Readymade Scaffolding: Using the Oxford School Shakespeare GCSE Revision Workbooks

Recently, I’ve been playing around with and using a lot of Oxford University Press Shakespeare materials and resources, which are proving to be excellent. In particular, I’ve been experimenting with their ‘Macbeth GCSE Revision Workbook’ by Graham Elsdon, which is part of the Oxford School Shakespeare series. I’ve been using this in the more traditional fashion as a revision aid, but also much more broadly in my teaching of the play. I’ll explore below what both of these use cases look like.

For revision, one of the main ways I’ve been using the workbook is to preface a longer written essay. I might, for instance, ask students to complete for homework the section in the workbook for a specific character or theme in order to revisit this, which them sets them up for a practice essay on that same topic. This not only helps to revisit the material, but also helps me (and them) to identify any misconceptions prior to attempting a full essay. As well as this more teacher-directed use, students can also, of course, complete the tasks independently as a source of revision.

More broadly, though, I’ve been using this workbook to provide opportunities for micro analysis and micro scaffolding. This sits alongside our class discussions of the play and group annotation, which is still done via a key scene booklet. But we intersperse this kind of analytical, discursive activity with lots of micro analysis and writing, which can be done using the workbook.

Here, then, are a couple of activities I’ve used over the last couple of weeks that I’ve found a helpful addition to my teaching:

There are various activities like this that work really well to help condense or capture a key moment in the play and so slowing down our attention. In this specific example, it’s really helpful to have these images arranged next to one another to help students see the patterns that are starting to emerge. Once the students had completed this quick activity we then used this as the foundation for a longer discussion.

I love activities like this where the students are presented with a really rich angle on the play and are asked to respond to it. One way in which I’ve used the booklet more generally is to mark up all the activities I think would work especially well as a quick ‘Do Now’ as students enter the classroom, with this being one such exercise, so that I write on the board the page number and activity reference and students can make an instant start. As with the above example, this then laid the groundwork for a wider and more substantive discussion as we shared the different ways students had responses to the statement.

This activity, and others like it, are really valuable to offer students a way of thinking about the text that they can then substantiate or expand upon. By explicitly offering up a line of argument first, it helps them anchor their analysis to an idea or analytical route, which can often be more difficult to self-generate.  I also like the way in which, indeed like the above two, there is opportunity to fold this activity back into the classroom by using it to scaffold a wider discussion.

Eventually, though, we are going to want to introduce students to fuller responses and to practise their extended writing, which I’ve been using the workbook to help with too. Interspersed through the more microbursts of writing are exercises like these:

I’ve used this in a few different ways, all of which have worked well. First, I use them as an exemplar in the more traditional fashion where I highlight/underline under the visualiser what I like about the response and what it is doing well. Given, though, it’s not written by me or another student, I’ve found students are a lot more willing to critique and suggest improvements, especially to those that are purposely not top quality responses.

Second, though, I write out under the visualiser one of the lower-band responses and as I’m live modelling it, with workbook in front of me, we talk about how to improve it and what to change. This is great because it allows us as a class to reflect on what makes an effective essay, but also means I don’t need to pre-write one or try to do it on the fly, which never works as well as we might hope!

One final point to note about the workbook is there’s often, I feel, an assumption with anything such as this that we need to treat it as a strictly linear document. However, this doesn’t always need to be true: the workbook is sequenced in such a way that we can easily use those elements of it that are most relevant for what we happen to do doing with that specific class at that specific time. This is why I’ve retained the key extract booklet, because it then allows me to intersperse activities from the workbook, and ones of my own, as and when needed and in a manner I feel is going to be most helpful. I use it mostly as a source of high quality, well-structured readymade opportunities for modelling and scaffolding as well as short bursts of writing that fit alongside my wider approach to the play. 

I’ve also been using the related but separate Oxford School Shakespeare GCSE Macbeth Revision Cards, which, like the workbook, provide a lot of great opportunities for independent student revision, but also something that can be leveraged more directly in the classroom. This, though, is the topic for another post which you can read HERE!

Discover the complete Oxford School Shakespeare series, including the new GCSE revision resources for Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet HERE.

Andrew Atherton is a Teacher of English and a Director of Learning and Research.