Posted in Personal Reflection, Teaching Ideas

The Dyslexic English Teacher

dyslexic_fun_bigIt was only after I had got through GCSEs, A Levels, an English Degree and my PGCE year that I discovered I am dyslexic. My particular brand of dyslexia manifests itself in letter, number and colour recognition. In other words, I misread words, struggle to recognise spelling errors (including my own), read more slowly than average, and have struggled for years with my handwriting. The fact that I am an English teacher just adds to the fun.

Now, I am not a SENCO, and apart from my own experiences and observations, I have no formal training or expertise in dyslexia. However, I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on how my dyslexia has impacted on my teaching, and the many things I’ve learned from working with dyslexic students. Dyslexia is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ problem: it manifests itself in many ways, and something that works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to recognise that dyslexia is a sliding scale; some people are only very mildly dyslexic, and this may not really impact on their everyday lives, whereas some people with very severe dyslexia need to make adjustments to almost everything they do, particularly in an educational environment. There is a multitude of dyslexics in between these two extremes, and they are all unique.

This post will not be revolutionary – nothing is new, and there are far more informative sources out there about the condition, the science, and best practice. I hope that what is here might simply provide some insight into what life is like for ONE dyslexic, and some strategies which work for me in a real classroom setting.

  1. Good days and bad days


I am worse when I’m tired, so I try to work when I’m fresh (early morning or late at night after a nap…). Every day is different – sometimes I am really efficient and ‘with it,’ but others I work very slowly and get frustrated. On days like this, I put my marking aside, and try to do something less text or paper based.


Dyslexic students have good and bad days too (though this is true for most teenagers to some extent!). I have regular conversations with the dyslexic students I teach, and we talk about being able to identify those times when we are not feeling at our best. If a student is having a difficult time on a day I teach them, I try to find alternative ways for them to work. A student I taught a few years ago, we’ll call her Anna, used to find it easier to do ‘free note taking’ on those days, where you record the lesson in ways other than writing extended passages (i.e. illustrations, mind-mapping, short notes etc.) She would then take her work home and complete it at a time when she was feeling more lucid. I’ve had other students who record sections of the lesson on a dictaphone (or more recently, their mobile phone) so that they can write up what I’ve said later.

I have found that helping students to recognise their own patterns and the things which work best for them is a really effective way to prevent anxiety and issues with engagement.



I use a rose pink overlay (IRLENS) when reading, and a notebook with pink paper – I’ve timed myself reading and this increases my speed by about 20%, and definitely improves my endurance!


A number of my students are diagnosed as needing IRLENS, but all of them benefit from paper and whiteboard backgrounds which are not stark white. I try to use a range of paper colours to colour code activities and provide a softer background to support reading extended passages. Experimenting with different fonts, sizes and line spacing can also be an important way to help students engage with texts. I use Comic Sans on my powerpoints, and when I print texts for students I make sure they are at least 1.5 spaced, size 12-14. Anything we can do to make reading more accessible has to be worthwhile!

3. Handwriting


My handwriting is abysmal, so much so that two Summers ago I tried to completely relearn cursive script. I’ve had some success with this, but it’s still pretty wobbly, and when I’m in a rush (when are teachers not?!), I revert to my illiterate teenage scrawl. This is a major issue with marking books and essays, but my students know that I’m trying my best, and it’s OK to tell me they can’t read my writing!

During lessons, I very rarely write on the board; I even tend to put dates and titles onto a powerpoint rather than subject the kids to my scrawl!


In many ways, I think that being so honest about my issues with handwriting has helped some of my students who also have poor handwriting. In teenagers, this often leads to a real lack of confidence, so I think it’s important for teachers to acknowledge how difficult handwriting can be, and that poor handwriting does not make WHAT you write any less valid or interesting. The rule in my classroom is, if it’s legible and you have tried your best, it is good enough.

4. Reading and performing under pressure


I struggle, especially when I am tired, to read out loud fluently. If I need to read extended passages out loud to or with the class, I practice beforehand so that I don’t trip up and ruin the flow: this especially applies to poetry and novel extracts. I tell the students that I’ve prepared it, because I think it’s important for them to recognise that performance, even if it’s just reading out a few paragraphs of Dickens, is an art in itself and deserves some real thought!


