Improving Oracy in Physics by Will Snow

I have been having real trouble with a set of high achieving year ten physics students since starting the course with them in September. To begin with, we were strangers to each other and my first impression of them was that they were a very, very quiet bunch; often they would work in silence when not prompted to.

Coming to mark their books however, I noticed a consistent pattern to their written work. When describing a physical system, their language was underdeveloped for a class of their ability. For example, when describing an interaction pair, a typical answer would be “Object one pushes object two, and object two pushes back”. Whilst this is not explicitly incorrect, when compared to a more developed answer: “Object one exerts a force onto object two, therefore object two applies an equal force onto object one, which is equal in size and opposite in direction” it was obvious that students were writing ideas down before thinking about them, the first thing in their heads was coming out, rather than a more structured, developed answer.

Following Will May’s excellent session on oracy in the classroom during the mini teaching conference, I began to consider that the quietness of the classroom and the underdeveloped responses may be linked. Perhaps, as the students were not talking, they were also not developing their ideas. As suggested by Vygotsky (1962), thinking develops into words in a number of phases, moving from imaging to inner speech to inner speaking to speech etc. To put it simply, conversation is the sound of thinking.

But how to get them to talk? I decided to dedicate a lesson to the art of talking.

For my starter, I introduced the question: what does a scientist look, act and sound like? In between the typical silence, the class fed back some answers, though they continued to be limited in scope.

With the help of Will Mays, we then discussed what I had noticed in their books and the reasons I felt I was seeing these common errors.

So, to get them talking, I found them something to talk about! I picked an article from a news website which was addressing the gender inequality in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects, with some questions to go along with it. Students read the article, thought initially and then discussed their ideas with their partners.

Will and myself proceeded to discuss the questions with the class, deliberately playing devil’s advocate, with controversial (and certainly not our own!) views on the emotive subject at hand. Students very quickly became quite enlivened and excited by the debate, and we were able to draw in students who are normally quite passive in activities such as this.

We followed this by asking the question: ‘Is additional funding for female STEM students  a good or bad idea?’ and giving them a viewpoint to argue (either for or against). Whilst students debated in small groups (with a classroom atmosphere that was notable more electric), there was an encouraging level of conversation. Will and I circulated, talking to students who very often have little to say.

Part of the lesson needed to revolve around a topic students have strong opinions about, and that could be debated for or against. Will and I also needed to make it very clear that the views that we were expressing certainly were not always our own!

The results from this lesson have been clear in my class. Several of the quieter girls in the class have continued this discussion outside of the classroom with me, and the levels of conversation in the classroom are noticeably greater.

I am continuing to encourage the students to talk to give themselves a bit of mental ‘breathing space’. So far, the results I have seen in books, tests and in the classroom have been encouraging. 

Upgrading Extended Writing: A 10 Step Approach by Zoe Taylor

Beyond the usual problems of poor spelling, punctuation and grammar in my Year 10 extended writing lies something altogether more sinister: a lack of content. Too often, I see student letters, speeches, articles and reviews that simply run out of steam. Students often start well, using all of their strongest ideas in the opening two paragraphs, before realising that they have nothing else to write about.

This means that ideas are poorly developed across the whole text and in individual paragraphs. Students write paragraphs that are 4 lines long, consisting of 1 or two sentences. Or, it becomes clear that students only have two solid ideas that they actually develop across the whole text, resulting in thin, shallow pieces of writing. I set about tackling this in the following way

1.Exposure to rich, challenging core texts

Too often, a lack of content is due to poor prior knowledge of an issue. To tackle this, we started every writing task with a reading task, making sure we looked at a rich, challenging text to begin to build our knowledge. For example, we started a task on formal letters by looking at an editorial from The Guardian. This built confidence by exposing students to a range of ideas and content.

2. Modelling of high quality student texts

We then moved to something more familiar by exploring an excellent student model. We used the visualiser to pick apart features and content. Models were stuck in books and referred back to.

3. Collaborative Planning

Students then worked in teams to plan together. Again, I wanted to expose them to as much possible content before they started producing their text. Each group had a Scribe, a Chairperson, A Creator and a Spokesperson. Below is a group plan for a letter of complaint about a holiday:

Screenshot 2018-03-25 at 19.03.04 - Edited

4. Movement and further exposure to content

I wanted to really push students here to pick up further content for their text. Students moved about the room and picked up ideas from each plan- simple as they had been scribed on the desk with a whiteboard pen. I played cringey music (Agadoo/The Birdie Song…) to give students a 3 minute time frame and an idea of when they must return to desks.

