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.

Blogs for the Week Ending 1st November 2013

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.

Blog 5: genre pedagogy in action

The first thing that is important to say is that everything I describe in this blog has been implemented in conjunction with the wonderful Helen Handford, language consultant and genre-pedagogy expert, who co-planned and co-taught this lesson sequence with me (therefore wherever in this sequence I have said ‘I’ or ‘me’ I really mean ‘we’). Being true to our belief in the naturalness and effectiveness of the teaching and learning cycle described in my third blog post, this sequence represents the joint construction phase in the development of my own practice.

The setting the context and building the field phase was represented by my completion of the teacher professional learning course How Language Works (  in November 2011. The modelling and deconstruction phase was represented by my watching Helen implement the pedagogy arising from this course (with me virtually a spectator) in a scheme of work on Henry VIII’s establishment of the Church of England with my bottom set year 7s between January and April 2012. This was a class of 12 whose average reading age was 8.5 years, but who Helen managed to scaffold to producing the topic sentence ‘Henry’s desire for divorce, money and power led to the establishment of the Church of England.’

The joint construction phase is described below and took place between November 2012 and March 2013. I think I’m pretty much now ready to enter the independent construction phase in my use of genre pedagogy (not because I know everything, but because I now know I can use it, recognise when I use it well and am able to reflect on how to use it even more effectively).

This sequence was taught to my set 2 year 9 class, who have begun their study of OCR History B Modern World GCSE (we have a two year KS3) and whose KS2 English/Maths baselines are a mixture of high level 4s and low level 5s. Thus their minimum expected target grades are B grades, but their aspirational (school’s term, not mine) targets are A grades by the end of year 11. We started the course by studying Unit 1, International Relations 1919-39 and this sequence on the League of Nations followed on from our study of the Treaty of Versailles and the other peace treaties signed at the end of the Great War.

The specification’s key question on the League is: To what extent was the League of Nations a success?’ and it lists the focus points for this topic as:

• What were the aims of the League?

• How successful was the League in the 1920s?

• How far did weaknesses in the League’s organisation make failure inevitable?

• How far did the Depression make the work of the League more difficult?

• Why did the League fail over Manchuria and Abyssinia?

The ‘specified content’ is then listed as:

  • The aims of the League, its strengths and weaknesses in structure and organisation; successes and failures in peacekeeping during the 1920s; disarmament; the work of the Court of International Justice; the ILO and the Special Commissions; the impact of the World Depression on the work of the League after 1929; the failures of the League in Manchuria and Abyssinia.

Considering this specification in light of the types of questions pupils will be expected to answer in their exam I was able to produce my own list of key questions that should, providing pupils could be taught to independently re-produce them, be comprehensive. The list is as follows:

  • Describe the aims of the League of Nations
  • Describe the structure of the League of Nations
  • Explain the powers of the League
  • Explain the League’s successes and failures in peacekeeping in the 1920s
  • Explain the League’s successes in its humanitarian work during the 1920s, and its limitations
  • Explain the impact of the Depression on the work of the League
  • Explain why Japan invaded Manchuria
  • Describe the events of the Manchurian crisis
  • Explain why the League failed to resolve the Manchurian crisis
  • Explain why the League failed to achieve its aim of disarmament
  • Explain why Italy invaded Abyssinia
  • Describe the events of the Abyssinian crisis
  • Explain why the League failed to resolve the Abyssinian crisis
  • What was the most important reason for the failure of the League by 1937?

This blog will describe the sequence of teaching the question ‘Explain why Japan invaded Manchuria’. When I have more time I will be able to put this question into its broader context alongside and within the teaching of the other questions, but please bear with me!

I set the context for the sequence by linking Japan’s actions in Manchuria to a previous statement we had arrived at as a class about the impact of the Depression on the work of the League, as follows: ‘The rise of extremist governments, a result of unemployment and social problems experienced in several countries, caused difficulties for the League‘. The invasion of Manchuria is thus an example of the difficulties caused by these extremist governments in the wake of the Wall Street Crash and subsequent Depression. I also set the context by showing the group a map of Japan and China with Manchuria clearly marked.

I began building the field by showing the class a YouTube clip about the impact of the Depression on Japan and the reasons for the invasion ( and asking the pupils to jot down any reasons they could see for the invasion. We then fed back to produce the following slide:


We arrived at this point firstly by my asking pupils how they would link the fragments of sentences ‘Japan invaded Manchuria…’ to whatever reasons they had gleaned from the clip. This produced the list of causal connectives down the left hand side of the slide with the pupils then feeding back their notes in full sentences, such as ‘Japan invaded Manchuria so that it could provide its growing population with the resources it needed’ and ‘Japan invaded Manchuria as a result of the Mukden Incident’. Thus I was already scaffolding pupils’ movement from spoken-like to written-like language by insisting on them using ‘reporting back-type’ talk in their responses.