I always give my dyslexic students prior warning if I’m going to ask them to read something to the group. I might approach them before the lesson and give them something to look at overnight, or give them 5 minutes in a lesson just to go over it to themselves before sharing with the class. This can be an effective approach for all students, but it’s particularly important that dyslexics are given the time and space to feel comfortable when faced with a page full of words!

5. Spellings


This is the thing which most frequently affects my teaching day. All of my classes are trained to tell me if they think I’ve spelled something wrong, and they know I won’t be offended. On a good day, I can spell anything they like off the top of my head. On a bad day, I have to write it down a few different ways in my notebook and then look it up, just to be certain!

All my life I’ve struggled with spellings, and I try to teach myself mnemonics, songs and other strategies to overcome my issues. I now use these with my students wherever possible – I once had an A Level class who liked them so much that they wrote a song which incorporated all of their key sophisticated Literature vocabulary!


Spellings are one of the biggest barriers for students who are lacking confidence in their writing, and this generally leads to disengagement with the task and the subject. Being honest with students about our own barriers to learning is really important. My students are trained to do a number of things:

  • When proof reading work, circle any words you are not certain you have spelled correctly (or used correctly), so I will know you were unsure when I mark your book.
  • When writing, if you have used a dictionary to check a spelling, underline the word and write ‘checked’ in the margin, so that you know it’s right and can look back in your book next time you need to use it.
  • They are NEVER too old to do a spelling test, or use ‘look, cover, write, check’!
  • Remember that poor spelling does NOT make you a bad English student, it just means you have to be more aware of what you are doing. I would far rather see you use advanced vocabulary spelled wrong, than read something boring because you were too scared to use it!


Other useful strategies:

  • Help students to access texts easier:

Breaking up or ‘chunking’ the text – do you need to give them the whole thing at once? Could you edit their copy to take out some of the superfluous bits? Could you give it to them in a few smaller chunks so that it’s easier to digest?

Highlighting (not underlining…) key sections, words or phrases before giving the student a passage. This will help them to focus on what’s really important.

Give students a list of key words or phrases to look for in a passage so that they have something to anchor them while reading.

  • Help students to plan writing

Provide planning proformas for paragraphing or essay writing, which you can gradually take away or make simpler as they become more confident.

Explicitly teach sentence starters and key phrases which can start a piece, link sections and end pieces. Students can then repeat these to themselves so that they are embedded. and they can write more confidently.

  • General skills

Handwriting practice books are very cheap, and your SENCO might be able to provide them for you. Getting students to do 15 minutes a night as homework can be really powerful, especially if you give them something to copy out which is related to their academic work!

Help them to organise their time/revision/homework etc by showing them how to prioritise their time. Making a ‘to do’ list and highligting the items which they know will take them longer (extended writing etc.) so that they can plan their time better

I hope this is somewhat useful, and that some other teachers out there can make use of the strategies above (or just have reconfirmed something they already do!).

I’d love to hear your own strategies: @funkypedagogy

Posted in Personal Reflection

Things I wish I’d known before my first week in teaching…

I am just about to start my sixth year as a teacher, and was having a chat with a family friend who is about to start his NQT year. As he picked my brains over coffee and told me all of the things he was worrying about already, I realised how much I wish I’d known when I had started five years ago. This is pretty simple stuff, but is not intended to be patronising –  in my first week on the job, I struggled to see past my own fear and focus on the things I could control. I hope some of these ideas are useful…

The first week – no need for bells and whistles:

Scott-660x330Don’t dwell too much on overly complicated lessons with 8 parts and all-singing, all-dancing resources. There is no way you’ll get through what you think you will, and you will exhaust yourself with planning before you even start. Just make sure that each first lesson with a new class is solid, and that you give them a chance to get to know you and what you expect in your classroom. Make sure that you have some sort of conversation, no matter how brief, with everyone in the room; if they feel that they have connected with you, they will be more likely to work well for you. Over the first few lessons with a group, you will begin to get a sense of how they work, what they need, and what they will respond to, which will make your ‘bells and whistles’ lessons even better when you do them later on.

