A plenary plea;English

24th September 1999 at 01:00
Don't let that last section fall off the literacy hour, says Sue Palmer. Here are some tips for a happy ending.

Be honest. Did you round off today's literacy hour with a 10-minute plenary session - an organised opportunity to revisit the day's teaching objectives while celebrating and consolidating all that the children had learnt?

Or did you find that, owing to lack of time, too many pupils wanting to show and tell, or impromptu tuition for a group struggling with their independent activity, that the plenary session yet again "dropped off the end" of the hour?

Personally, I think we need a literacy hour and a quarter - or at least the flexibility to extend teaching time if necessary to ensure this final section isn't missed. The more one learns about the National Literacy Strategy, the more important the plenary becomes.

The words "planning" and "plenary" are united by much more than alliteration. Good plenaries reflect the planning that has gone into the hour. Some teachers start each week, or each day's lesson, by pasting up and briefly explaining a list of their teaching objectives. During the plenary session they come back to the list to check "what have we learned?" and "how far have we achieved our objectives?" There are many ways of focusing children's attention on these objectives. You could write up questions on the flip chart for the group leading today's plenary to answer, or even give them questions on cards in advance of the lesson. You could provide a checklist for the rest of the class to fill in as they listen to a group's presentation - has it covered all aspects of our objectives?

And there are many ways in which objectives can be revisited. As well as sharing and discussing successful written work you could try drama - for example, getting children to take on the personae of characters in your shared text and answer questions about feelings, motivation and relationships. You could also try oral reports on language investigations, such as "this is what our group found out about plural spelling patterns". You could also try group presentations, such as a poem or extract practised in group time with an emphasis on how punctuation affects intonation and meaning; or games (Any Questions, Countdown, Shannon's Game) based on today's objectives.

Look also for ways of involving all children in the plenary - and indeed in all shared teaching. The latest round of NLS training recommends the use of individual whiteboards. These can be made cheaply by laminating pieces of A4 card, and they allow every child to jot down a response and hold it up for you to see - perhaps a word featuring a particular phoneme or spelling pattern, a part of speech, a good ending to a sentence or words to describe a character.

With thanks to literacy consultants in Swindon, Somerset, Hackney and Worcester

Sue Palmer is a freelance writer and primary in-service provider

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