5. Keep it or Bin it

Students then decided whether to keep or ‘bin’ their ideas, putting an asterisk  next to their 5 strongest ideas and a cross next to anything they no longer wanted to include. They were then encouraged to hone this further by numbering each point with an asterisk, therefore creating a chronological plan for their text.

6. Oral Rehearsal and Upgrading

Students then started their text. I encouraged them to use whiteboard pens on the desks to rehearse each sentence before transcribing into their books. This gave them an opportunity to edit as they wrote. Students also read each sentence aloud to check for errors.

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Not only did this allow students to quickly edit their work, but I could also assess writing quickly as I circulated.

2nd attempt:

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First draft after oral rehearsal:

Screenshot 2018-03-25 at 19.05.59 - Edited.png

7. Speed Dating Peer Assessment

Students were each given a pink highlighter and edited each other’s work. They were given a minute for each book, simply highlighting potential errors.

8. Speed Dating Oral Rehearsal

Students sat in two rows facing each other. They practised reading their work aloud to their partner, listening for any errors.

9. Final Draft

I wanted to give students ample opportunity to write something that they were proud of, and to complete the editing process in full. Students completed their final draft on plain A4 paper with guidelines underneath, understanding that their final piece should be of the highest quality.

10. Pictures for Parents

Finally, I took pictures of each final draft and emailed home the images to parents as an example of each student’s best work.

Results so far

  • Students are more confident before writing, as they have been exposed to so much potential content, in a number of different formats
  • Students are more engaged as lessons are a mix of individual work, collaborative group planning and movement around the room
  • Accuracy has improved as students are constantly editing their work- on the desk, in books and orally.
  • Students are producing work for an audience (in this case, their parents) and enjoyed being able to send something home that had been produced to a high standard.

Understanding Anxiety by Helen Wilson

There are as many as 3 million people in the UK with a disabling anxiety disorder according to the Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (2000). Since 75% of these conditions will have developed before the age of 18 (Murphy and Fonagy 2012), we play a crucial role in spotting the signs of anxiety and providing appropriate support to young people suffering from it.

So what signs suggest that a young person may have an anxiety disorder? We all know that everybody feels anxious at times but it is persistent signs of unease that wave a red flag.

  • Physical symptoms of anxiety can be extremely frightening as they can include fainting, heart palpitations and breathing difficulties. Commonly, those with anxiety suffer with gastric problems such as cramps, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting.


  • Behavioural consequences of anxiety such as anger and violence can be very disruptive and may not, at first glance, suggest that somebody is anxious. Equally, when a student goes out of their way to ingratiate themselves with you or their peers, it might not ordinarily ring alarm bells yet it can be part of the alarm response as is truancy and ‘shutting down’. Excessive thirst, skin-picking, hair-chewing, self-harm and abnormal appetite can all be compulsive behaviours resulting from anxiety.

How to help:

Like students with ASD or SpLD’s, students with anxiety benefit from a tidy classroom environment with supportive seating. They will also appreciate clear instructions such as checklists. It is worth considering how the student can best demonstrate their understanding: often, answering a question in front of the class induces panic preventing further engagement. Offering a time out for students who appear to be reaching a high level of anxiety can free them from the fear cycle.

Anxiety can be a safeguarding issue so if you have any concerns about a student being at risk of harm or if a student develops a consistently high level of anxiety, please relay your concerns to Jill Travers and the safeguarding team using CPOMS.

The Questioning Cramlington 10 by the Teacher Advocates

The first Teacher Advocates session focused on how what good questioning looks like in the classroom. We worked to put together a ‘Top 10’ of questioning strategies that we felt have a strong impact in the classroom.

Hinge Questions

Purpose: To pause a lesson at an important point to ask students to answer a key question. Usually multiple choice so that you can check students know the answer.

Strategies: Explain to students that this will be testing their understanding of the lesson. Give them a short period of time to answer and explain their rationale behind the answer. Only move on when the class understand the correct answer.

Cold Call Questioning

Purpose: To generate a classroom culture in which any student can be asked a question at any point.

Strategies: Make sure it is predictable, positive and a part of classroom culture. Give students time to think about their answer. Explain that you will not be taking hands to answer the particular question to give students advance warning. Use this to differentiate your questions and check the understanding of all students.

Model good listening skills

Purpose: To build motivation and engagement, to show we value student answers.

Strategies: Give time for students to finish answers; using eye contact with students to recognise their efforts; encourage other students to mirror these listening skills. Use the SLANT acronym to focus them on this aspect. Repeating back to students they key points of their answer as a summary to check we have interpreted it correctly.

Repetition of Key Questions

Purpose: To make sure that students have grasped key concepts and ideas in lessons.