Find out on your first day:

  1. How do you do photocopying/printing?
  2. How do you get in/out of the building at different times of the day?
  3. What is the absence procedure/phone number?
  4. How do teas and coffees work? Is there a machine? Do you have to bring your own?
  5. Is there a water fountain somewhere? Or drinking water in the staff room?
  6. How do you pay for food in the canteen (if you need to)? Cash? Fingerprint?!
  7. If you don’t have your own classroom – which rooms are you teaching in? Are they all on the same floor? Will you need a plan for getting yourself and your resources from one room to the next in between lessons?!
  8. Who do you speak to if you have any IT malfunctions, or SIMS issues which affect registers?

Marking is just as important as planning (if not more…):

Once students have completed work, the most powerful thing you can do is give meaningful, personalised feedback, and give them time to improve in a future lesson (for an excellent discussion on this, see this post from David Didau ‘What’s the point of marking books?’).

Marking is incredibly important, but do not strive for perfection – set a time limit per book, decide on a marking focus (i.e. whatever the objectives or success criteria were for that piece of work), and don’t get de-railed!

If you get behind with you marking, SAY SOMETHING! Everyone gets overwhelmed by the workload at some point, but if you ask for help from your NQT mentor or HOD, they will help you find some practical strategies to get through it all.

Avoid endless ‘to do’ lists:

These can become huge and unfocused, and soon stop becoming the organisational tools they should be. Use an important/not important, urgent/non urgent grid.


Unfortunately, the things you want to start with usually come under the not important/non urgent column, but organising things like this will help you prioritise the right things!

Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time you have – highlight two or three things to complete each day, but do them WELL!

Switch off:

Teaching is all consuming and can get overwhelming at certain points in the year. Find something to do outside of school time which is going to stop you from thinking about work. If you find yourself going in early to work, then staying late to work, then going home and working some more, then you need to rethink! I go in early every day (though this doesn’t work for everyone), then my rule is, if I stay late to work, I do NOT take work home. If I leave at 5pm, I take something home with me, but something manageable which won’t take me more than a couple of hours (NOT a whole set of books, but maybe 15 instead…). I also have at least 1 night a week where I do no work at all, and one whole day on the weekend which is work free.

Kids have short memories:

941349Don’t be too devastated if you have a dramatic incident with a student. When I first started teaching, I always felt as though because of my poor classroom management, I had destroyed my relationship with a student FOREVER. This is crazy. Yes, my behaviour management was still developing then (and still is!), but you have to accept that we are all human and we make errors in judgement. Better still, if you give that student a clean slate at the start of the next lesson, they will forgive YOU very quickly.

Love the kids, but manage the behaviour:

Don’t let a child be defined by their behaviour – it is not who they are. Kids will work for you if they feel that you like and care about them. Sometimes it is difficult to feel that bond with them in the face of all their crazy teenage outpourings of rage (especially when this is directed at us personally), but if you can see past that, you can see value in who they are underneath the anger. Ask how their weekend was, how their baby sister is, what food they like, and even share something of your own experiences with them. 9 times out of 10, if you have some sort of appreciation of who they are, separate from their behaviour, those issues will fix themselves. If you just see them as a ‘naughty’ kid, then they will sense that and do their best to live up to the label.

A boy I taught a couple of years ago, let’s call him Sam, called me a c*** on my second day in the job. He was vile in my lessons and incredibly disruptive for no reason I could see. However, during our detentions, after his initial telling off for whatever he’d done that time, we would talk about other things (all the anger aside, because I had clearly and calmly dealt with his behaviour already) It turned out that I had just become addicted to a video game he had recently completed. He told me how to kill the boss on my current level and from that point on, even though he regularly slipped up, he made much more of an effort in my lessons. Even more importantly, his slip-ups were far less damaging, because he knew I would deal with them in isolation, and that they would not damage my opinion of him.

