Like all schools, we are increasingly under pressure to improve learners’ skills in a range of different areas – so that they are best prepared for National Reading Tests (here in Wales), PISA testing and the new specification GCSEs. In order to address improving oracy, reading and writing in our lessons, we have started to develop ‘rich task setting’ – sessions that include activities across all three attainment targets, and aim to engage students with topics that genuinely appeal to them.
We start off with an overarching theme – in this instance we have ‘The Supernatural’, for year 8 learners. From here we create packages of lessons that develop oracy, reading and writing skills – through paired or group discussion of ideas, topics and texts; reading activities; and modelled writing. This lesson uses zombies as the ‘hook’ for the learners. They will have the opportunity to read and discuss texts – including written, visual and moving image texts from a range of sources that give information and instruct in some way.
WHY TEACH THIS?
What learner doesn’t want to take part in a lesson about zombies, right? The subject matter engages younger KS3 learners from the start and is used here to deliver skills related to all three of the National Curriculum attainment targets.
I usually start my lessons with a ‘thunk’ – a question, image or idea that stimulates learners as soon as they enter the classroom. As I don’t want to give the game away about the theme for this lesson too early on, I would simply have a question up on the board as the students come in: ‘The brain is the root of all humanity’ – discuss.
We would then move on to an a ‘vocabulary snowball’. Learners are given six words that have been taken from an exposition text about zombies. The words are given with no definitions, but learners should discuss where they may have seen them, or if they have anything in common with vocabulary they know. More able learners in the group can use the words in a sentence to demonstrate understanding. This allows students to make the thematic link (hopefully!) and also to build their vocabulary range.
There is a range of different activities that I would then incorporate within the lesson (which usually takes place across a couple of hours, depending on the ability of my learners):
1) Variety of reading tasks – after completing the vocabulary snowball, learners are asked to complete a ‘prior knowledge’ learning map. They are then given some true / false statements to attempt before they read the Wikipedia entry about zombies (AR1), which encourages close reading for locating facts
2) Think, Pair, Share response to a short public service video about surviving in a zombie apocalypse – learners watch a short animated film about someone who is trying to survive a zombie apocalypse (AR2). Students are required to be able to identify the content, intended audience and the purpose of the video, and then identify particular features used such as imperative verbs, humour, images, stepped instructions and hyperbole.
3) National Reading Test simulation – this is a group task where the learners are given five texts that all have the thematic link of zombies (AR4). They are also given some NRT style questions that they need to work as a team to answer. The questions test location and retrieval skills, deduction and inference as well as word level language analysis.
4) Writing a news report – the other activities feed nicely into the learners writing a newspaper report or script for a television report about a zombie apocalypse. Depending on which the teacher decides to do, writing a news report can be modelled by using a report – or watching a news anchor and reporter give a live TV broadcast about a zombie attack (AR3), so students can identify the key features and build their own writing success criteria before drafting their own version. The TV scripts can also be filmed if time allows – although I would definitely try to factor in the time for this as the young people really enjoy this aspect of the lesson!
This lesson gives an opportunity to assess written work, primarily. The oracy and reading activities build up learners’ interest in the topic, but also help them practise a range of reading strategies such as skimming and scanning. It would be possible to assess the NRT style questions but as they are working as a team the main focus is on the skills that they use to answer the questions rather than individual achievement.
TAKE IT FURTHER
This lesson is designed to be longer than an hour in length – there are also plenty of non-fiction writing opportunities that can be explored, like producing instructions or instructional posters. Using another thematically linked text to compare to the Wikipedia entry is an alternative way of developing the lesson – perhaps you could ask learners to locate their own zombie related text to use in class.
STRETCH THEM FURTHER
After attempting the NRT questions I ask more able learners to devise their own questions on the texts. They will have tackled a range of different style NRT questions across a range of texts and topics so are encouraged to create questions using templates. This gives them a slightly different approach to accessing the tests rather than just practising the tasks. It also means they look more closely at the texts.
AR1 Adapted Wikipedia entry about Zombies ow.ly/To231
AR2 Video clips of: Zombie
Survival 101 ow.ly/To2bl
AR3 Short news clip about a zombie apocalypse ow.ly/To2gL
AR4 Texts for NRT style= questions:
Text A – Zombie Run ow.ly/To2AX
Text B – Zombie infographic ow.ly/To2GE
Text C – Zombie attack poster ow.ly/To2Mm
Text D – CDC Zombie poster ow.ly/To2Tc
Text E – Extract from
Forever Running by Big Bear ow.ly/To2ZC
ABOUT OUR EXPERT
Claire Meynell lives in South Wales. She currently works as assistant subject team leader for English at Newport High, where she is in her thirteenth year of teaching.