As a class we discussed these reasons a little more and decided there were three main reasons for the invasion, which we summarised in the following slide (in type) and then added to with more detailed notes from the clip:


At this point I suggested that to answer our question we needed a brief introductory paragraph that identified the reasons for the invasion. I dwelt on the question of what was actually being asked – which was the important word in the question? We decided it was ‘why’ and I asked how else that could be phrased, which elicited the answer ‘the reasons why’. Thus the class were able to recognise their answer really needed to be about the reasons for the Japanese invasion. This is important both for the introduction and for their subsequent paragraphs answering the question.

Next I showed the class an introduction I had written:

After the First World War Japan was a very important, powerful country in Asia.  It already had control of lots of other parts of the Pacific.  But the army wanted to make Japan even bigger no matter what.  Japan also needed to do something about the economic problems of the 1920s, which were made worse by the depression.  So, the army made it look like China had blown up one of their railway lines at Mukden, so that it would have an excuse to invade Manchuria.  Japan invaded Manchuria in 1932.

I explained that this was written in very ‘everyday’ language and we needed to improve it by making it sound more like what a historian would write. Pupils discussed how they would do this in small groups and we then jointly re-drafted the paragraph, with me prompting, probing and clarifying the pupils’ suggestions until we came up with this:


The main shift here, as I’m sure you can see, was that we nominalised the factors that led to the invasion: ‘…the army wanted to make Japan bigger no matter what’ became ‘the army’s overwhelming desire to expand further’; ‘Japan also needed to do something about the economic problems of the 1920s, which were made worse by the depression’ became ‘the need to find a solution to its economic problems’ and ‘the army made it look like China had blown up one of their railway lines at Mukden, so that it would have an excuse to invade Manchuria’ became ‘the pretext provided by the Mukden Incident…’. The class are quite well versed in nominalisation (turning verbs or adjectives into nouns or ‘things’) as I bang on and on about it being a key feature of abstract historical writing. Also, you will notice that the nominalised paragraph is shorter; this is because nominalisations pack a lot of meaning into one word, which is why they’re features of abstract, technical writing.

I was then able to introduce pupils to the whole-text schematic structure for our answer, as follows:


Through questioning we were able to establish why we had ordered the factors as we had – we had arranged them in chronological order, in that the desire to expand had been there since the end of the First World War, the economic problems had come about after 1929 and the Mukden Incident happened immediately before the invasion. As we had ordered them in this way in the introduction, we then had to order them the same way in subsequent paragraphs in order to maintain whole-text coherence.

The next step was to write each paragraph and having jumped around the teaching and learning cycle so far, here was the point at which I would now stick to it closely. I decided I wanted to nail down the topic sentence for each paragraph first, before completing the rest of each paragraph in turn. The first step, then, was to model and then deconstruct the first paragraph’s topic sentence. Here’s how I did it:


I went back to the statement ‘Japan invaded Manchuria because the army wanted to make Japan’s empire bigger’, which a pupil had come up with from the YouTube clip. At this point the fact that the question was about the reasons for the invasion became important. The statement above has Japan as its theme (ie at the start of the clause), but the question doesn’t, it has why (or the reasons why) as its theme. Thus our answer needs to thematise the reasons, not Japan. If we look back at the introductory paragraph we find our first nominalised reason for the invasion was ‘the army’s desire’, and so I explained that my topic sentence would have this nominalistion in theme position – hence it started ‘The desire of the Kwantung army to expand Japan’s Pacific empire…’.

I then explained that I wanted our topic sentences to do two more things: firstly to give the factors that led to this reason (in this case the desire); secondly to then link back to the question. I reminded the class, drawing on our knowledge from the clip, that the desire was a result of the army’s nationalist ideology and the weakness of the Chinese government. These two things made up the second clause of our topic sentence, which would also be a dependent clause thus making the sentence a complex one (teaching grammar in context!) and therefore necessitating bookending with a pair of commas. The final phase of the sentence (after the embedded, dependent clause) would directly reference the invasion and would also locate this reason chronologically as ‘the long term cause’. We therefore ended with a topic sentence of: ‘The desire of the radical Kwantung army to expand Japan’s empire in Asia, fuelled by its Nationalist ideology and the weakness of the Chinese government, was the long term reason for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.’

