Talk right; write right by Cathy Williams

A couple of years ago, when Geoff Barton did our conference keynote, he showed us this quotation, from Myhill and Fisher: “Spoken language forms a constraint, a ceiling not only on the ability to comprehend but also on the ability to write, beyond which literacy cannot progrcw2016ess” This idea really stuck with me; I hadn’t been teaching long and as a non-Geordie I think I was especially nervous about correcting students’ speech. At the same time I was expecting them to write much more accurately than they spoke, perhaps unfairly. Since then, I have made an effort to correct students’ grammar in speech as well as their writing, whenever errors cropped up. 

Early this term, I was yet again correcting a Year 7 student who had asked to “lend” a pen and ended up explaining my reasoning more generally to the whole class. We came up with the slogan “Talk Right; Write Right” to act as a reminder of how important formal and correct speech is in the classroom. Then, to follow this up more explicitly, I started all of my lessons on Monday with this activity.


It was interesting that different groups focused on different negatives in this very typical conversation. My bottom set year 10, some of whom have a tendency to demonstrate a poor attitude to learning themselves, all decided that Jenny was being really rude when she says “dunno”. Whereas, Year 7 were just concerned that she didn’t know how to articulate this as a complete sentence. Each class then came up with their own rules for speech in the classroom that we have tried to follow too. In Year 8 lessons, we decided to take a hint from Jamie Thom’s excellent blog and nominate a ‘full sentence monitor’ who would point out that an answer was incomplete. The best way to do this turned out to have the monitor silently stand up until the student completed the answer, this way seemed slightly less critical and certainly less likely to interrupt the flow of discussion. In my year 10 lessons, where poor grammar and slang are more of a concern than developed answers, I have just been pointing to the ‘Talk Right, Write Right’ sign to prompt students to correct their answers. While the standard of talk in my class discussions is still not perfect, students do now understand why I am expecting them to correct their speech.

Kemp’s Musings- Part 3

For the inspiring Teach Meet he organised, Stu Kemp talked about solutions to a range of issues we face daily. Here are some of his ruminations:

Bottom set year 9:

Entrance policy – They cross the ‘learning threshold’ of my lab.

They have 60 seconds to get their folders out. 

Sit down.

Open their book.

Get on with connect/create a summary of last lesson.

All in silence, they must be silent!

Exit policy – They must be sitting down, they must be silent.

I will not talk until all rulers, pens, etc. are away.

Movement in class – Do it like bacteria – quietly. Chairs cannot be scraped. Must be lifted.

Work hard on the relationships

Be assertive, authoritative and inspire confidence in your expertise. However, if students don’t connect with your human qualities- let them know.

‘I work for you. You work for yourself.’


Marking and feedback:

Photocopy brilliant work with your feedback on it.

screenshot-2016-12-14-at-20-42-17Hand it out; show the kids what great work looks like.

Ask the kids to make improvements based on what they know is great work.

When they improve their work, make sure they add the word ‘improvements’.

Get the pens out and live mark their work. 
When you are live marking they must be silent. 

DIRT time is important:


screenshot-2016-12-14-at-20-53-01Concept check:

When you introduce a new concept, check at least 3 times with three different students. Saves constant micro-
teaching and repetition.

Be relentless:


Infinite extension:

Every subject has concepts that take many steps to grasp, or skills that take hours to hone. Instead of always providing a different extension activity, why not offer an extension project- something for the students to work away at over the term or the year?

Finished? No. Never.


And finally, remind your students (and yourself, at times):


News from the Market Place- A Level Feedback

A level feedback- not to be ignored!

Due to timetabling, it is often easy to mark an AS/A2 essay and never to refer to it again. The pace at A Level is fast, modules need to be completed in good time and so there aren’t always opportunities for in depth discussion about a piece of home learning. Sophie Minchell introduces a way to feedback to her students, both on a class and a more personal level.

Firstly, the students complete the work e.g. an essay. When marking the home learning, Sophie has a document entitled ‘class feedback’, which is dated and titled subject to the home learning. Using the assessment objectives (AOs) as her guide, Sophie writes out the particular, general strengths of this selection of home learning and of course, the common mistakes made, complete with quotations from the students’ work. At a more personal level, Sophie marks each individual piece of work, annotates it and selects a paragraph that the student can improve.

When students then have time to look at the feedback, included at the beginning of the lesson, or perhaps as the review, they are asked to start a new page, entitled progress task, ensure that they date it and using the Class Feedback Sheet, improve the suggested paragraph mentioned in their personalised feedback.

The students are then provided with a ‘progress sheet’ which is, of course, yellow. They are expected to use the language of the AOs to explain what they have improved on in their paragraph.


  • students get in depth feedback
  • students make similar errors and so once a document is created, it is quite easy to make a copy and keep some of the mistakes from the last round of marking
  • students are able to say that they are aware of the AOs, in their own words
  • more feedback at AS/A2 level, which needs to improve
  • the filing, when chronological, works to show progress


  • to create one of the documents takes time
  • not all students write the date/title- folders can get messy (but this is nothing that a folder sorting session after school can’t fix!)

Silent teaching, part 2

I was very interested to enjoy the success Fergus had enjoyed through the loss of his voice. So I planned a lesson where I was not going to speak until a debrief. The class I chose was the class I felt were my worst listeners. I did spend a good while planning the activities and double checking the resources to ensure they stood alone. This was a useful thing to do and helped me think and plan the transitions between tasks.

The lesson was based around a practical to investigate catalyst activity that required following step by step instructions and lightly analyse collected data. I started the lesson with a reviewing question about what do we remember about catalysts? I simply passed a pen to the first person through the door a pen and pointed at the door. It did not take long for the students to write their contribution on the flipchart and then pass the pen on, allowing me to respond to their responses with questions.

