Developing my year 9s’ ability to write (more) like historians – part 2

In my last post I described how I had taught my year 9 classes about the causes of World War One and how I had used the teaching and learning cycle to help scaffold their ability to write a paragraph explaining one of the long term causes. In this post I will show some examples of their work and then describe how we tackled the short term cause, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.


The paragraph the pupils were asked to write was on alliances (the ‘a’ in the MAIN causes) and here are some examples, with commentary:




These two examples show that pupils were comfortable reproducing the definition of the factor as well as describing the formation of the two alliances, making sure they including the name of each, their members and the year in which they were formed. These details to be included had been discussed just before they wrote the paragraphs.


What is also clear is that the final phases, in which pupils had to explain how the presence of two rival alliances had created tension, are underdeveloped. This was a common theme throughout the answers. This indicates that we did not discuss enough how and why alliances created tension and thus I was replying on pupils to work this part out largely for themselves. The lack of discussion was partly due to time constraints and party due to a reticence on my part to ‘give them the answer’ – something I need to get over, frankly. Reading the information relating to this, discussing it and asking well-chosen questions about it would enable pupils to gain insights into the causation at work, which they would then be able to demonstrate understanding of more effectively in their paragraphs. The most common piece of feedback I gave (as can been seen on one of the examples above) was ‘what could have happened if one nation from each alliance had had a disagreement?’.


The final paragraph of the overall assessment – Why did World War One start in 1914?


After completing the alliances paragraph, receiving feedback from me and having the opportunity to address some of the questions I posed, we then turned our attention to the spark for the war – the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.


This end product we were working towards was a paragraph explaining the short term cause – how an assassination had led to a continent-wide war. To begin with we looked at a map of Europe in 1914 that showed the position of Bosnia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire with Serbia next door. We then watched this excellent clip of Dan Snow describing the events of the assassination and I focused pupils’ attention by asking them to look for answers to the following questions:

  • What happened?
  • Who was killed?
  • Where did this happen?
  • When did this happen?
  • Who was the killer?
  • Why was this killing carried out?

We then established these details with the aim of using them in our paragraph, which would have the following structure:




Pupils then completed the first phase using the details, with me insisting they be as detailed as possible, for example including Franz Ferdinand’s title and position rather than just his name.


Next lesson we moved on to completing the paragraph and started with a recap of the assassination as well as an introduction to the consequent chain of events: We then placed the chain of declarations of war into chronological order with the pupils reading the order of events in the textbook and sticking cards describing and illustrating the events into their book in the correct order.


At this point we had established the outline of the second phase of the paragraph:




We discussed the events of the second phase, trying to pick out how they linked together and I explained the agreement Britain had with Belgium to protect its neutrality. We then had to show in writing how this chain of events had progressed and why. We added the dates and then I modelled how I would link the first two or three events, explaining my choices (deconstruction). I then invited suggestions from the class for the next couple and we agreed what to write (joint construction) before pupils completed the links themselves on a planning sheet (independent construction):


We then had a brief discussion about what we felt was the key reason that an assassination in an obscure corner of Europe led to a war between the continent’s greatest powers before pupils completed the paragraph independently using all the preparation we had done.


Here is one outcome:




What’s clear from this piece of work is that the pupil has a clear idea of the order of events, but is inconsistent in providing the links between them. He has also identified what he believes to have been the key factor in the escalation of events – the alliance system – but has not explained why he believes this with any authority. Once again, much more discussion is needed to develop pupils’ thinking and understanding in this phase before they write the final product.


My next blog will describe my year 8 lessons on the break with Rome. Having looked at my year 7 books we have not covered enough ground to justify a blog – my year 7 classes are split and so I only see them once per fortnight.

Developing my year 9s’ ability to write like historians (as well as retain key knowledge)

This is the first of four posts I hope to write this half term, each one describing my history lessons with my KS3 groups this half term. This post and the next one will be about year 9, with years 8 and 7 to follow. My purpose in doing so is simply to share what I have been doing in the hope that it is useful to other history teachers, as well as inviting feedback that may help me to do things more effectively.

In writing these posts I was inspired by Katie Ashford’s recent blog “Beyond the ‘show sentence’” ( in which she explained how she has developed her pupils’ ability to write analytically in English. I hope readers will see similarities in my approach in terms of the focus on modelling being used initially in order to move pupils to independence in writing.

With year 9 I have three lessons per fortnight with a set 2 and a set 3 (we have two parallel bands in each year group with three sets in each band). We have been exploring the causes of the First World War and my ultimate aims were twofold: firstly, to enable my pupils to explain how and why tension had developed between the great powers in Europe by 1914 and then to explain how an assassination in an obscure corner of Europe led to a continent-wide (and ultimately world) war.

I had 7 or 8 lessons with each class and I largely followed the teaching and learning cycle outlined in one of my first posts, although the phases often overlapped:

  • Building the field – ensuring the pupils have the knowledge they need.
  • Modelling and deconstruction – showing pupils how to corral this knowledge into good historical writing, breaking down the structures of an explanatory paragraph.
  • Joint construction – giving pupils an opportunity to join me in constructing an explanatory paragraph, guiding them to apply what I modelled to them.
  • Independent construction – allowing pupils to write independently, to see how much they had learnt.


