Prose makeover

13th February 2004 at 00:00
Inspired by the TV programme What Not to Wear, this year I tried a different way of analysing mock-exam answers with my Year 11 class. Using their literature set-text essays, we set out to discover "What Not to Write", with the students becoming literary Trinnies and Susannahs.

I prepared A4 sheets of short, anonymous extracts from their essays, one sheet for each of five focus areas: planning, introductions, paragraph links, quotations and conclusions. I divided the class into five groups, and then split each group up so that one representative was present in each focus area. Then I explained that we were going to examine our "wardrobe" of essays in the equivalent of the "360x mirror" - the focus groups. The pupils had 30 minutes to identify the lumps and bumps in their sample extracts, and to make suggestions about more flattering ways to dress prose.

They quickly entered into the spirit of the show, expressing their often very critical and perceptive comments in a suitably frank way, but also recognising things in the extracts that worked well. Each focus group produced five "bad style" and five "good style" rules to sum up their discussion.

After this, the pupils went back to their original groups, and acted as style gurus, giving expert advice on their focus area. Later, the rules were wordprocessed (using a Publisher business card template) and laminated to make pocket-sized revision aids - good rules on one side, bad on the other.

Every class member now has a set of these cards, to help them remember "what not to write".

Feedback from the pupils was really positive. We enjoyed two interactive and lively lessons instead of the usually demoralising post-exam debrief and I managed to get a GCSE speaking and listening assessment out of it as well.

Joanna Duncan, literacy co-ordinator, Northfield School, Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees

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