Strategies:  Differentiating by repeating questions to a range of students throughout the lesson; having repeated questions displayed so that students continually come back to them. Starting a lesson with key questions then returning to this at the close of a lesson.

Student led questioning

Purpose: To encourage students to generate questions in lessons.

Strategies: Structure opportunities that allow students to ask each other questions in lessons. Give time in lessons for students to write/prepare questions about the lesson. Have student led questioning monitors to generate questions in the lessons.

Link questions to the Learning Objective

Purpose: To ensure clarity of student understanding about the purpose of the lesson. Strategies: Use questions to return to the learning objective throughout the lesson. Write some key questions related to the learning objectives in advance to ensure that this will be explored in the lesson. Ask students to come up with questions related to the lesson objectives.

Check your mirrors

Purpose: To ensure that all students are contributing, have been asked a question and engaged with in lessons.

Strategies: Check blind spots as the lesson progresses. Are certain students dominating? Who has not yet contributed? Using seating plan to tick off who has contributed can help to focus this. Cold call strategies can support with this aspect.

Low stakes testing questions

Purpose: To ensure information has been retained at the start of a new lesson.

Strategies: Start a lesson with ten ‘do it now’ questions that students must answer instantly as they start the lesson. Interleave previous content to check that students can remember information from previous lessons. Can also be used to finish a lesson, five questions students must get right before leaving. Good to build in a competitive element.

Bounce Questions

Purpose: To ensure quality of listening and engagement, to build further on the quality of answers.

Strategies: Ask a student to expand on an answer; ask a student what was effective about an answer; ask a student what the key point in the answer was; ask a student what words could be changed or improved in the answer.

Speak it Right

Purpose: to ensure students are answering in full sentences and correct English.

Strategies: Encourage students to say it as they would write it, use this as a whole-class philosophy. Ask students how they could rephrase their own or other answers. Have a ‘speaker of the week’ reward. Have a list of banned words that students must avoid. Have a ‘filler detective’ with younger groups,who are  responsible for pointing out when fillers are used.

Further Reading

Alex Quigley

Doug Lemov

Harry Fletcher Wood 

TThe Classroom Talk Cramlington 10 by the Teacher Advocates

In the second Teacher Advocates session of the year, we discussed the importance of nurturing high quality student talk in our lessons and the impact this can have. We began by considering why this is something we need to develop:

“The kind of talk that happens in a classroom largely determines the kind of learning that takes place and developing an armoury of tools to facilitate that talk should be at the top of every teacher’s list, whether that be learning how to scaffold learning with effective explanations and worked examples or setting up the kids of fruitful conversations that lead to genuine learning.”  Hendrix and Macpherson, ‘What does this look like in the classroom?’ (2017)

We then worked to put together the following ‘Top Ten’ techniques for improving talk in the classroom.

  1. Think right, talk right, write right.

Encouraging students to see talk as a reflection of thinking and to prepare them effectively for work in books.

  1. Praising language in student answers

Providing students clear positive feedback when using language well in the classroom. Using this reinforce high expectations and aim to encourage students to mirror these language habits.

  1. Modelling Appropriate Language

Using teacher dialogue and explanations to reiterate styles of speaking and use key words related to the lesson. Encouraging students to feedback on the ways in which we use talk in the lessons.

4.Classroom talk guidelines

Providing clear and structured guidelines on how talk should take place in the lesson. Keeping those visible during any independent tasks involving dialogue.

  1. Script It

Have a script for correcting students’ language. Sharing this script with students so it becomes a routine part of lessons. Examples:

“Just because I challenge you doesn’t mean you are wrong, it just means I want you to explain more”

“Your idea’s strong now. I want you to upgrade it with more precise language or more professional language.”

  1. Talk like a…

Deconstructing what talk should look like in individual subjects with students. Using this to encourage them to adapt a subject specific register and use key words related to subjects throughout lessons.

  1. Collaborative approach to moderating language

Good to use with younger year groups in particular. Having students in role to offer feedback in lessons:

  • Word choice detective: noting down all the excellent words used in the lesson.
  • Filler formality detective: identifying over use of fillers in lessons and any moment that slip into informality.
  1. Say it again with confidence

Encourage students to project and develop confidence in the quality of their answers. Asking students to repeat with more clarity and confidence.

9.Opportunities to adapt to different speaking registers

Consider ways in lessons to provide more opportunities for students to communicate in different ways, eg. formal presentations or role play of different characters.

  1. Set up paired/group dialogue

Circulating and reinforcing positive expectations about their talk. Visible sentence starters, key words to scaffold talk. Giving clear timings to ensure productive use of time.