Building the field
I started with the absolute basics: the dates of the War, the combatants and the main developments (Russia’s surrender, USA’s entry), establishing these with the pupils and setting a short quiz as an ongoing homework, with which we then started each lesson until pupils were regularly getting full marks:

World War One basic facts
1. When did the Great War begin and end? (2)
2. What were the names of the two alliances that fought each other? (2)
3. Which countries were in each alliance? (6)
Triple Entente       Triple Alliance
Great Britain       Germany
France                   Austria-Hungary
Russia                    Italy

4. Which Empire fought against Britain? (1)
The Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey)
5. Which country ‘changed sides’ during the war, and in which year? (2)
Italy, 1915
6. Which country surrendered in defeat in 1917? (1)
7. Which country entered the war in 1917? (1)

I also explained that they may see the War referred to as World War One, the First World War or the Great War and explained the origin of the latter term, pointing out that the first two names didn’t exist until there was a second world war!

We then established the long term causes of the War as the MAIN causes: Militarism, alliances, Imperialism and Nationalism. This is a relatively simplistic way of looking at the origins of the War, but one which I felt my pupils could handle and would be able to understand well. I used the familiar analogy of Europe being like a barrel filling up with gunpowder, ready for a spark that would ignite an explosion.

We read about the MAIN causes in our textbook and then defined them using a structure I have written about before, the four-stage definition devised by a brilliant ex-colleague of mine Helen Handford:




This gives very structured definitions (and can be used across the curriculum by the way!) and helps pupils to move towards using more academic language in preparation for writing. Following the teaching and learning cycle in miniature, I modelled the first definition, talking pupils through the way I constructed it. We then defined Imperialism and Militarism together, with me guiding pupils to agreed definitions. Finally, pupils used the structure to define alliances for themselves. They were largely successful in producing a definition similar to the one I had in mind: ‘Alliances are groups of countries that agree to fight together in a war.’

Modelling & deconstruction
I set the first assessment question of the year as: Why did World War One start in 1914? (taken from our scheme of work). Instead of simply allowing pupils to tackle the question immediately, I decided to use the teaching and learning cycle to scaffold their ability to explain the causes. This meant that pupils would end up with a full answer to this question encompassing an explanation of the long term MAIN causes and an explanation of how an assassination led to war. However, they would only have written the final two paragraphs independently.
As we progressed through these phases of the cycle we returned to the textbook to re-read and discuss sections relating to each MAIN cause as and when we needed to, supplementing this by looking at several maps, including one of Europe showing the two alliances and a map showing the scramble for Africa.

I modelled the first paragraph for pupils showing them the structure I wanted them to follow on the board:


As I modelled and pupils copied, I called pupils’ attention to the phases of the paragraph and the purpose each served, as well as certain structural features that I asked them to focus on within each phase, such as ‘one factor…’, the use of dates and phrases like ‘this led to…’ that indicate causation/explanation.

Joint construction
Having set up the next two paragraphs in the explanatory phase, we then jointly constructed the next two paragraphs, ending up with the following:

Imperialism, which is a desire to gain and expand an empire, was another factor that caused tension to build up in Europe by 1914.

From the late 19th century onwards the great powers of Europe competed with one another to grow their empires, which led to the ‘scramble for Africa’, in which Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium all took control of large parts of the African continent between 1880 and 1900.

This created tension because these countries began to see each other as rivals, and threats to their overseas empires, thus making war more likely.



The third factor that enabled tensions between European nations to rise before the Great War was militarism, which is when countries massively increase their armed forces very quickly.

In the early years of the 20th century the European powers began to expand their armed forces, spending more and more each year on weapons and other military equipment. In 1906 Britain launched a new advanced type of battleship called the ‘Dreadnought’, which led to a naval arms race with Germany. Other countries built up their armies and by 1914 Germany, France and Russia each had an army of over one million men.

This meant tension built because as each country increased its armed forces, all the other nations felt threatened. Also, the temptation to use the weapons and forces that had been expensively built up was very great.

As we were jointly constructing I asked questions such as:


  • How do we decide the order of the factors? (Answer: use the explanatory phase of the first paragraph for the order)
  • Having used ‘One factor which…’ in the first paragraph, how should we introduce these next factors?
  • Which dates are important for the middle phase?


As well as more specific ones like:

  • Which countries were involved in the ‘scramble for Africa’?
  • What was the name of Britain’s new type of battleship?


Independent construction
Pupils were then given 20 minutes to think about, draft if they wanted to, then complete in neat their own paragraph explaining how alliances led to tension. This is the version that I wrote:

Alliances are groups of countries that agree to fight together in a war, and it was these agreements that represent the fourth source of tension in Europe from the late 19th century onwards.

By 1914 Europe was divided into two rival alliances. In 1881 Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary signed the Triple Alliance and in 1907 Britain, France and Russia signed the Triple Entente.

The result of this was tension between the two rival camps as they became suspicious of each other. A disagreement between two nations could result in a wider war, as each country joined in to defend their allies.


As this blog is already over long and I’ve left the kids’ books in school(!), I will use my second post to show some of the pupils’ responses later in the week when I’ve retrieved their books. But, overall, pupils were able to follow the three-phase structure and had understood the purpose of each phase. The quality of the content of each phase and the extent to which they had described the formation of the alliances and how this led to tension was more variable.

Red Scare Unit lessons 4 – 6: ‘It’s the clause, stupid’. Wrestling with transitivity

I hit a bit of a wall this week. But then I started to wrestle with something I had put off wrestling with for a while and think I managed, to quote Jim Morrison, to break on through to the other side. Here’s how.

To re-cap last week:

I am guiding the class towards being able to produce a factorial explanation in response to the question ‘Why was there a Red Scare in the USA?’, which is a 6 or 8 mark question on their exam paper. Last week’s lessons were about covering sufficient background information to enable the class to access the question: defining the Red Scare (briefly), covering the major theatres and protagonists of World War Two and exploring the difference between communism and capitalism. We then used this knowledge – as well as discussions of various maps showing the situation at the end of the war in Europe and Asia – to build a very academic hypertheme (topic sentence) for our first paragraph in answer to the question, which was: ‘The expansion of communism and the emergence of the Cold War in Europe and Asia led to increased fear of communism in the USA.’

