An English Teacher's Toolbox

An English teacher at a Secondary School in the UK. * Sharing and questioning the day job. * I teach KS3/4/5.
* Looking for inspiration and motivation, to share with others. * Looking to constantly improve and grow. * On Twitter at @MissBex_M *
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Posts tagged "speaking and listening"


Recently, I was reading an article in May’s edition of 'Report' Magazine. The article, 'Conservation up for debate' inspired me, and ignited a need to explore and question the need to teach Speaking and Listening skills, explicitly, within the curriculum.

The article was penned by TV presenter Michaela Strachan, and although her passion for conservation is admirable, it was her comments on the application of ‘debate in the classroom’ that really caught my eye.

Strachan referenced the well-known Chinese proverb: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand” to support her ideas about conservation and debate being taught in the classroom.

However, to me it emphasised the need to model and practice the art of debating from an early age - in the same way we model and practice essay writing. This stronger focus on debating is relevant to the current KS3 and KS4 curriculum and examinations I’m delivering. In the article, Strachan states that 'every opinion needs debating', and that although relying on emotion and passion can mean for enjoyable experiences - it isn’t enough. Instead, it is far better to 'involve the kids by getting them to debate issues' and to 'get them researching the facts themselves and have a class debate'. Strachan’s insistence got me thinking…

With Speaking and Listening’s value currently hanging by a thread for KS4, from the Government’s point of view, I began thinking about how to explore debating at KS3. I completely agree with Strachan’s view that ‘when telling an audience about an emotionally charged subject, it is only fair to give both sides a voice’. We deliver this repeatedly when teaching pupils the skill of writing ‘to argue’ - but I think when doing speaking and listening I am guilty of focusing on purposes to inform and persuade, neglecting the need to teach pupils to verbally articulate balanced responses.


So, on reflection I asked myself: What can I do to change this?

One of the key preparations is to create a safe environment in which pupils can take risks, with confidence, and this can often be done in collaboration with the students - encouraging them to decide on the rules to create the right climate for learning.

Another change can be focusing on the importance of creating relevant, skills focused success criteria that are used consistently across the department (and school). In his excellent book “(2012) The Perfect Ofsted English Lesson”, David Didau details the importance of clear success criteria. I’m already a big fan of the s.c. and I include it in all independent tasks, but Didau succinctly explains that 'without them [success criteria] students will struggle to do what you want' and that the success criteria 'tells them how'. Didau builds on this saying that 'ideally, what we want are success criteria which move students from surface to deep understanding'.

Therefore, I believe that it is through modelling; deconstructing live examples; creating a safe environment, and clear success criteria that we can deliver the concept of debating effectively, and encourage students to apply these skills themselves.

How have you successfully taught debating? What strategies and activities have you employed?



On a whim, I created a new class tradition yesterday: SCI-FI FRI! (Science Fiction Friday). Instead of a normal “Do Now” warm-up in class, Fridays’ will be visual, with more emphasis on creativity and wild imagination.

Huge hit. All the students were totally engaged, and it was awesome to see how they approached the writing prompt. Even better, two sixth grade girls volunteered to write me a Sci-Fi Fri theme song.

Notable quotes and conversations from the activity:


6th grade girl: Can my people have super-powers?

Me: Hmm…ok….one of them.

6th grade girl: [writes] 

1. One pretty strong 23-year old woman who has studied the moon for 10 years and knows how to make buildings from moon rocks.

2. A middle-aged man who can grow plants in an indoor environment.

3. A 13-year old girl who can turn anything into oxygen.


6th grade girl, writes:

20 people who know a lot about the moon.

Me: What other details are important about those 20 people?

Girl: Huh?

Me: Like, is it okay if they’re all 85-year old men who are complete moon experts?

Girl: Yeah!

Me: But… uh, what will happen to your civilization in 10 or so years?!

Girl: How would I know?

Me: Well, I’m just not sure you have the framework in place for this civilization to keep itself going for too long…

Girl: Oh yeah. I guess I’ll put some young people in there to have babies.


On the lists were a blend of skill specifications (“architects,” “expert botanists,” “engineers”), character traits (“a strong leader,” “a peace maker”) and specific people.

I made it onto a few of the 6th graders’ lists, which was hugely flattering, especially when one of them put me in the company of Bear Grylls and Barack Obama.

Me: So you’re going to kidnap the President and send him off on this mission with me and 18 others?!

Boy: Yup!!!

Love this! Can’t wait to see more!

Reblogging for the great idea!

My ‘Active Listener’ - put together last year with another colleague. #REDS

A table with levels 2-8 from the new NC for English in student-friendly language. Covers Speaking and Listening, Reading and Writing, condensed onto 2 sides of A4. Useful for self- and peer- assessment.

Great resource!

What a fantastic discussion prompt - is change the only thing that is constant? How do we know? What else might be constant? Why? Can you explain? Can you give examples? Are there any links to be made?

(via pertinaciousheart)