Embrace the support staff:

Caretakers, cleaners, catering staff, duty staff, admin staff, finance staff, gardeners, bus drivers, teaching assistants, IT technicians – whoever they are, these people know more about education than many of the teachers, and especially more than any fresh faced NQT could ever know. These people are key to your survival when you first start teaching, and I would urge any NQT to step outside the teaching staff bubble and make friends with the whole staff body. Partly, this will help you settle in quickly and feel part of the school, but also, there is nothing like knowing the caretakers well when you realise you have left your car key in the building after hours! In my first year, a reprographics lady called Janet was like my school mum! She regularly helped me create resources last minute, gave me advice when I’d made one of my many mistakes, and yes, gave me the odd hug when I felt like I couldn’t cope! The site manager at my current school is ex army, and has happily had conversations with some of my students when they are struggling to cope with authority – he is brilliant.

I won’t call them ‘non-teaching colleagues’, because I believe that all support staff teach the kids in a multitude of ways, even though they are not in the classroom, but they do have a whole different slant on the students, and a refreshing perspective on teaching which can help you put things in perspective.

I’d be really grateful to hear any other reflections or advice to new teachers starting out! Get in touch @funkypedagogy or

Posted in Projects, Teaching Ideas

#TMBrad – Teachmeet reflection..

I am always amazed by the dedication and sheer geekery of some teachers. At 10am on Saturday 11th July (the FINAL weekend of the school term), teachers from around Leeds and Bradford (plus, you know, Bahrain, just because…) descended on Appleton Academy for a day of inspiration and all round teacher banter.

The day was part of our project called ‘Writing for Bradford’ which you can see details about here.


The focus of our teachmeet was ‘getting kids to write’ and we had some really fantastic presenters and ideas throughout the day. Below I have written up my notes from the presentations, and included all the powerpoints, links and resources which the speakers have very kindly agreed to share.

Here is the ‘Storify’ document of the main tweets from the day: Storify

1. Keynote Presentation: Adam Henze (@henzebo)


Here is Adam’s blurb from the program:

Adam D. Henze is a third year PhD student in the Literacy, Culture, and Language Education department at Indiana University. Adam fell in love with the spoken and written word when he accidentally stumbled into the speech and debate office at his high school. He attended Western Kentucky University on a full speech scholarship, helping the squad win four national championships at the collegiate level. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies and English Writing, Adam attended his first poetry slam and immediately felt embraced by the spoken word community. In the past decade Adam has lectured and performed at over 40 universities, dozens of secondary and elementary schools, prisons, juvenile detention centers and other places of learning. Adam has performed in almost every state, Canada, Ireland, and is excited to return to England. He has a Masters degree in teaching, is an instructor in the English Department at Indiana University and is the director of a summer camp for fledgling high-school-aged poets at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota.

Today Adam’s presentation is about “writing like a fan.” Fan culture has embraced the multimodal literacies inherent in mediums such as spoken word, hip hop, video games, comic books, music and film, and his session hopes to marry academic literary practices with the kinds of “reading” students value at home. The presentation will explore the evolving literacy practices in a globalized digital society by giving educators theory and practical lessons that they can apply to their classroom.

‘Literacy Beyone Literature’ – Prezi link here.

2. Mehwash Kauser (@meshishk) – ‘Chaucer to Tupac’


Mehwash is at the end of her second year of teaching, and is the KS3 curriculum coordinator at Appleton Academy. Her presentation centred around a SOW which she developed this year which aimed to engage students in canonical poetry by first hooking students in with rap and other elements of modern youth culture. The SOW was incredibly successful, and is being used by the National Literacy Trust as a national model of excellence; Mehwash will be presenting her work to colleagues around the country in order to support their own engaging planning for teenagers and classic literature.

You can find Mehwash’s powerpoint here.

3. Richie Dunk (@richie_dunk) – Letter Writing in Science

Richie is a physicist and Lead Practitioner at Appleton Academy. His presentation began with the problem that most students see scientists as being stereotypically brusque and lacking personality (his words, not mine!). Consider someone like Sheldon from the ‘Big Bang Theory’, and you understand why, when asked to write a letter in Science, some of Richie’s students were struggling to write with real personality and flair, even though they do it instinctively in English and History.