This week:

The plan was now to continue building the paragraph that will explain the hypertheme. When planning the lessons I realised this is the bit where pupils usually go wrong when writing practice or actual exam answers. And that’s because I don’t teach this bit well.

Teaching the structure of a genre requires me to be very explicit about structure at three levels: whole text, paragraph and sentence/clause. I think I have mastered teaching the class the whole text structure of the genres we have encountered, or the stages through which these genres go to achieve their purpose. For a factorial explanation this is:

Macrotheme – background information + identify the 3 factors (I teach them to identify 3 as that’s what the exam mark scheme requires)

Hypertheme 1 – paragraph on the first factor

Hypertheme 2 – paragraph on the second factor

Hypertheme 3 – paragraph on the third factor

(I usually miss out the last stage ‘macrotheme – new’, which is a restatement of the factors as this is not required in the exam.)

I can judge that my teaching of this whole text structure is effective as all of the pupils always follow it, even under the pressure of exam conditions.

However, my teaching of the next two levels – paragraph (or phases) and sentence/clause – have clearly been less effective, evidenced by the lack of coherence in pupils’ responses to previous exam questions. My pupils are still not clear about two things:

  • How to structure an effective paragraph to meet its purpose in the particular genre they are writing – aside from notions of the painfully limited and limiting P-E-E.
  • In some cases how to order words in a sentence to make the meaning they want to make.

I had to confront the real reason for this. I can obviously write a really effective factorial explanation myself. However, I struggle to denaturalise how I do this in order to pick out the patterns in my writing, which in turn will enable me to teach them explicitly to the pupils. The whole point of the modelling and deconstruction phase of the teaching and learning cycle (which those who say to me – with depressing regularity – ‘but I do modelling’ don’t seem to appreciate) is to show pupils a really good example of the genre and then break down the process of how it was produced to make it explicit to pupils, in order that they themselves can learn how to construct the genre independently.

So I usually give the class something like the following outline structure for a paragraph:


Which I did this time, too. However, when modelling the contents of the paragraph I am not sufficiently explicit enough about how I am producing that content. I cannot break the content down for the pupils to the point where they can clearly see my thought processes and the patterning of the language.

This was my wall. The key to breaking through it was transitivity analysis.

***(Anybody more knowledgeable about functional grammar than me please excuse any inelegance or inaccuracy in the explanation that follows – it reflects my current and developing understanding of transitivity.)***

For far too long knowledge about language has been absent in the school curriculum. I am of the generation which was not taught explicit grammar and any attempts to rectify that in current pupils’ schooling should be welcomed as better than the nothing that preceded it. However, having discovered Halliday’s functional grammar, an analysis of language as it is used to make meaning – ie as it functions – rather than an analysis of its form as in traditional grammar, I am utterly convinced it is the model of language we should be using in education.

Knowledge of traditional grammar will undoubtedly help pupils to read, listen, speak and write – ie to learn and to demonstrate that learning – more effectively, especially if taught skilfully in context. But functional grammar is just so much more educationally appropriate, in my opinion, as I told Michael Gove when I met him in July this year (not sure he took much notice, though he did take notes!).

Time and no doubt readers’ attention don’t permit me to go into this deeply but one quick explanation and example, followed by a comparison to traditional grammar will, I hope, at least illustrate if not prove my point.

Functional grammar analyses the constituents of the English clause according to three categories: participants, processes and circumstances (and as you’ll see, these are represented by the colours red, green and blue respectively). Participants are the things taking part in the activity in the clause – the doers and done to, or subjects and objects. Processes is Halliday’s term for verbs, which strikes me a much more helpful and comprehensive term than ‘a doing word’. Circumstances are the extra details of the clause, the when, the where and the how. For example:

John paid for his shopping with his credit card.

In this sentence John and his shopping are the participants, paid for is the process and with his credit card is the circumstance (how he paid). These categories describe what these groups of words are functioning as, what they are doing, in the clause. If we were to analyse the same sentence using traditional grammar terms we would have the following:

Noun + verb + preposition + determiner + noun + preposition + determiner + adjective + noun

Knowing this is undoubtedly better than not knowing it, but these terms describe form, not meaning. Hence why I believe functional grammar offers us greater possibilities for teaching pupils to make meaning well. I’d be interested in readers’ thoughts on that issue.

This digression is all to put into context the breakthrough I made. I decided, having put it off since I discovered functional grammar in November 2011, to wrestle with this Hallidayan analysis of the clause, which functional grammar calls transitivity analysis. I’d put it off because it is difficult to get your head around (and I’m not fully there yet) but I realised that I needed to start, because it holds the key to being able to explain to my pupils the patterns of language I am able to produce, so as to help them to learn how to produce the same patterns.

My aim over the three lessons I had this week was therefore to scaffold pupils to producing the first sentence of the next phase of our paragraph, which will be a description of the events of the early Cold War in Europe. The knowledge they need to complete the whole paragraph is:

  • The spread of Communism in Europe including:
    •   Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe
    •   The Berlin Blockade;
    •   Russia’s acquisition of the atomic bomb
  •  The spread of communism in Asia, including:
    •  The Communist victory in China;
    • The invasion by North Korea of South Korea;

And so our sentence for this week would be about Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. The sentence I wrote to aim for was ‘Between 1945 and 1948 the USSR ensured the establishment of communist governments in all of the countries it occupied in Eastern Europe through a combination of force and a series of rigged elections.’

