Jenga… (Issue 7, Conference June 2010)

– Confidence builds as the towers fall

It’s not always easy to motivate a class of Year 11 students who have discovered they got a D in English in the November exam and have to do it all again. They usually chirp the same chorus, “we’ve done this”, “we know this already” and yet the reality is that the next 6 months is going to involve going back over poetry and their writing skills until they can do it with their eyes shut. This prospect doesn’t always excite them; that’s where Jenga comes in!

In English students need to use PEE paragraphs: point, evidence, explanation. Without using PEE paragraphs, and being able to analyse language and themes in detail, they will not easily get that all important C grade. Jenga enables them to do exactly this without always having to write out a PEE paragraph, something many of them find tedious lesson upon lesson.

First I bought a cheap Jenga imitation for £3.99 and then started writing lines of the exam poetry on each side of the Jenga blocks. On some of the blocks I wrote themes, technical terms and simply the titles of the poems. Then we were ready to play.

Small groups of students gathered round as I explained the rules; when it is your turn, pull out a block and then explain what the quotation is about using a PEE paragraph. If you get a technical term, explain what it is and give an example from the poems. If you get a title of a poem, think of other poems in the selection you can compare it with and explain the connection. After explaining your brick, place it on the top of the tower and then the next person takes their turn. This keeps going until the tower collapses! Apart from the odd comment of “can we not just pull out the blocks Miss” they all seemed quite happy to give it a go.

What resulted was 35 minutes of talk about the poems as each person took out their brick and explained which poem the line was from, what the quotation was about, what themes were reflected in it and any methods the poet used. They didn’t complain, hesitate or refuse…they just played until the bricks crashed down.

I was really encouraged because they had talked, with real focus, about their bricks and had grappled with some difficult language far better than if I had asked them to “write another PEE paragraph”. Of course, writing is crucial as that is how students are assessed in the exam but being able to talk about it first, and then write PEE paragraphs in subsequent lessons, gave them the confidence they had lost.

Rachel Johnson

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