select the first student, who must say the first sentence, in its entirety, and then that student passes the baton (so to speak, although you could use a physical prop) onto the next student and so on. A student is allowed to pass but if they do, they then have to complete the following sentence instead.
I usually begin by picking the gobbiest student. The first sentence is easiest so they do not feel too intimidated (plus they have the notes on the board to help them) and they will then pick on one of their equally bumptious mates to complete the next one. Before you know it, your most reluctant students have all taken part in the construction of a detailed examination of the text!
The sense of achievement that my students felt after this surprised even me. When I then asked them to write it all down, it was such a change to see even the neediest year 10 student, silently, writing their PEA paragraph, without a quibble. It was amazing how such a simple lesson could boost my students’ confidence. Once they had said it, they felt ‘Yeah, I can do this. I can write it.’ And not only did it help them to attack the dreaded blank page but it helped their written analysis to improve.
So, the great Phil Beadle is right, again. By helping my students to talk better (and by that I mean, speak in full sentences, using the language of analysis and with a vocabulary developed by the whole class), I helped them to write better too.
Naomi Hursthouse has been teaching in West Sussex for ten years. She has worked as an Advanced Skills Teacher, a Gifted and Talented Coordinator, AQA examiner and is currently the Head of English at Ormiston Six Villages Academy.