Objectives for the first two lessons were:

  1. To describe the division of Germany after WW2 (What happened to Germany after WW2?)
  2. To describe the expansion of Communism in Eastern Europe 1944-48 (What happened in Eastern Europe between 1945 & 1948?)

The lesson began with a re-cap of our sentence from the previous week. I broke the sentence into 8 fragments such as ‘Increased fear of Communism’, ‘the expansion of communism’ and ‘led to’ and printed them on separate pieces of paper. I then asked 8 pupils to come to the front with a fragment each (including the all important full stop) and rearrange themselves into the correct order (gotta love a bit of kinaesthetic learning) so that we could review the structure of the sentence. We explored how we would need to change the phrase ‘led to’ if we reversed the order of the nominal groups (to become something like ‘Increased fear of communism in the USA was the result of…’), reminding ourselves of the difference between expressing cause and consequence. I then gave out the table above showing the structure of the whole paragraph, eliciting from the pupils that we would be discussing events in Europe before those in Asia as we had mentioned Europe first in our topic sentence, so this was logical.

My aim was to use the first objective to establish for the pupils the structure of a sentence that is describing events, in this case a description of the division of Germany in 1945. I gave pupils a map showing the division and that of Berlin and asked them to discuss in pairs what the map showed them. This gave the pupils to opportunity to engage in exploratory talk with a shared context (both looking at the map). In this phase I overheard such insights as ‘That’s in 4 bits’, ‘so is that’ and ‘One’s Britain, one’s France…’. I then asked them to feed back what they had discussed, this time using what I have trained them to understand as ‘reporting back-type talk’, where they have to be more explicit and structure their talk with greater formality and clarity. This garnered responses that were made up of longer stretches of language than the paired talk, thus scaffolding pupils’ future writing by using talk as a bridge. Responses were along the lines of ‘We can see that Germany was split up into 4 parts’, ‘Berlin was also split into 4’ and ‘Each part was given to a different country to occupy.’ I now asked pupils to talk again in pairs, drawing on the responses they’d heard to come up with a sentence to summarise the post-war division of Germany. The best one, which I scribed onto the board was ‘After World War Two Germany was divided into four sectors, each controlled by the Allied powers’.

I was then able to apply transitivity analysis to this sentence, as below:


At this point I did not introduce the functional labels of participants, processes and circumstances. I did not want to overload the pupils, so I worked with some traditional word classes they are familiar with, one piece of functional metalanguage they have previously learnt (the nominal group) and functional questions, such as ‘when did this happen?’. This enabled me to point out that the sentence is structured with the verb (was divided into) at its centre. Either side of the verb are the nouns, the doer and the done to. Surrounding these and further from the centre are the extra details that tell us where, when and how the event took place. This enabled the class to then have a go at producing a description of the division of Berlin, which we jointly constructed as:


In these sentences there are no circumstances, so it was a simple matter of arranging the clauses as participant – process – participant.

Having answered the first objective (What happened to Germany after WW2?) we moved on to the second, ‘What happened in Eastern Europe between 1945 & 1948?’. Again I gave pupils a map of the area post-war and they discussed in pairs what they could see, followed by reporting back their observations. However, the map did not give us enough detail for a good description, so they used the textbook description of what happened in each country to complete the following table:


Note that in the final column I have underlined the word ‘method’. This told the pupils I was looking for nouns – or nominalisations – in response. So when they read such things as ‘communism was imposed by the USSR’ they were forced to nominalise the verb to ‘imposition’, something they have now become skilful at and which we would use later in our sentence.

The third lesson was all about building up to the sentence I had in mind from the start, using the raw materials we had in the table above. I started to structure the sentence for the pupils using the following table:


The answers to the questions down the left hand side would be the building blocks of our sentence and followed the pattern of the process being at the centre (Q3), the participants surrounding it (Q2 & included in Q3 too) and the circumstances being around the edges (Qs 1, 4 & 5). I also took the pupils responses as they gave them to me in relatively ‘everyday’ language. Our task was now to stitch together what we had and also to move along the register continuum towards more academic language. I judged that I didn’t need to do that on this table, as we could do so straight into our sentence, which we jointly constructed as:


(handwritten text is our joint version, typed text my original version, revealed at the end.) This was achieved through questioning, discussion and negotiation with the class. As you can see, I originally thought the text ‘in all of the Eastern European countries it occupied’ was part of the nominal group with ‘the establishment of communist governments’, but I now think it is a circumstance – though I am happy for any functional grammar experts to correct me!

That was the end point of the three lesson sequence. I had shown the pupils the patterning of a sentence that describes an event, which I was able to do because I had finally embraced transitivity. Paternity leave notwithstanding we will now move on to produce sentences describing the events contained in the remaining bullet points on Europe and then those on Asia.

Red Scare unit – lessons 1 to 3

***Writing this after having written the entire post – I’m unsure if much of the below is of interest to anybody. My aim is to chronicle what I think is quite a different way of planning and delivering a scheme of work by simply describing what I do in each lesson. There are definitely parts that are interesting, but I would welcome feedback from anybody reading on whether I am going into too much detail and if I need to choose edited highlight of lessons, pulling out key points.***

I aimed to post before I delivered any lessons in this unit, outlining what I planned to cover in the first three lessons. However, I think this was unrealistically optimistic given the way I have to plan my lessons, which is a bit last minute. Also, it’s still amazing to me that in my tenth year of teaching I can plan what I think will take a lesson and it actually takes two or three. Ho hum. In that case I think I’ll stick to posting at the end of each week a summary of my three lessons with the class.