Richie talked about using photographs, and the personal letters of famous scientists in order to make them feel more immediate and relevant to students of today. These letters show people who had deep emotion, loving relationships and real life connections to politics and the wider world; by showing these to students, they can begin to see writing in Science as just as human and close to their own lives as everything else.

You can fin Richie’s powerpoint here.

4. Laura Hirst (@MissLHirst) – Using Post-it Notes to Motivate Students

Laura is just 3 weeks in to her NQT year in the English Department at Appleton Academy. She presented some strategies she has used with a challenging group of Y10 students, using post it notes to support, motivate and reward them.


You can find Laura’s powerpoint here.

5. Charlotte Wright (@commahound) – Writing a Class Novel

Charlotte taught in Bradford for 8 years, and is now KS5 leader in the English Department at Brigshaw High School. She presented the powerful work she has done in order to create class novels, where every child becomes a novelist, and every child feels celebrated. Charlotte uses multi-linear narratives (where the reader gets to choose which route to take through a story) to ensure that every child can write their own part of the text, while still being part of the whole.


You can find Charlotte’s powerpoint here.

6. Jennifer Webb (@funkypedagogy) – Engaging with Abstract Concepts

You can find a blog post about my presentation here, and my powerpoint here.


7. Curtis Wilson (@andrellcurtis) – Big Writing

Curtis is the owner of Andrell Education, and proponent of ‘Big Writing’ (his mum is the wonderful Ros Wilson, so there’s no surprise there!). Curtis spoke about the rationale behind the ‘Big Writing’ initiative, and shared some ways in which schools can get involved.


You can find out more about ‘Big Writing’ here, and look at Curtis’ powerpoint here.

8. Cheryl Boote (@CherylBoote) – Working Wall

Cheryl is only 3 weeks in to her NQT year in the English Department at Appleton Academy. She shared some of the work she has been doing on displays in her first ever classroom – the mantra being, they should be interactive, and celerate the work of students.


You can find Cheryl’s powerpoint here.

9. Annie Black (@AnnieBlack01) – Slow Writing


Annie is an English teacher and shared some work she has been doing on Slow Writing in her school, following a Research-Ed conference where she saw David Didau (@learningspy) speak. She talked about how Slow (or ‘focused’) Writing was helping her students to be more creative, and allowing them to explore new techniques.


You can find Annie’s powerpoint here.

10. Mark Miller (@goldfishbowlMM) – Revision Decisions

Mark is an English teacher at Dixons Kings Academy. Having done a great deal of work on using sentence structures with students, he shared a new idea to help them to break sentences down in order to explore the many structural and syntactical possibilities we have as writers.


You can see his own blog post about his talk here, and the powerpoint here.

11. Kat Lang (@kat_stubbs) – Literacy Ladders

Kat is an Assistant Director in charge of individual learning needs, AND the Head of English at Appleton Academy. Her presentation focused on literacy ladders as a way to get high quality, developed writing out of SEN students. Sudents use the ladders to rank writing techniques in order of difficulty, then attach ideas, vocabulary and sentence structures to tladderhe ladder in order to plan and scaffold their writing.

You can find Kat’s powerpoint here.

12. Leah Ellerbruch (@LEllerbruch) – Success Criteria

Leah is an English teacher and leads the Media GCSE at Appleton Academy. She presented how she developed and uses success criteria in order to support students’ writing, and give them ownership of their content and mark schemes.

You can find Leah’s powerpoint here.

13. Keynote Presentation: Leslie Rowland

Here is Leslie’s blurb from the program:

Leslie Rowland is currently a PhD student in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University. She grew up in Kentucky (you might hear a bit of a twang), but has lived all over the United States. She graduated magna cum laude from Murray State University with a degree in English Education (focus on literature). Her primary doctoral research focuses on teens, chronic illness narratives, and depictions of chronic illnesses in young adult literature. She also studies drama pedagogy, disability studies, and social justice issues. Before graduate studies, she was a high school English and theatre teacher, and a writer and editor for educational publishing companies. Her 48 writing, grammar, and vocabulary titles are used in PK-8th grade classrooms all over the world. A sincere Anglophile (as you will witness), she’s thrilled to be back in England.

