1. Team paragraphs
Good for: improving writing under pressure, meta-level discussion about paragraph structure; thinking like an examiner.
Students work in teams. The teacher gives the class an exam style question about a text and a short period of time (5-10 minutes) to write a paragraph in answer. Teams swap paragraphs and give the other team a mark for a relevant point, a mark for referring to the text to back up the point and up to three marks for further exploration, such as commenting on the writer’s language choice in a quote, or giving a personal response. Teams get their marked paper back. They may challenge if they feel they have been marked unfairly, with the teacher having the final say. Repeat until bored! Generates ‘lively’ discussion about, for example, whether referring to the text in your own words constitutes evidence (it does!) or whether a particular point is relevant to the question. To practise for the non-fiction exam, give students a past paper non-fiction text to read. Instead of the exam-style question on a text, give them the questions from the past paper, one by one, to answer as a team. Swap and mark after each question, using the mark scheme, (making sure they only see the mark scheme for that question).
2. You ask the questions
Good for: building confidence in tackling texts independently, developing the skill of identifying the most interesting/relevant things to focus on in a text.
In groups, students set questions on a short piece of text (any genre) and then swap with another group. The groups try to answer each others’ questions. Debrief afterwards, either in the paired groups, or as a class: which questions particularly helped understanding and and appreciation of the text? Which led to the most interesting answers?
3. Speed it up!
Good for: improving the speed of students’ reading and writing in an exam situation.
Reading: students read with a finger under the line but moving their finger slightly faster than their natural reading speed. With practice this will speed up their reading. Next they turn to a partner and tell them three things they remember from what they have read (don’t over-emphasise this element though as speed is the object here). If they do this for a set period each time (e.g thirty seconds) and then count how many words they read, they can try to beat their record each time.
Writing: give students a passage and allow them one minute to copy out as much as they can. They pass their work to a partner who circles any errors or illegible words. They swap back and give themselves a score of number of circles over number of words written. They try to beat their personal best each time.
4. Wild ideas
Good for: helping students to approach an exam question creatively
Give students an exam style question for the writing paper. As a class they dream up some ‘wild ideas’ for content or ways to approach the question. For example, if the question asks you to describe a shopping centre, how about doing it from the point of view of a mouse? If you are asked to write a speech for a class assembly about the benefits of exercise, what if you try to persuade them not to exercise? Students then choose one and have a go at writing an answer making use of the wild idea.
5. Question box
Good for: students taking responsibility for their revision – teaching something is the best way to learn it!
On a piece of paper, students write a question, or an aspect of their revision that they are feeling unsure about. This could be as specific as a particular line in a poem, or as general as how to generate ideas for a piece of original writing for the exam. These are collected in a question box. The teacher will group and sort them and then reallocate them to pairs (i.e. a pair might have several short questions, or one big one; remove questions that are unlikely to affect more than a very few members of the class – these can be dealt with directly by the teacher). Students are then given some class and homework time to research answers to their question and prepare a mini-lesson for the class.