Having modelled the first topic sentence I then moved on to jointly constructing the second with the class, which produced the following:


We followed the previous pattern of: nominalised factor as theme – embedded, dependent clause giving reasons for the factor – link back to question, and came up with: ‘The need to find a solution to Japan’s economic problems, sparked by population growth during the 1920s and deepened by the effects of the Depression, was the short term cause of the takeover of Japan’.

I asked the pupils to independently construct the final topic sentence about the Mukden Incident, sticking to our phasing. Here are the two great examples of what the pupils produced:


Not all pupils produced perfect topic sentences, but all were able to stick to the phasing, use nominalisations and link back to the question by referring to this incident as the ‘trigger’. Reading their efforts made me realise I needed to be more explicit about showing pupils how the dependent clause was embedded between commas and also that pupils could therefore ellipse some words (for example a few wrote ‘The excuse provided by the Mukden Incident, which was [my italics] brought about by…’, when they needed to miss out the words in italics.

I then asked pupils to share their independently constructed topics sentences and we used these to take the best bits and jointly construct an ‘ideal’ version, which left us with the three following topic sentences:


Our job now was to complete each paragraph using our topic sentences as starting points. I now moved back into the modelling and deconstruction phase and gave pupils the following sentences that would complete the paragraph on the army’s desire to expand:

  • Manchuria was an obvious target for expansion because during the 1920s the Chinese government was weak and had little control over the area.
  • The army believed that Japan was superior to other nations and should, therefore, control more territory. 
  • The desire of the Kwantung army to expand Japan’s empire in Asia, fuelled by its nationalist ideology and the weakness of the Chinese government, was the long- term reason for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria.
  • Therefore, the Kwantung army not only wanted to annex Manchuria but would have found it easy to do so.

I asked pupils in groups of 4 to decide in which order these sentences should go to complete our paragraph and, more importantly, why they thought this and what each sentence was doing in the paragraph. This shows a summary of our discussion:


This shows that pupils were able to correctly sequence the sentences and then explain their choices: the second sentence explains reason 1 from the topic sentence (‘fuelled by its nationalist ideology’); the third sentence explains reason 2 from the topic sentence (‘weakness of the Chinese government’); the final sentence links back to the question, starting with a causal connective (‘Therefore’).

The next step was then to jointly construct the rest of the paragraph on ‘The need to secure land and resources’, with the result thus:

Part way through…


And the final product:


The final stage was then for pupils to independently construct the rest of the final paragraph.  Again, here is the best example:


The quality of the scan isn’t great so here’s what it says:

The pretext provided by the Mukden Incident, staged by the Kwantung Army to create a justification for the invasion, was the trigger for Japan to invade Manchuria. In 1931, the Japanese falsely claimed that Chinese soldiers had blown up the Manchurian railway in China. As a consequence, this false claim triggered Japan’s invasion to annex Manchuria in late 1931.

In discussion with the pupil we then altered the final sentence to read:

As a consequence of this false claim, Japan’s invasion of Manchuria began in late 1931.

Phew! We had finally arrived at an entire essay: an introduction and three paragraphs in answer to the question: ‘Explain why Japan invaded Manchuria’.

Let me know what you think!

Blog 4: Genre Pedagogy

After my third blog I promised I would give examples of how I have used the teaching and learning cycle in my own practice. However, I think I need to do one more explainer about the theoretical background to the pedagogical approach we are using before I launch explicitly into how I’m actually walking the talk.

So this post is about ‘genre pedagogy’, which is probably a more accurate label for what we’re implementing than ’language-based pedagogy’. Its chief developer is Professor Jim Martin of the University of Sydney and the best summary of the approach is his book ‘Learning to Write, Reading to Learn: genre, knowledge and pedagogy in the Sydney School’ (Equinox 2012) co-authored with Dr David Rose. The book is an account of the work of the ‘Sydney School’ of linguistics practitioners who developed a language-based approach to teaching in Australia from the late 1970s onwards.

Please read the book ( and then forgive any elements of recontextualisation in what follows. As with all of my blogs, they reflect my understanding and implementation of these theories, which are still developing; as such any inadequacies/inaccuracies are mine and not those of the theorists.

