In October 2018, we published a blog entitled Maths Planning in the Classroom – An Easy to Follow Planning Strategy. It proved to be very popular with everyone in ‘teacher-land’ and we received many related comments and requests. In the blog, I mentioned that the same approach could be taken with English.
Applying the strategy to this subject area is a little more tricky but I’d like to share with you how I used this approach to successfully sort out English planning in the classroom.
Before Planning for English in the Classroom
Before we begin, there a couple of caveats I’d like to make you aware of. First, in the interests of brevity, I’ll leave out the rationale, benefits and challenges of this approach that were mentioned in the previous Maths planning blog. As such, if you haven’t already, it’s probably best to read that one first before jumping into this English version.
Secondly and perhaps most importantly, you need to be aware of how your school and/or education authority approach the teaching and learning of English. As I’m sure you’re well aware, the teaching of literacy skills is a topic of much debate. You will need to consider how this planning suggestion will fit-in with the required pedagogies and approaches that your school adheres to.
So, with all that said, let’s get into it!
An Easy Way to Plan for English in the Classroom
The first step is to break your English lessons into areas. I broke the subject down into:
Next, you need to identify the topics within each strand according to the timeframes and requirements of your school. Finally, consider how much time you need to allocate to the subject each day, as this varies across year levels and educational authorities.
As per the maths planning strategy, each topic in each strand is then taught on three consecutive days. The fourth day revises the topic from the week before. The fifth day will revise the topic from three weeks earlier and asses the topics from four weeks ago.
Here is a planning template I constructed for a Year 1 English teaching sequence.
Specific Tips and Considerations
Even though the pros and cons of this planning approach have already been elaborated upon in the preceding Maths Planning blog, there are some English-centric points to be made.
- Contextualise your teaching of English! It will make it easier to apply this model and make your teaching far more effective. For example, when teaching about narratives, you could use a picture book to model the elements being taught.
- When choosing texts, try to pick one that also has examples of the phonics/spelling, reading and grammar/punctuation topics as well. Sometimes, it may be more beneficial to choose the text first, identify the learning opportunities it provides and then check these off on a curriculum tracker. This context/text approach is a proven method for effective teaching of English.
- Incorporate speaking and listening into activities through the work cycle e.g. give a short speech about one of the characters, ask a partner how they relate to the story and then tell another person. Occasionally, I would make speaking and listening a focus topic that would progress through the weeks, leading to an assessment.
- In a similar way, handwriting skills and practices can be addressed as part of written tasks.
- Look for opportunities to allow for the gradual release of responsibility. For example, the first three lessons in the cycle could be your familiarising and modelling phases. The revision and applied learning lessons could be the guided phase, leaving the assessment to be the independent task.
- As mentioned in the Maths blog, spacing out the learning will give you more time to formatively assess and address the learning of your students.
This approach breaks the assessment down into smaller, more frequent pieces which can help reduce the load and pressure of these tasks. It is sometimes the case, particularly in the upper years, that a single, large assessment needs to be completed at the end of the term. If I had a year six class that needed to write a narrative at the end of the term, I would break the teaching of the structure into parts and have the students build their work over several weeks.
- The first topic for writing might look at the orientation/introduction.
- Students would progress through the cycle and write their own introduction in the fifth week.
- If the complication/problem was taught as the second topic, then that section would be written the week after and so on.
- Thus, the text would be constructed over four or five weeks, with the students receiving feedback along the way, giving them ample opportunity to correct and revise their work over a longer period of time.
- Naturally, the assessment criteria for spelling, grammar and punctuation would be incorporated into the teaching sequence and reading activities would focus on developing the comprehension of the narrative text type.
Using this approach still allows you the freedom to use the learning activities you prefer. As you would have noticed, the example plan is quite broad. Teachers will still need to choose their own learning activities according to their preferences and the requirements of their class and/or school. For example, I always found that guided reading rotations worked quite well for my applied learning lessons. I liked to break my class into four, ability-based reading groups and assign each one a set of class readers at the appropriate level.
Each ten-minute rotation would have a focus on one of the four topics being studied.
- The first rotation might ask students to read pages of the text and identify the characters.
- The second rotation might ask them to find nouns on particular pages.
- The third rotation might have students answer questions that elicit literal information from the text.
- The last rotation might have students find words with a particular phoneme and then note the variations of its spelling.
This allowed me to complete many curriculum requirements, in context, in a short amount of time. Easy!
Final Words from Paul
As previously mentioned in the Maths blog, this approach does require a bit more planning and preparation at the start but I found that once the cycle commenced, it flowed nicely through the weeks and topics and really complemented the progressive/developmental nature of the curriculum.
Teach Starter already has many unit plans for English that you could easily break down and apply to this approach and we are creating more as we speak! We also have over 100 000 pages of teaching resources including worksheets and pre and post tests that could be incorporated into the different phases of this planning strategy.
We are always trying to help teachers save time and make their job a little easier, particularly when so much is asked of the modern educator. So, as a new year approaches, remember:
Teach smarter, not harder, with Teach Starter!