I took some of these ideas and annotated a graph of how enzymes work, it was at this point when they realized that I was not speaking. They instantly saw it as a bit of a game and even the more reticent students started testing their ideas out “does it mean this sir?” This was a remarkably self regulatory session, I even noticed several students stop themselves from shouting out to listen to other students. I prompted the discussion from time to time with written questions. Again a useful process for me as it ensured quality within my questions.

I issued the practical instructions and wrote on the board safety and step 1 step 2 etc. The students responded and I recorded their ideas. I then wrote a deadline of 30 minutes on the board and they set off to work and I began to circulate with a pad of post it notes, onto which I could write messages. At first the messages I gave were instructional, and I quickly identified a problem of this mode of teaching. The students were very keen to get a post it note for themselves, asking why I am I not speaking. A cult of wearing the post-its as a badge of honour spread quickly. A few terse notes “I am more interested in your learning than I am my teaching” soon refocused the class. It was at these points it was most difficult not to speak.

Although it only lasted a few minutes it was very tempting to speak. Luckily (though perseverance and planning were part of this) the lesson moved on and the interactions I was now enjoying were much more productive and subject based. I was also able to catch students doing the right thing and recorded it for them.

The student-student interactions were better than normal with them very active helping each other out, checking ideas in text books and on the internet without prompt.

Darren Mead

Silent teaching, part 1

Sometimes less really is more!

During a particularly bad case of man flu in which I felt the throat had been ripped out of me, I was cheered by the fact that it occurred during the school term, rather than being the usual holiday scourge. The malady was such that the bloody rasping occurred only when I spoke, but other than that I felt fine. Not being a work-shy fop, but mostly because I had recently spent a week out at Muffin Towers (Longhirst), I thought I’d take my classes anyway, and, retaining my pentadactyl function proceeded to type out a greeting to my first class on the whiteboard.

“I can’t speak, but when you hear The Flumps I would like a quality audience so I can give you further instruction.”

By the end of the day I found I had taught three successful lessons, including some silent science demonstrations, using a flipchart to communicate. Below I have attempted to distil some of the reasons for this unexpected triumph:

How I managed the classes

With the lights dimmed I displayed the greeting and explanation of why I was not speaking. The theme to the Flumps was chosen from the music bank as the tune which would signal when I wanted a quality audience. Even the most tardy attention givers were quicker to come round than usual. Things seemed to move much quicker, in large part I suggest, because I did not have to wait to address the whole group before giving instruction. Each progressive task or activity remained on the board for some time, eliminating the need for me to repeat the same thing umpteen times. Though I did carry a pen and large notebook on which I could ask and answer questions in individual and small group situations, I was genuinely impressed by the level of questions that were addressed to me.

Almost immediately those naff interactions that plague us all, such as where’s the bin, have you got a sharpener, my pen’s broke, can I lend a pen, and even some of the more reasonable poor learner tendencies were less prevalent. Only at the beginning of the lesson were students coming up to me when they were stuck or they wanted to check something.

Because they could not get instant gratification, or even a rebuke for being lazy, as verbal response (they had to wait for me to get out my pen and notebook), they soon discovered that it would be quicker to try another route and did what I had been trying to get them to do all year, which was to sort their own problems out independently.

My sixth form group particularly enjoyed the practical session they were in. My written instructions were updated throughout the session and, unless there were key learning points or safety instructions, I could add commentary to specific groups or named students in the background. It seemed that more credence was given when the instruction was given via the whiteboard and again, as I mentioned earlier, the instructions remain on the board for a while, removing the need to get all students off task together listen or to for repetition.

By the end of the session what was on the whiteboard was effectively a blog that could be reviewed. They referred firstly to each other, made much better use of their exercise books in which prompts to the problems for this lesson could be found, searched out text books and went online. I was able to show short videos. I realise that a large part of the success was that me not speaking has an impact as something unusual, but since then I have made a conscious effort to distil what went well, and how it moved my students to be a little more independent.

I am not, of course, advocating that we refrain from talking to our students, but those interactions that we do have can be of a higher quality when we take those extra few seconds before offering responses. The terrible chasm of silence in one-to-one situations between student and teacher will often lead to the student saying something else, perhaps thinking the problem through out loud– this true for teachers and students alike.

Incidentally, it took no longer for students to achieve a quality audience when I simply waited for silence than it usually does with a countdown.

Fergus Hegarty

…another teacher’s experience trying out the same technique next week!

Cranium in the classroom

– Get your students in a spin

I picked up this strategy at a recent course where we were told about the ‘personal capabilities’ being promoted in primary schools. Each ‘personal capability’ is a particular skill, and this activity is aimed at improving communication skills.

The activity is very simple to set up and fun. Firstly choose about 20 key words relevant to the topic being taught or revised. Then give a 5 section spinner to each group which has a different method of communication on each section.

In turns, a student picks up one of the words so that no-one else in the group can see. They then use the spinner to choose a communication method, and have 1 minute to successfully get the others in the group to guess the word using that particular method.

This is just like the board game Cranium, but can obviously used in lots of different subjects and in different ways.

The 5 sections are ‘miming’, ‘drawing without speaking’, ‘free choice’, ‘describing without saying the word’, and ‘modelling with plasticine’. The spinner is just a divided pentagon that can then have a pencil put through it.

I used this activity with a top year 10 set to help them revise a topic, but extended it afterwards by asking each student to choose 5 words and write definitions, using the textbooks for help.

The students found this a valuable learning activity and enjoyed it too. I also found that the activity promoted the review of further relevant concepts within the topic as the students had to make links to describe the words.

Poppy Saltonstall