Her presentation today is on remix writing in the digital age (i.e., a digital composition using at least three different modes of communication [i.e., combining words, sounds, and images into one creation on the computer]). She’ll show examples, present a little research, connect it to “academic” writing, and give suggestions on how to incorporate this fun “new” way of composing in your class—no matter the age of the student (or teacher). You’ll receive a handout with detailed lesson plans, resources, examples, and differentiation tips for using remix digital writing to motivate even your less-than-stellar students.


‘Digial Writing REMIX’ – Prezi link here.

Presentation handout here.

Posted in Projects

A New Project – Writing for Bradford

This summer, my school (Appleton Academy) will be hosting an exciting project to promote writing in Bradford schools. It will involve working collaboratively with professional writers, spoken word artists, academics, university students and teachers. The project is open to any interested schools in the Bradford/West Yorkshire area. Please see the information in this document: Writing Bradford leaflet

If you are interested in being involved, or would like more information, please contact me on my work email: or on Twitter @funkypedagogy

Posted in A Level Teaching, Teaching Ideas

A Level Literature Ideas – #1: Writing Introductions

Introductions and conclusions always seem like quite abstract things, threatening to book end an essay with vague statements and ‘summing up’. However, done right, an introduction serves as the perfect vanguard of a well crafted argument.

There are tons of different ways to teach introduction writing, but the most successful in my experience is ‘Discuss, Define, Refine’ (DDR). Here is a brief outline:

Discuss: Introduce the key terms of the question, showing that you are fully aware of the given theme/issue/area. Often constitutes a simple re-wording of the question. e.g. “Madness is a topic which clearly fascinates writers across all of literature.”

Define: Define the key terms in the question, showing that you appreciate a range of ways to interpret the topic. e.g. “‘Madness’ could refer to a range of human emotion and conditions, such as the brief madness caused by grief, the intoxicating madness of love, or the tragic madness of severe mental illness.”

Refine: State clearly how YOU are interpreting the question/terms for this particular essay, bringing the question to your specific text(s). Ensure that the final sentence of the introduction firmly establishes your key argument. e.g. “Perhaps the most significant presentation of madness in literature is that of King Lear as he succumbs to old age, confusion, anger and dementia, destroying his family and, for a time, losing his humanity. In Lear, Shakespeare presents a king who loses his mind, his country and his children; this is not a play about greed or evil, but about a frail and vulnerable man in the throes of mental instability.”

This structure effectively ensures that students begin with a very wide concept, and then narrow this concept down to their own specific argument. I use an upside-down triangle to show my students how this works:

Intro Slide

The other very pleasing thing about the triangle shape is that we could see it as an arrow, literally pointing towards the rest of the essay…

line of argument slide

The resource below is a writing frame using the triangle/chevron shape, which students can use to plan their introduction. The shape is really helpful in emphasising the fact that students have to start in general terms, and gradually become more specific, ending in a final, very clear, narrow focus for their argument.




Introduction Template

The finished introduction is here:

“How do writers present male dominance in Victorian literature? Consider one prose and one drama text.

Male dominance pervades Victorian literature in everything from plot to setting to characterization. The writing community itself was almost all male, with only a handful of notable female writers to create any sense of balance. Male dominance could refer to depictions of powerful men and domestic hierarchies which were typical of the period. It could also refer to the way in which masculinity and misogyny are ingrained in the very fabric of novels, plays and poetry.  The most potent example of male dominance in these texts is the very real and oppressive way in which characters such as Torvald Helmer and Lord Henry control and manipulate those around them. These writers present their male oppressors as villains who exemplify all that is wrong in a male dominated society.”