This is a long one, so good luck. But I hope it illustrates the amount of thought and planning that goes into these things…

To re-cap on what I am aiming to do over the course of this unit of work: I want to deliver the key content the pupils need for the USA 1945-75 section of OCR B History Paper 1, but I also want to explicitly teach them how to produce specific historical genres of writing, linked to the typical exam question they will face. The first key question we are working towards is Explain why there was a ‘Red Scare’ in the USA, which is a factorial explanation.

The specified content pupils need to answer this question successfully is as follows:

How did the international situation make Americans more fearful of communism?

  • Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe, inc. The Berlin Blockade;
  • Russia’s acquisition of the atomic bomb;
  • The spread of communism in Asia, inc. Invasion by North Korea of South Korea & the Communist victory in China.

What was McCarthyism?

  • The 1947 Federal Employee Loyalty Program;
  • McCarthy’s speech in February 1950,
  • The work of the House Un-American Activities Committee;
  • The work of the FBI and Hoover,
  • The use of Blacklists;
  • The 1954 Communist Control Act.

Why did people support McCarthyism?

  • Fear of Soviet spies: Alger Hiss, the Rosenbergs;
  • Suspicion of liberal ideas.

Why did McCarthyism decline?

  • Opposition to McCarthyism by actors and intellectuals;
  • Court decisions against McCarthy;
  • Excesses of McCarthy;
  • The Army-McCarthy hearings.

I began by thinking about the knowledge pupils needed before they even got near to covering this content. There is a lot needed and my pupils generally lack good general knowledge – as inner city kids who live in deprived areas unfortunately tend to. This, of course, is the singular argument against the idea that we don’t need to prioritise knowledge acquisition any more (more ably argued against than I could by Daisy Christodoulou, Joe Kirby and others elsewhere, but I digress). The challenge therefore was to identify as sharply as possible the background knowledge my pupils need in this context in order to enable them to access the specification content at a level that will enable them to explain how the events and developments they learn about contributed to the anti-Communist witch-hunt in the USA. This would inevitably necessitate a compromise between knowledge and time.

I decided that we needed to begin by briefly defining the ‘Red Scare’ (before we cover the actual events of it later). In addition I wanted to get pupils to the point where they knew the major theatres and combatants of World War Two, given that the Cold War (the ‘international situation’ referred to above) developed in both Europe and Asia immediately after this, and also thought pupils should see maps of post-war Europe and South East Asia to illustrate the position at the end of the war. Finally, and most problematically, they needed to understand the key features of Capitalism and Communism as sets of ideas on how the economy should be run, plus how those two sets of ideas influenced the political systems of the USA and USSR (I wanted to avoid the simplistic formula that Capitalism = democracy and Communism = totalitarianism, but wanted them to understand that the political differences between the USA and USSR played a large part in the fear of Communism felt in the former).

(By the way that was only the bare minimum of knowledge I thought I could get away with to start on the first of those sub questions above ‘How did the international situation make Americans more fearful of communism?’, which is essentially the first factor for our factorial explanation.)

Lesson 1:

Therefore my original objectives for my first lesson (woefully ambitious in terms of time!) were:

  • To define ‘Red Scare’.
  • To learn the major theatres and combatants of World War Two.
  • To identify the key features of Capitalism and Communism

In the event, we got through the first two, as follows…

Step 1: Beginning with the end

Firstly I introduced pupils to the genre of writing we were aiming to produce (they already had a copy of the specification content from before half term). We re-capped the schematic structure of the factorial explanation:

FE schematic

We have written these before and the class knows this is the genre they have to produce for the 6 and 8 mark questions in their exam. However, their recent assessment results show that there is a world of difference between them knowing that and producing it under pressure in an exam situation. Almost all of them structured their 6 and 8 mark answers with a brief macrotheme (introduction) and three separate paragraphs, one for each factor they were discussing – they know how to structure at the whole text level. However, it was clear that they do not yet have mastery of how to structure their writing at paragraph level. They are able to write good macrothemes (introductions) – a first sentence that defines any key terms in the question and sets those in historical context if necessary (where, when, who) and a further sentence that directly answers the question by identifying the three factors they will discuss in the rest of their answer. But in a lot of cases their following three paragraphs are, to be frank, a mess. They are still throwing down on the page all of the knowledge they have without thinking carefully enough about how to structure it to make the meaning they need to to explain how that factor helped to cause the event or development the question identifies.

Therefore I went over with them again how I will use the teaching and learning cycle (see blog 3 here) to lead them to being able to independently produce a paragraph in a factorial explanation:

  • Firstly I will set the context (that background knowledge I mentioned above) and build the field for the first paragraph – that is teach them the content the specification requires.
  • From there I will model for them an effective paragraph explaining the first factor and deconstruct it – explicitly showing them how I produced it and how its phases are constructed demonstrating, as I said in my previous post, how to go beyond the simplistic P-E-E formula to write paragraphs that suit a factorial explanation (I may have to write a separate post about the limitations of P-E-E).
  • Next I will build the field for the second paragraph (second factor – fear of Soviet spies in the USA)
  • We will then jointly construct a second paragraph on this factor. This will involve the exact structure and wording of the paragraph being negotiated with the pupils; they will draw on the modelling and deconstruction we did for the previous paragraph and I will guide the process to the required result: an effective paragraph.
  • I will then build the field for the third paragraph (third factor – suspicion of liberal ideas in the US).
  • Lastly, the pupils will draw on this knowledge, plus their knowledge of how to structure an effective paragraph, to independently construct the final paragraph.

