A perennial issue for English teachers is how best to prepare students for English Language. This is for good reason. Without a specific body of knowledge to teach, such as a literary text, it can all too easily descend into vague discussions orbiting around examination papers.
In my own teaching, in order to address this, I adopt a two-fold strategy:
- A significant chunk of preparation is devoted to reading and discussing interesting examples of non-fiction and extracts from novels whilst asking ourselves big questions. This helps students to become comfortable with reading and thinking about the kinds of text they’ll eventually be assessed on, but in a manner that is enriching, stimulating and not exam-orientated.
- After immersion in interesting examples of non-fiction and novels, we then shift our focus more directly to the examination. This involves lots of granular and scaffolded practice, which eventually ramps up to full exam-style questions.
However, even this second phase of preparation can prove problematic as we might ask ourselves, what does such granular practice and scaffolding actually look like? We don’t just want to do endless past papers and so what do we do instead?
It’s in asking this second question, I’ve been having a lot of success recently with OUP’s GCSE English Language Revision cards. These are targeted directly to the exam (AQA for me, but other exam boards are available too), but in such a way that it isn’t just past paper after past paper. Here’s a couple of ways I’ve been using these cards.
Revision and Independent Practice
In the context of English Language ‘revision’ is a curious word. Without a body of knowledge, what exactly are students revising? I answer this question in two ways: 1) Revision as question practice; 2) Revising response strategies and suggested answer shapes. OUP’s revision cards make both of these a lot easier to do.
For the first category, there are many, many cards that replicate the kind of question students might expect to see in the examination itself, like this one:
This is a great way to provide students with lots of materials to work on and attempt without needing to print out endless past papers. As the questions and extracts tend to be smaller this makes any marking a lot easier too, and still allows students to refine the kind of necessary skills required for the Language Papers. Even better, the cards include some indicative content on the back, which means students can self-assess their own work to better understand what they could have explored.
When I’ve set work using these cards, I’ve made it a condition of the homework to first of all highlight where they feel they’ve been addressing some of the indicative material, which makes the whole process of independent practice a lot more valuable as well as being easier for me to identify misconceptions or issues.
For the second category, though, there are cards like this one, which help students to rehearse and revise the kinds of strategies called for in each question.
This offers something concrete for students to revise, with these skills then being deployed and refined during practice itself.
Whilst these two types of cards can be used independently, it’s also useful for a quick and easy homework too where we might, for instance, ask students to attempt, say, ‘cards 1 to 7’ or a card from each question. Again, this cuts back on the administration and overhead of printing past papers and facilitates pre-submission self-assessment routines, too.
Moving away from independent practice and back into the classroom, we can also use these cards, if we have our own personal deck, as a quick and easy Do Now for English Language. Simply, select a card that you feel will work well for your class (perhaps based on what you’ve recently been preparing) and pop it under the visualizer. No printing, no creating resources. It’s then ready for your students as soon as they enter the room. An added bonus is that once they’ve had enough time, you can then flip the card over and ask them to think about what they have just written and how well it matches the indicative material. If you did it at the same time you could also show them how your model meets the indicative content before asking them to do their own self-assessment. Indeed, this doesn’t even need to be a Do Now: you could easily occupy most of a lesson repeating this basic routine jumping from one card to another and one question to another, all with more or less zero prior preparation.
Another way I use these cards is to have a deck more or less always on my desk so that, should it be necessary, I can use them as a quick extension task if a student completes something earlier than anticipated. This works especially well because the cards encourage short bursts of writing and so the tasks never need to be especially time consuming and, because of the self-assessment prompts at the back, students can then quickly check if they have included the most obvious ideas before we then move on.
The OUP Language Revision Cards, then, serve a valuable function not only in way they scaffold student practice and independent revision, but also how they can be folded back into classroom teaching.
Find out more about the GCSE English Language Revision Cards on OUP’s website here: https://bit.ly/OUPRevisionCards
Andrew Atherton is a Teacher of English and a Director of Learning and Research.