As I laid out in blog 1, Halliday’s theory of the functional model of language starts with the context of culture: the ‘genre’ or the ‘why?’ of any text or communication – ‘genres’ are ways of getting things done or achieving a social purpose. Martin and his colleagues identified, through extensive sampling, the most common written genres of each school subject or discipline at each stage of schooling. From this they were able to map out a taxonomy of school genres which identified the main forms of writing that school pupils needed to gain control over (because they were the ones which occurred the most often). This work has been continually refined and the taxonomy of genres in my discipline, history, has been taken up and developed best in the UK by Professor Caroline Coffin of the Open University in her article ‘Learning the language of school history: the role of linguistics in mapping the writing demands of the secondary school curriculum’ (

Sticking with the historical genres, as you will see in the article they are grouped into ‘recording’, ‘explaining’ and ‘arguing’ history, with subdivisions within these genre families. We could construct taxonomies for any school subject in similar ways (if anybody wants copies of suggested taxonomies for geography or science just yell). The important thing about these genres is that they are predictable and patterned ways of achieving a purpose – to recall events in the past, to explain why the event took place or to argue about its significance. By predictable and patterned I mean we can identify the particular characteristics that make up each genre at the whole text, paragraph, sentence and clause levels in terms of field, tenor and mode (Halliday’s three aspects of language that make up register). As such we can teach these characteristics to pupils in a very explicit way, leading them to mastery in the production of such genres by way of the teaching and learning cycle (see blog 3).

So what I am working towards at my school, and what I would advocate for all teachers, is that we plan each scheme of work around a focus genre. Working with my colleague Helen Handford we are beginning to identify focus genres for each of my history schemes. When she asks me ‘So what are we doing this lesson/week/half term?’, and I answer ‘The League of Nations’, she follows up with ‘Yes, but what do you want the pupils to know about it, and which genre(s) do you want them to be able to produce?’. This forces me to consider how my pupils are going to demonstrate their knowledge of the topic and prompts me to match this (rightly or wrongly) against the kinds of genres they need to produce in their GCSE exams (I only teach KS4).

This avoids me going off on tangents (as I ashamedly used to) by asking pupils to produce irrelevant pieces of work (or genres) like newspaper reports on the Wall Street Crash, transcripts of conversations between Hitler and Chamberlain or government reports on the Manchurian Crisis. (It should also stop other ridiculous occurrences such as poems about volcanic eruptions in geography or white blood cells narrating their journey through the bloodstream in science.) Such pieces of writing are linguistically inappropriate in terms of pushing pupils towards producing contextually-appropriate abstract knowledge and understanding; the pupils will also likely not be able to effectively produce such pieces as they will have been almost randomly asked to write in a particular genre, rather than being apprenticed into its production through the teaching and learning cycle. Thus we can see that genres and language development are integral to pupils learning the knowledge of any discipline. You can’t ‘do’ the science and then ‘do’ the literacy; they are one and the same. Aiming towards a focus genre enables me to plan to systematically teach the necessary language features at various levels of the text whilst explicitly pushing my pupils from using everyday/familiar/spoken-like language to control over technical/formal/written-like language.

Next post (I double promise) will run through how I have used all of these ideas this year when teaching the topic of the League of Nations to my year 9 GCSE (we start a year early) group, who are studying OCR Modern World B.

Until then…

Blog 3: The teaching and learning cycle

There are no end of methods/attempts/strategies to improve pupils’ learning, outcomes and, often, specifically their writing. SOLO taxonomy, PEE/PEEL/PEA paragraphs, TOWER, sentence starters, writing frames, P4C, SEAL, TEEP, ITP/OTP, HOT maps/Blooms’ Taxonomy, Accelerated Learning. I’ve experimented with most of these – some more than others – and always had something nagging in the back of my mind. It’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve realised what the nag was.

Where’s the focus on language? Not the language of ‘multi-structural knowledge’ or ‘point, evidence, explanation’ or ‘analysis, synthesis, evaluation’, but a focus on the way in which we combine words to make meaning. Basically, where’s the focus on how language works? And more specifically, how language works in history, as distinct from science or geography or any other academic discipline.

This, for me, has been the elephant in the room in terms of my own practice as a history teacher. Let me tell you how I used to do it (and please excuse how inadequate this sequence is – and I thought I was a good teacher).

My class and I would explore a topic – say for argument’s sake why Henry VIII broke from Rome. We’d read up on it; pupils would complete various tasks researching different reasons; we’d look at some sources and discuss them as a class. Then I’d set them a writing task: ‘Choose one of the reasons and write a paragraph about it’. I’d give them the following guide:


Then I’d mark their books and think either ‘why have they copied my sentences, the lazy things?’ or ‘I showed them how to do it, why does their work not make much sense?’.  After all, I was teaching them the history and then doing the literacy. Of course the reason why they were not able to write history as well as I would have liked is because my sequence was inadequate for the purpose of giving pupils control over the academic language of the discipline of history.

