By the time Year 7s reach us, wide-eyed and excited they usually have a basic understanding of persuasive techniques. With a certain level of knowledge, they often bring a thirst for more which generally presents itself through a myriad of questions. This enthusiasm when harnessed, is one of the most powerful tools we have as teachers, but sometimes the quality of questions (more specifically those lacking in quality) can be a distraction; particularly at the beginning of a lesson. I got to thinking about how to get my newbies to consider the questions they were asking in order to avoid ‘distraction’ questions and put some thought in to their understanding.
With this in mind, I was asked to demonstrate a simple literacy starter which settled and engaged pupils quickly, to a group of staff. Here’s what they saw.
In the run up to this lesson, the class had been exploring War Poetry and Advertising; it was November time and we had developed thematic links with History making reference to the World Wars. It was one of those transitional lessons, moving from one unit to another and I wanted to develop their knowledge of persuasive techniques from one context (poetry) to be applied within another (a persuasive argument)
As the pupils entered the classroom they were handed a starter sheet, a question token (see below) and greeted with a cheery but silent smile. On the board were the instructions for the starter activity, which consisted of a series of boxes: AFOREST (like it or loathe it, I find it useful for Year 7s) in a column on the left, an example of the technique, space for the pupil to write the name of the technique (with the first letter – occasionally the technique was given as an aid), space to define the technique and finally room for the pupil’s own example. Pupils were then advised that they had ten minutes to complete the task and were only allowed to use their question token once.
The prospect of having to carefully consider the question was initially alarming to some, but gentle encouragement when hands went up, ‘are you sure you’re happy with that?’ and ‘is that your question?’, encouraged them to review and formulate their thoughts, searching for the correct construct and deciding on the reason for their question.
I found it interesting that when challenged with the prompts above, many went back and answered without support or asking the question that they had initially wanted to ask. This suggests that they already knew the answer and were merely looking for reinforcement or checking before daring to write it down.
Having completed and peer marked the grid, they were then used as a point of reference later in the lesson when constructing a piece of persuasive writing. Useful for any of the techniques that pupils were less than confident with.
I find question tokens are a helpful method of getting pupils to value the quality of the questions that they are asking, develop confidence in their own knowledge and have the courage to ‘have a go’ in a safe environment.