I’d be really interested to hear other A Level intro structures you have used or developed @FunkyPedagogy

My next post on the A Level Literature Ideas series will be on essay planning…

Posted in Projects, Teaching Ideas

Vocabulary Project: Part 2 – technical terminology for high ability learners

When we were initially trained on vocabulary teaching by Jane Dallas, she separated words out into three classes.

1. Everyday words you need to communicate simple things (mum, dad, tree…)
2. More complex words used to add meaning or nuance (disgusting, harrowing, protective…)
3. Technical vocabulary linked to specific subjects (onomatopoeia, synthesis, semiquaver…)

Jane’s training, mainly centred around primary students, focused on developing students’ use of class 2 words. While the class 2 words are very important, it became very clear to my colleagues, particularly those in maths and science, that for secondary teaching, most of our key vocabulary is made up of words from class 3. I have, therefore, been working over the last half term, on a range of strategies for teaching class 3 words. My y11 top set group have been preparing for their Spoken Language controlled assessment. Any English teachers out there will acknowledge that this is about as close to anything scientific we ever come! It is basically a linguistic study, involving students being able to identify and describe features of spoken language. There is a plethora of complex technical terminology to go with this study, most of which are completely alien to students.

Some of the terms I needed my students to know this term have been:

Paralinguistic features
Non-fluency features
Phatic talk
Prosodic features

Here are some of the strategies I’ve used with a very able group of Y11 students over the past 5 weeks…

1. Word origins
It often surprises me how fascinated students are by the meaning and provenance of words. I start with the meaning of students’ names (very easy to find online), and we talk about countries of origin and how names have changed, e.g. ‘Robert’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon Hreodbeort (hreod: fame, beort: bright).

Talking about names can lead into a discussion about how words change, and how roots (smaller chunks which make up words) can be traced across other words. When I introduced some of have new key words for this unit, I broke them down in order to show the meaning of the roots…

Paralinguistic: Para – beside or next to, lingua – language
So paralinguistics, related to anything which is non-verbal language, is beside, or related to language and communication.

This discussion can then be enhanced by…

2. Metacognition

Once students understand that words are made up of roots, and they are linked to other words (transport, transplant, transpose…), we can use metacognition to ensure that they continue to apply this understanding when they encounter new words. I used the metacognitive sentence starters below to get students to plan to apply their skills next time.


One student wrote: “Next time I encounter a new, unfamiliar word, I will break it down into chunks and see if I recognise the roots from any other words. This way I might be able to guess the meaning. I could use this skill in other subjects, such as science, where there are a lot of related words, such as ‘condensate, condensing and condensation.’

3. Word Webs

Get students to explore the roots of words and how words are connected to each other, by creating their own word webs around key words.


This could easily be enhanced with further annotations with the meanings of different roots, and some sentences putting the words into context.

4. Repetition, emphasis and modelling

I have consistently used these words whenever speaking to the students, and rewarded them for using them, both in conversation, and in their writing. Every time they use a piece of key terminology in their writing, I highlight it in green, and this forms a key part of the success criteria.

When students peer assess, they are looking for key vocabulary (among other things), and their targets for one another must always include something related to terminology.

We also begin all our annotation with identifying elements of terminology, so that students are always linking evidence with key vocabulary.

In all of my modelling for students, I use terminology, and highlight it in green – students copy this into their books, and highlight or label vocabulary too.

This may all seem a little over the top, and every now and then, one of my students says, “but I know it, I don’t need to highlight it anymore”. My answer is always the same – the more explicitly we use the terminology, the more it will be embedded into our every day language use.

The results so far…

When students sat a practise essay, based on a different transcript to the one for their CA, they scored very highly – this was partly due to their focus and hard work, but also because of the wide range of features they felt able to discuss. It was quite obvious that they were comfortable with the terminology, and this meant that their writing was succinct and sophisticated. They covered a lot of spoken language features, and wrote with confidence and clarity. I am convinced that the work we did on vocabulary made the difference.

Next steps…

I want to try the same strategies with a different type of group. I am going to train a low ability Y10 class in using analytical vocabulary to support their literature CA. It will be interesting to see how I need to adapt these strategies for this group of students.