So this post is about the teaching and learning cycle I have adopted that makes the language features of any text – at whole text, paragraph, sentence and clause levels – explicit and leads pupils to genuine mastery of, and independence in being able to reproduce, such patterns. (A post on the bogus idea of ‘independent learning’, as opposed to learning leading to mastery – i.e. independence – is for the future…)

I’m sure many of you will be thinking ‘here we go again, another model’, but this is the only one I’ve ever seen that actually addresses that nag I had about language development. It is also absolutely clear that language is the principal way in which we make meaning – i.e. knowledge – and therefore language (or literacy) cannot be separated from, and bolted on to the side of, subject content.

The teaching and learning cycle replicates the natural way in which we all learn and particularly the way in which we learn language from early childhood. It also stands between and therefore beyond stale debates about transmission versus progressivism. It acknowledges that teachers have the knowledge and that this needs to be transferred to pupils, but is clear that learning is an activity that requires social interaction.

As I said in my previous post, this teaching and learning cycle draws on Vygotsky’s idea that learning occurs in the zone of proximal development i.e. new things that a pupil can do on their own – that are just ahead of what they can already do – are learnt through help from a more expert other. It is also founded on Bruner’s idea of scaffolding, that pupils can learn anything at any age (within reason) providing instruction is sequenced appropriately and temporary support is given until mastery is achieved.

The teaching and learning cycle is as follows:


I shall give an example of the cycle in action below but first it is important to note that it is not designed to take place over a single lesson, rather it describes the stages we need to move through in order for pupils to genuinely master (i.e. be independent in) any new knowledge, skills or understanding. Thus there may be several cycles within a lesson, or it may take several lessons to complete one cycle, depending on what is being learnt. At a scheme of work level the cycle describes how we need to lead pupils to independence in production of a particular genre of writing, based on a particular field of knowledge (say, if we take my example above, a factorial explanation of why Henry VIII established the Church of England).

To give an everyday of example of how this cycle works, imagine you had to teach somebody who had no knowledge of footwear how to tie a shoelace (unlikely, I know!). First of all you would show them the shoe, explain the various parts and what they were for and show them how it slips on to a foot. Secondly, you would show them how a lace is tied, explaining it to them step-by-step whilst you were doing it. Thirdly, you would probably then ask them to have a go themselves, but would talk to them all the way through, intervening where necessary to correct any missteps and providing an ongoing commentary (or formative feedback, if you like). Lastly, to check that they had mastered the process you would ask them to repeat the tying of the lace from the start, this time stepping back and letting them do it for themselves.  

Read that sequence back and see how it follows the cycle above: firstly, setting the context and building the field (explaining the shoe, what it is and how it works); secondly, modelling and deconstruction (the demonstration of how to do it and the accompanying explanation); thirdly, joint construction (letting them have a go but continuing to give guidance – doing it together); lastly, independent construction (stepping back to let them demonstrate their new skill).

As can clearly be seen, the teaching and learning cycle is a process by which the learner is ‘apprenticed’ into new knowledge, skills or understanding by a more expert other – and this is particularly crucial in enabling pupils to independently control new language in new contexts (back to Halliday…).

What’s also important to say is that if any of the above stages are missed out or not completed adequately the learning becomes much more difficult to acquire. To go back to my earlier example, I can map my practice against this cycle:

  • Exploring the topic through reading, discussion and source analysis: setting the context and building the field (though I would not be thinking explicitly about language or scaffolding pupils’ journeys from everyday to abstract at this stage – even though I should have been).
  • Showing pupils my examples of how to write a Level 4, 5 or 6 response: modelling (though note no deconstruction i.e. talking through with the pupils how I produced the examples, or asking them what the differences between the levels were).
  • Asking the pupils to produce their own paragraph: independent construction (no joint construction – I just expected pupils to be able to reproduce answers similar to those I had written as examples).

So, as you can see, my previous practice – though reaching for language development – was hopelessly inadequate in enabling my pupils to gain control over the academic language (and therefore abstract knowledge) of the reasons for the establishment of the Church of England. Slowly, I am adapting all of my classroom practice to follow the teaching and learning cycle, helped by wonderful colleagues Helen Handford and Paddy Walsh who have been doing this stuff for years and who are apprenticing me into using it successfully. Future posts will be a mixture of further explanation of our approach and the reasons for it and examples of my new-style practice that genuinely meets the language development needs of my pupils.