(At this point we will also double back to the start of the question and write a macrotheme, drawing on everything we have learnt.)

Step 2: defining the Red Scare

To meet the first objective of ‘define the Red Scare’ I gave pupils this contemporary source and asked them two questions:

1. What can you see?

2. What does this source suggest about attitudes towards Communism in the USA in 1947?

Red Scare source

This enabled them to see a real piece of anti-Communist propaganda and they were able to produce responses to the second question along the lines indicated by my squiggles on the slide – they understood that there was fear of Communism because it was perceived as a threat to the American people.

(At this point I had anticipated a question along the lines of ‘why red’? and so had up my sleeve a slide that showed a range of Communist flags as well as images showing that red is the colour of the Left more broadly.)

We were now able to move on to nailing down a definition of the ‘Red Scare’. I used a four-part formula shared by the wonderful Helen Handford (mentioned in a previous blog of mine here as the person who has supported my implementation of genre pedagogy through co-planning and coaching).

Red Scare definition

Some pupils were familiar with this formula from Biology lessons with my colleague Ms Mackie but I tweaked it to point out that as we were discussing an event or period of time in the past the verb (or process) had to be in the past tense.

At this point I also realised that I had not addressed the fact that the Red Scare was not just a period of fear of Communism but it was a period of increased fear – the fear had been there before and during the war, but it increased to a frenzy afterwards. I explained this to the class and we therefore included the word ‘heightened’ in the definition and I made a mental note to revisit this when we look at the events of the scare itself.

Step 3: World War Two becomes Cold War

To meet the second objective of ‘learn the major theatres and combatants of World War Two’ I kept things pretty simple. I showed the class maps of Europe and Asia and identified the principal combatants in each theatre, telling them they had to learn these and I would check on their recall of them over the next few lessons. I then showed two animated slideshows/guides to the major events of the war in each theatre ( and, finishing by talking them through maps of the two theatres at the end of the war, showing them how Europe was left divided between Capitalism and Communism West/East, Korea was divided North/South and China was left in the throes of a Capitalist vs Communist civil war. I then explained that a ‘Cold War’ developed between the chief proponents of the two ideologies (USA & USSR/China) using this slide:

Cold War 1

We then moved on to defining the Cold War to give us a basis for the next lesson, so I gave the pupils a couple of minutes to use the four part formula to discuss their own definitions and we jointly constructed the following with me adding the dates (the class were surprised when I told them I had already been born in 1991 when the Cold War ended*):

Cold War def

*they weren’t.

Lesson 1 over!

Lesson 2:

Having concluded lesson 1 by outlining the situation between Capitalism and Communism in Europe and Asia in 1945 and touching on the fact that a Cold War developed we now had to turn to the next objective:

  • To identify the key features of Capitalism and Communism.

I confess to really struggling with how deeply to delve into this. I had to think very carefully about giving the class sufficient understanding of the differences between them and the tensions this created whilst not getting bogged down in too much detail and spending too much time on it. So before I launch into it a disclaimer: I’m sorry if you think my treatment of the two ideologies is shallow, inadequate, misguided, hopelessly simplistic.

I meant to start the lesson with a ‘Do Now’ activity (a la Lemov) which would have recapped the definition of the Red Scare and tested the pupils’ recall of the theatres and combatants of World War Two. In the event I forgot to print the damn thing off so I just cold-called pupils (another Lemov reference) to give me the definition using the correct 4 part formula and then to recall the details of World War Two – each time insisting on pupils answering in full sentences (Format Matters – Lemov again and now departmental policy) and employing ‘No Opt Out’ (Lemov, ‘natch), which meant that if a pupil was unable to recall one of the combatants or theatres I either broke the question down by asking simpler questions (Break It Down, Lemov) that scaffolded them to the answer or I came back to them after other pupils had correctly answered the questions and insisted they repeat the answer.

I moved on from the re-cap by looking at the words Capitalism and Communism themselves and pulling them apart, firstly explaining that an ‘ism’ denotes a set of beliefs. I then explained that ‘capital’ refers to money, specifically money used to invest in a business, and that this relates to how the economy runs. I also explained that they should think of ‘commun’ as referring to something like ‘communal’ – i.e. things should be shared among the population and again that this relates to how the economy is run.

I used the following slide to now outline the key features of the two systems, explaining that both are essentially economic systems and that the political systems below them were the typical ones associated with each, but not always (pointing to examples that contradict the model below, like China or capitalist dictatorships). NB: I’m well aware that the information on wealth in Communism is crude and simplistic!

Comm Cap

Finally, reflecting on a recent comment by Daisy Christodoulou on explicit vocabulary instruction (can’t remember where I read it, sorry), I picked on several of the words highlighted in red and explained their roots and meanings, as this slide shows:

word roots

This prepared us to begin the next lesson by using the 4 part formula for definitions to write good ones for the two terms.

Lesson 3:

This lesson was observed by our Principal and Vice Principal for performance management purposes.

I felt the class now had sufficient background knowledge for us to move to writing a high quality hypertheme (topic sentence) for the first paragraph of the factorial explanation. As I stated above my intention was to model this and then deconstruct it in order to make explicit the process of how I had come up with it and the way it structured historical knowledge through language.

The two objectives, therefore, were:

  • To define Capitalism and Communism.
  • To identify the first cause of the ‘Red Scare’.