I would love to hear your thoughts or suggestions! @funkypedagogy

Posted in Teaching Ideas

Five displays which work…

If there has been one pattern in my teaching career, it has been the slow realisation that nothing is worth doing unless it can answer ‘yes’ to two questions:

1) Can it be re-used, and/or integrated into a regular part of my practice?
2) Will it make students active, rather than passive participants in their own learning?

1) We spend so much time creating resources and setting up activities that we need to be discerning about the things we spend our precious time on. I never spend time making something unless I am going to laminate or cover it with sticky-back plastic, and bring out again or refer to it on a regular basis.

2) No matter how innovative or beautiful a resource is, if YOU have put more time into it than the students will, then it is not doing the right job! Some resources make students lazy – a beautiful learning mat, revision resource or word wall is a lovely thing to have, but is it asking students questions? Prompting them? Challenging them? OR is it just giving them the answers and allowing them to be passive?


A good display can save you hours of work and help to establish familiar classroom routines. The displays below are all reusable and interactive…

1. Sentence Structures

This display was designed by my very creative colleague, Kat Lang (@Kat_Stubbs), based on the sentence structure work done by Chris Curtis (@Xris32). Peg a range of sentence structures onto a ‘washing line’ so that students can use them for inspiration when doing written work. This can be directed by you, or students can simply opt to use them when they see fit. Laminate the sentences so that they will last all year!

Sentences sentences2 sentences3

2. DIRT (Directed Improvement and Reflection Time)

Create a selection of reflective tasks based on the skills students need to develop, and attach them to a display so that students can select their own DIRT tasks to improve their work. Tasks could involve instructions such as, “VOCABULARY: Choose three words in your work and use a thesaurus to replace them with three more effective words or phrases,” Or “ANALYSIS: Can you link this text (or the ideas in it) to any books, poems, films, songs you have experienced? Try to explain how, using examples.,” Or “FORMALITY/TONE: Why is it important to get the level of formality in a piece of writing exactly right? Can you think of a time you have NOT got the formality right?”

This example shows a DIRT wall based on a flower garden. The tasks are separated into the skills areas: vocabulary, analysis, writing for effect, formality/tone, structure and metacognition. Each of these areas has a different flower pot and the tasks are on colour coordinated laminated cards.


3. Cookie Jar

This is a brilliantly creative display from my colleague Lizzie Hutchinson. It uses a cookie jar as an extended metaphor for reading skills. There is a biscuit type for every reading AF, and students write examples of their best work on a cookie template to go ‘into the jar’ (in the middle of the display)

Rich Tea biscuit in a jar – information retrieval (because it is a simple biscuit that you have to go in and retrieve)

Jammy Dodger – inference and reading for meaning (because of the good stuff in the middle!)

Pink Wafer – structure and layout (because you can see all the layers)

Millie’s Cookie saying, ‘without you I’d crumble’ – language

Fortune Cookie – culture

Cookie Monster – author’s perspective

Cookie cookie2 cookie3


4. Formality Scale

This is the brain child of an incredibly talented AST I worked with in a previous school. Students measure their own language and that of their peers (and teacher!) using the formality scale, for example:

Teacher: thanks, a brilliant answer, but where would you rate your language on the formality scale?

Student: about 30%

Teacher: so how could you re-phrase your answer so that it is at 75%?

I tend to add words and phrases which students say a lot around the outside throughout the year, so that they can see where and when that language is acceptable. The scale can also be referred to when setting written work and discussing formality and tone for audience and purpose.



5. Black sugar paper and chalk

VERY simple! Back a display board with black sugar paper and get yourself some chalks in a range of colours. Over the course of a scheme of work, students can write key concepts, quotations, questions and key vocabulary onto the board in chalk. This gives them ownership of the display, and allows them to prioritise the things which really matter to them during the topic.

You can also stick examples of good work, or extracts from texts onto the board and have students annotate them in chalk.

I would love to hear about brilliant long term displays you have used which work! Please get in touch with me: @funkypedagogy and I’ll try to update this blog with the best stuff!