Live modelling is difficult but powerful in English teaching. Students can see your thought process playing out in front of them: ‘That word isn’t quite right there,’ [deletes word] – ‘this word works better because…’ Live modelling shows students how to transform abstract ideas into a coherent whole.
The questions my department has been asking are:
- How can we make live modelling a consistent part of our English teaching?
- How can we ensure that students are not passive during a live modelling demo?
- How can we get every student actively involved in the process?
I’ll blog about sentence-level live models another time, but here I want to focus on paragraphs and a method we have been experimenting with.
Firstly, I should say that we use The Writing Revolution’s single paragraph outline strategies when planning a paragraph: topic sentence and supporting details. We believe that this gives much more freedom than constraining PEE or PEELAC structures, because it is entirely content driven. The topic sentence states the main idea or argument of the paragraph and the supporting details are all the ideas, quotations, contextual points (or whatever is relevant to the content) to illustrate it. Here’s an example of a paragraph plan for Romeo and Juliet, Act 3 Scene 2. We came up with this one as a class, but students are able to do this on their own because we’ve modelled how to plan so many times.
Question: How does Shakespeare present Juliet in this scene?
|Topic sentence:In this scene, Shakespeare presents Juliet as conflicted between her loyalties to her family, the Capulets, and her husband, Romeo.
Supporting details [just in note-form]
Concluding sentences [sum up ideas in paragraph and think about why Shakespeare presents her this way]: Perhaps, through Juliet’s extreme outbursts, Shakespeare is further emphasising the idea that passion and love can override all other emotions.
Imagine we have got to the point in the lesson when this paragraph is planned, as above. We would have the plan projected on to the screen, on a word document. [Note: generally, I find typing works best for live modelling. Writing on the board is slower and stops you from keeping an eye on behaviour. Visualisers are great, but don’t allow such speedy or clear edits.]
Displaying the plan on a word document, I would highlight the first supporting detail and ask all students to have a go at writing it up into a sentence or two, keeping the when/who/what/how/why sentence expansion questions in mind (I might even put these questions up somewhere if the group needs the reminder). I would give them a few minutes, and I would ask them to do this somewhere which is designated for rough notes: the back of the exercise book, for instance. This is so that, when it comes to writing up the paragraph properly later, they aren’t just copying up the notes from before.
While students write up the supporting detail note into full sentences, I would circulate the room looking for good examples and not-so-good examples. I would use this opportunity to note misconceptions to address with the class during modelling. Then, I would bring the class back together and choose someone to share their sentence with the class. You can choose someone at random, or you can be more strategic based on your class circulation. I would type up the exact sentence(s) the student reads out, and then everyone would read it on the board. At this point, it’s really important that students aren’t scribbling down all your suggestions or splitting their attention. They’ve got to be focused solely on the board while you play with the sentence and make it better, talking through your thought process. You might narrate the improvement of one yourself or take suggestions from the class so that it is a group effort. You might mix it up. We tend to keep the ‘I do, we do, you do’ model in mind.
You would then repeat the process with each of the supporting details, until you have formulated an excellent paragraph on the board, with the help of the entire class. Crucially, at every step of the way, students have had a go at writing each bit and then watch as an example from the class is transformed into something better. Then, they’re ready to try the whole thing on their own from scratch. See below for the model that my year 10s and I wrote as a class, based on the plan above.
This is just one way of live modelling, but we are finding it very useful. Here’s the breakdown of the paragraph modelling process before they write one completely on their own.
- Draft: everybody writes a sentence
- Display: ask for a sentence from the class
- Redraft: improve the sentence while all students watch
- Draft: everybody writes another sentence
- Display: ask for a sentence from the class
- Redraft: improve the sentence with class input
Hope this is useful! Let me know what you think.
The paragraph that we wrote as a class:
In this scene, Shakespeare presents Juliet as conflicted between her loyalties to her family, the Capulets, and her husband, Romeo. When Juliet hears about Tybalt’s murder, Juliet uses the oxymoron, ‘Dove-feather’d raven!’ to describe Romeo, demonstrating her confused feelings. On the one hand, she believes Romeo to be a ‘dove’, a bird which symbolises peace and innocence. On the other, she now sees him as a murderous ‘raven’ who has been hiding his true, violent identity. This exposes to the audience that Juliet no longer knows how to view the man she loves. However, when the nurse criticises him, Juliet responds with the rhetorical question, ‘Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?’ It is evident that, while she disapproves of Romeo’s actions, she feels loyalty to him. By the end of the extract, Juliet exclaims, ‘One word banished hath slain ten thousand Tybalts.’ This hyperbolic statement illustrates just how important her new husband has become to her. An Elizabethan audience might have been shocked by this change of allegiance because family loyalty was expected and a daughter, in particular, should have demonstrated subservience. This scene demonstrates Juliet’s courage because she is rebellious enough to put a man she has only known for a few days over her own family. Perhaps, through Juliet’s extreme outbursts, Shakespeare is further emphasising the idea that passion and love can override all other emotions.