What I hope becomes clear through my account of this lesson is two things. Firstly, the importance of something David Didau has blogged about tonight here and Joe Kirby has blogged about today here, which is of not rushing to scale Blooms’ Taxonomy without ensuring pupils have sufficient knowledge. If I’d seen learning objectives like those above in a lesson I was observing 18 months ago my first comment on the observation form would have been ‘objectives not challenging enough’ because I would have considered ‘define’ and ‘identify’ to be low order ‘skills’. As you will see, they certainly aren’t, they are chock full of bits of knowledge. Secondly, identifying a cause of an event in history can be done really badly and briefly, or really well and slowly – focusing on the language of how we express those causes is absolutely central to making pupils good at history.

I used the ‘Do Now’ sheet I had forgotten to print out the day before as a settler – this obviously re-capped the same content as the previous day’s lesson had, but I judged that revisiting the definition of ‘Red Scare’ and the theatres and combatants of World War Two was valuable and doing so would allow me to pick on pupils that had been unsure the day before when we had first re-capped this knowledge.

We then moved on to defining Capitalism and Communism. We quickly re-capped the meanings of the parts of the terms – ‘ism’, ‘capital’ and ‘commun’ and the features of the respective economic systems. Having used the 4 part formula several times now I judged that we would be able to jointly construct the first definition by asking pupils to discuss it in pairs, with me taking suggestions to put on the board. I still made sure to deconstruct what was offered by the pupils by pointing out the structure and discussing the two key parts of the definition: the ‘group to which the thing belongs to’, which the pupils decided was ‘a set of beliefs’; ‘the information which gives the thing its meaning’, which had two elements, who owned businesses and what happened to wealth. Here is what they came up with:

Cap Com def

I then asked pupils to independently construct a definition for Communism on their own following the same pattern. Circulating as they did this, I was able to observe that most wrote something akin to ‘Communism is a set of beliefs in which businesses are owned by the government and wealth is shared’ – with one pupil adding that businesses were owned by the government on behalf of the people.

We now turned to bringing all of this preparatory work to the task of building our sentence identifying the first cause of the ‘Red Scare’. I wanted to scaffold the class towards the sentence:

‘The expansion of Communism and the emergence of the Cold War in Europe and Asia led to increased fear of Communism in the USA.’

The sentence is deceptively simple. It is a highly abstract and academic sentence that is structured as follows:


The red blocks indicate expanded nominal groups. This is a group of words around a noun that pack a lot of meaning into just a few words (‘the emergence of the Cold War in Europe and Asia’). The structure is essentially:

Nominal group + nominal group caused nominal group.


Thing + thing caused thing

This is how historians write. Pupils at my school – EAL, high % FSM – generally struggle to use language in such a specialised way and so their ability to do so needs to be carefully scaffolded, as I’ll show here.

I gave pupils the following table:


This provided a way of building towards the kind of language we needed to create a really good hypertheme. We drew on the knowledge we had learnt over two and a half lessons to provide everyday answers to the 3 questions given, which we arrived at through questioning and discussion. I then asked pupils to nominalise the words I circled in red. They are well used to doing this and so were relatively easily able to move from ‘Communism was expanding’ to ‘The expansion of Communism’. Having this third column filled in enabled me to introduce the structure of the sentence as follows:

Hypertheme 2

We firstly inserted our nominalised phrases into the relevant column – adding in the key details of where these things took place (‘in Europe and Asia’, ‘in the USA’). We then explored different ways to express ‘caused’, and I noted pupils’ suggestions. Thus we had arrived at a sentence very similar to the one I had written before the lesson and was aiming towards.

I was very happy with this end product – the lesson went exactly as I had planned it, which was great obviously during an observation.

That’s an awfully detailed account of my three lessons. Next week (paternity leave notwithstanding) I will go on to cover the early events of the Cold War as identified in the specification content. This will enable us to flesh out the paragraph for which we have spent a week building towards the topic sentence.

Key curriculum genres

Just a quick post. Lots of people have been asking for versions of genre taxonomies for other academic disciplines. I’ve therefore attached two documents:

  • Key curriculum genres for History & Geography
  • Key curriculum genres for History, English, Science and ‘Visual Arts’

Both documents are based on the work of Professor James Martin and the Sydney School in Australia.




Getting serious about genre pedagogy: designing and teaching genre-based units of work

It’s been a while, almost 7 months in fact, since my last blog here. My initial enthusiastic rush of blogging frenzy back in March, written in 4 or 5 days at the end of the spring term just before I disappeared to China for two weeks’ holiday, petered out upon my return to school for the summer term when internal changes reduced our leadership team to only 3 people and I suddenly found myself doing at least 2 people’s jobs.

So I thought now was the perfect time to resume regular blogging: my wife is 38 weeks pregnant with our second child and I’m responsible for the imminent opening of our School Direct training programme to applicants for September 2014. I’ve got loads of time on my hands, so why not?

I’ve decided to resume penning my thoughts to any who will listen because I believe what I have to say is important, vital even. That might sound arrogant, but as one of my fellow bloggers and inspirational pedagogue David Didau said here, I think I have earned the right to share my ideas because I have put an enormous amount of thought into my approach to teaching over the past 2 years. I am increasingly convinced that I am using a pedagogy – genre pedagogy – that has the potential to transform the educational outcomes of my pupils and as I said here (final paragraph) to democratise abstract, academic knowledge for those who have the least access to it. In short, this is a pedagogy for the oppressed, one which will enable marginalised pupils to gain the powerful knowledge they need to be successful (not a pedagogy of the oppressed, as proposed by Paulo Freire and which teachers like Tait Coles here seem to have rediscovered recently – Freire’s ideas would, I believe, only result in further marginalisation of the least powerful in our society).

So, I plan to blog about the new scheme of work I am planning and delivering to my year 10 history class. This blog post will set the context for this work and lay out what I intend to do and achieve with the class. I will then blog at the end of each week (with a gap for my imminent paternity leave!) on what I did in individual lessons, evaluating them and sharing some thoughts on what I’ll do in the next week.

