Once a text has been studied, and content is well understood, the application of the knowledge to essay writing is usually the expected path. Here’s how the team and I at South Devon High School help students develop their essay writing. Huge thanks to Katie Babbs for helping design this.

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  • The grid is presented to students. Across the top are possible essay questions, and down the left hand side are the scenes from the text.
  • Students populate the squares if they feel the essay question is represented in the particular scene. Students decide whether they go along each row with each scene, or down each column with each question. I suggest going down each column as it helps reinforce the text’s plot multiple times, which significantly strengthens their knowledge of the text as they continuously revisit the scenes and quotes.
  • I model the process of justifying the choices. At this point, students will probably argue that a square should or shouldn’t be included, which is perfect as the explanations help other students come to terms with the task. Depending on the group, you may have to populate the first few rows/1 column to get things moving.
  • Next, students need to understand the requirements of the exam/assessment task: how long they will have to write, and consequently how many examples would constitute a strong response, bearing in mind that the beginning, middle and end of a text needs to be discussed.
  • Students then begin the planning process for each essay question by going down each question and prioritising scenes and relevant quotes to suit the time allowed in the writing.
  • Students then practise writing the essays. This is where they will realise how many examples they can discuss in the allotted time, and suitably adjust the number chosen.
  • I encourage students to choose questions, or I decide topics that have examples from different scenes. Ideally, students would complete at least 4 of these essays so they can produce responses with a range of scenes. Of course, there will be a great deal of overlap, which serves to consolidate the knowledge of the text a great deal. The advantage of this also is that multiple exemplars are produced that can greatly assist students who are either still unsure about particular essay strands, or who will become inspired by the thinking of other students.

The development of essay writing is a strong feature of this activity, but almost crucially, the students’ knowledge of the text is significantly strengthened as they continuously revisit the scenes and quotes, and we know how powerful retrieval practice is. You can have students write their first 2 essays from the grid, but then take away the ability to see the quotes, or the scenes, and then all of it, as their retrieval capacity becomes increasingly secure.

The template works for a range of texts, and can have space assigned to add context if necessary. Here is the doc for you to use and adjust to suit,

Here is a completed one for a few Macbeth questions. Adjust quotes, choice of scenes and choice of questions as required.

Here is one for A Christmas Carol.

I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger

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