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To PEAL or not to PEAL?

I will start this post with a disclaimer: there is no concrete answer on whether to use PEAL or not. It can be a contentious issue between teachers; a repeated focus at Department meetings; and even a bone of contention on Twitter! But I think the only question we need to ask ourselves is: which method will best help 'our' students with their analytical writing.

I have been teaching for 12 years and what began for me as PEE in my NQT year has now grown…and grown…and grown. Whether you PEE, PEA, PEAL, PEEAL or PEAC, it’s all about just finding what works.

In some cases I use PEAL and in others I have different methods, but in everything I use, there is a criteria and I think that this is the key. As long as pupils have a criteria to work with, and model answers to help them see what the end result should look like, how you get the end result is merely based on what your pupils respond to.

Here are just a few of the different methods I use:

1. PEAL with sentence starters. I must admit I am a fan of PEAL and find that in my classroom it does indeed help. Pupils can get lost and overwhelmed when analysing a text and even more overwhelmed when asked to answer a question where those answers seem endless. I find that PEAL helps to focus a lot of my students and give them confidence. I use this method, with sentence starters, mostly with my lower level or EAL pupils.

2. PEAL PAL. This is my most recent creation and came into existence when I realised that my entire class had forgotten how to structure an analysis over the summer break! In addition to the collective memory loss of my regular students on how to PEAL, I also had several new members to the class from a lower set and I needed something to scaffold their answer and help them with the new skills they were now required to use. It worked a treat! I won't use this all the time but will reserve it as an option in the future; it is in a drawer in my room and pupils can choose to use it when they feel they need a bit of a boost.

3. How to correct your errors. Technically this isn't PEEAL or even something to be used as an initial resource. I made this last Thursday when I marked a set of books and was growing despondent when finding I was writing similar targets across all books. I also paused for a second and looked at my targets. I wasn't entirely sure that just because I had written 'embed your quotations', pupils would know how to fix it. So I started to write my own example and then it snowballed into a 'fix it' sheet for all of the common errors I often see across all year groups when writing analytically. I used it on Friday and the pupils really seemed to find it useful, and rather than having to explain targets multiple times to different pupils, I just directed them towards this sheet. I laminated them and made enough for 3 for each table. I'm sure that I will also use them next time pupils are preparing to do some analytical writing and will use them as a way of reflecting on previous targets in order to improve in the next.

4. Model paragraphs on the wall and in a 'how to' set. I created many different 'How to' cards at the end of last term as I felt that pupils needed an option in class that wasn't just 'ask Ms Duckworth'. This works for pupils who are too shy to ask or who like to be independent. I have laminated sets of these in my 'How to' drawers and pupils can go and collect them at any time in the lesson. This one is a particular favourite as pupils always want to know how something should look. I have both KS3 and KS4 model paragraphs in both sets of cards but also blown up on my learning wall. I think this is actually a pupil favourite, and some even take photos of the learning wall so they can use it as a resource at home!

5. Checklists. This is similar to PEAL but is not built around an acronym. This method allows for more freedom whilst still engaging pupils with the success criteria. I adapt these depending on the task and the text type and ask pupils to glue them into their books so I can look at what they ticked. This gives me and idea of what they have tried to do and makes my marking much more targeted.

6. How to write a literature essay. This method is similar to the checklist method, however again allows for more choice and freedom on the students’ part. The cards or print outs I use are a guide that pupils follow based upon what they feel the essay requires, or what they think works for them. As it offers guidance and suggestions for all of the different components of an essay, it is still fairly differentiated and pupils often use it as a self reflection tool as well.

7. Using questions. This is probably one of the least structured approaches and I use it with those classes who feel too constrained by PEAL. It can be used during the writing process as well as as a peer or self assessment tool. This works particularly well with KS4 & KS5 and a good indicator of its success is when you no longer have to display the questions yet still hear the students using them! I call these ‘questions to prompt essay writing’ so they’re completely acronym free!

8. Using questions via an essay guide prompt sheet. I use this sheet quite a lot, especially when pupils are learning how to write analytically. I also use it as a refresher if they have forgotten certain elements of PEEAL or if there are still skills they need to display. Whilst this guide sheet isn't explicitly PEEAL and focuses more on What, How, Why, it still refers to the keywords from PEEAL in order to help pupils link and build upon previous knowledge. It also shows them that no matter which format works best for them, they are all focused on the same skills and the end result is the same.

9. Use PEAL like you would stabilisers on a bicycle.

You will know whether or not PEAL works with your class. Quite often I begin with PEAL and then remove it if I get questions such as: "Can I use more than one quote?" "Can I combine the analysis and explanation?"

If pupils are feeling restricted by PEAL let them try without it, as long as there is a success criteria floating around somewhere, trust them to follow their own lead.

What I have learned in my career so far, is that we are always adapting to our pupils’ needs and working styles. You may start off with PEE and take it in a different direction and invent a whole new acronym. The most important thing is to know what’s working and what’s not. And if it’s not working, listen to your students, identify their needs and trial out new ideas. Even better, if as a department, you can create a bank of different styles that any teacher can adapt for any class.

I hope this has helped and you can use or adapt some ideas! All of the documents referenced here are available on my site. Here is a link to the freebies mentioned.

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