My year 10 class are set 2 out of 3, with baseline KS2 levels (average English & Maths) of between 4c and 5c, meaning their ‘target grades’ (school’s terminology, not mine) are between grades C and A. However, as Tom Bennett has said in the past here the idea of targets (even when they’re given the label ‘aspirational’ or some other such optimistic name) is incredibly limiting, so my aim is for every pupil to achieve an A or A*. And I don’t just say that to sound morally superior; I genuinely believe that every pupil in the class is capable of achieving the top grades if only my instruction is appropriately organised (to paraphrase the American psychologist Jerome Bruner).  The key is whether I can successfully teach them to organise and express their knowledge and understanding well enough by teaching them to write the key historical genres needed at GCSE.

We are following the OCR History B (Modern World) specification and the section I am teaching is the depth study Unit AO17 ‘The USA, A Land of Freedom? 1945-75’ (having begun their GCSE course in year 9 the pupils have already studied ‘International Relations 1919-39’). The content of this unit is outlined here on pages 33 and 34 and is organised into 4 key questions:

  • Key Question 1: Why was there a ‘Red Scare’ in the USA?
  • Key Question 2: How successful was the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s?
  • Key Question 3: Who improved civil rights the most in the 1960s and 1970s?
  • Key Question 4: How far did other groups achieve civil rights in America?

These key questions give me a crucial starting point in deciding how I can best equip my pupils to achieve top grades in this part of the paper. They represent distinct genres of historical writing, which I have matched against the genres of school history identified here by the brilliant Caroline Coffin. So as well as thinking about the content pupils need to learn to answer those key questions (helpfully laid out by the spec.) I am thinking also of how to teach them to produce those historical genres, which are as follows:

  • Key Question 1: Why was there a ‘Red Scare’ in the USA? Factorial Explanation
  • Key Question 2: How successful was the struggle for civil rights in the 1950s? Argument – Exposition
  • Key Question 3: Who improved civil rights the most in the 1960s and 1970s? Argument – Discussion
  • Key Question 4: How far did other groups achieve civil rights in America? Argument – Exposition

(My plan is to potentially alter key question 4 so as to include the final argument genre of Challenge, which would necessitate changing the question to something like ‘How far do you agree that Native Americans improved their rights more than Hispanics and women in the period?’)

These genres match pretty well to the kinds of questions pupils will face in the exam; this section of the paper always includes a sequence of questions as follows:

a) Describe… [4 marks]

b) Explain why/how…[6 marks]

c) A judgement question like ‘How far…’, ‘To what extent…’ or ‘Do you agree…’ [10 marks]

Therefore the content I deliver related to each key question will be taught whilst also working towards producing the relevant focus genre for that key question, using the teaching and learning cycle outlined here.

A slight complicating factor in this neat journey to exam success for my pupils is that this part of the paper also includes a section of source-based questions. There are three questions, each based on a different source, from the following types (and each worth either 6 or 7 marks):

  • What is the message of the cartoon?
  • How useful is this source to an historian studying…?
  • Why was this source published in…?
  • How far does this source explain…?
  • Do you agree with the interpretation in the source?

As a result, I will also need to explicitly teach pupils how to approach each of these types of question, which don’t fall neatly into Coffin’s taxonomy of school history genres. Consequently, I will include within each of the teaching and learning cycles above a ‘mini-cycle’ that works towards producing one of the source-based questions too. Therefore during the first cycle – teaching the content about the ‘Red Scare’ with the focus genre of ‘factorial explanation’ – I will also teach the ‘How useful is this source to an historian studying…?’ genre using a range of sources on the topic of the Red Scare.

In focusing on the specific genres and how pupils can learn to produce them, I will be considering 3 interrelated levels: whole text, paragraph and sentence/clause.

We will firstly look at the stages and phases of these distinct genres at the whole text level, ensuring pupils understand the larger ‘building blocks’ of each piece of writing and how each section contributes to the genre achieving its purpose of explaining or arguing about the past. My analysis of their last assessment tells me that the pupils in this class are pretty secure in their knowledge of whole-text organisation, so hopefully this will be a simple recap – the next two levels are where the challenge lies for them.

We will therefore move on to look at how information at paragraph level needs to be organised. This is where I can push pupils from using everyday language to express their historical knowledge to using more specialised, abstract and formal language (from ‘Lots of people were scared of Communism’ to ‘There was widespread fear of Communism’. I also hope to demonstrate through this the limitations of the ‘P-E-E’, ‘P-E-A’ or ‘P-E-E-L’ formulae that we unthinkingly drum into our pupils, instead showing them how much academic historical explanation is organised as:

Event/factor expressed as an expanded nominal group

caused/led to/brought about or resulted from/was caused by/was a consequence of

Event/factor expressed as an expanded nominal group.

For example:

The French invasion and occupation of the Ruhr Valley industrial area in January 1923

Was the result of

Germany’s inability to keep up with the reparation payments mandated in the Treaty of Versailles.

Which then opens up opportunities for them to expand on these events, drawing on their contextual knowledge, rather than straitjacketing them into point-evidence-explanation, yawn, yawn, yawn.

Finally, we will focus on the sentence and clause level, ensuring pupils understand what makes up these two units of meaning and equipping them to write sentences that make sense and which clearly express their historical knowledge, something many pupils in the class – almost all of whom are EAL – struggle with.

That’s as far as I’ve got in my planning. I start teaching this unit on Wednesday 6th November so I will post again before then to outline my plans for the first week of lessons in the scheme.