How many of your pupils plan? Do they plan assignments or essays? Do they plan for coursework? Do they plan in exam conditions?
I always want to answer yes to all of these questions. This is because, as a teacher, I know how vital planning can be. Unfortunately, my pupils are not always with me on this. So how do we not only teach planning as a skill, but also encourage this practice and ensure it becomes a natural part of a pupil’s thinking?
Repetition and variety.
I try and repeat the planning process, and its significance, in as many ways as I can. It’s also important to implement a positive attitude to planning early on, so I start with y7 and try to build a foundation from day 1. I try and use planning often and in a variety of ways so that pupils can see its usefulness as well as finding their own style that works for them.
Here are some examples of how I use planning in my lessons:
1. Thinking time for any extended piece of work. If pupils are going to spend anywhere above 15 minutes writing, I ask them to jot down ideas first. This may not always seem like a ‘plan’ to them as it’s short and sometimes just a quick brainstorm, but it is!
2. Sharing. Encouraging pupils to share ideas before they begin a piece of work also forces them to think carefully about what they want to say, and which ideas are relevant. I sometimes pair this with a bit of movement around the classroom and tell pupils to spend 6-10 minutes walking around and sharing ideas with different people before returning to their seats to finalise their own points.
3. Group planning. This is where the big paper and markers come into play! Pupils love this task…because of the big paper and markers. I support this activity with various steps that they are expected to go through and use different colours e.g. highlight the key words in yellow, write your initial response in green etc. Once the paper is complete with a range of ideas pupils then spend 30 minutes independently writing an answer using a plan. You could also let pupils take photos of the plan so they can continue their write up at home.
4. Directed planning time. Tell pupils they have X minutes to plan and put a timer on the board. They are not allowed to start writing a response until the timer sounds. This does take a lot of getting used to for pupils as they struggle with the constraints of not being allowed to start immediately. However, they do quickly adopt to this method and often view it as a race against the clock!
5. Planning sheets. When doing assessments, coursework or timed tasks I often use more structured planning sheets. The structure helps pupils to organise ideas but also reinforces the need for clarity when planning. I use these across all key stages and pupils actually love them as they think they’re being given ‘extra help’ with their essays. However, the extra help is coming from themselves as my input is merely in making a table or box for them to put their ideas in. I find that this kind of structured plan helps them to focus on how to organise ideas effectively as well as how to link and develop them. It also helps with more formal aspects of writing such as introductions and conclusions.
6. Steps. My pupils know they’re about to plan for an assessment when they see this word on the board. I love making things about steps because they’re memorable and make it easier for pupils to move through a task that they may normally find daunting or too ‘big’. I use different steps depending on the task but once these are in place, I keep them the same so pupils can immediately recall them. I sometimes use timing with this one as well and will indicate how long each step should take.
7. Modelling. I do a lot of group planning activities and model the steps of planning on the board. I do this so pupils can engage with planning without writing (they shout out the ideas and I write them down), but also so they can see what a plan looks like. I always point out what stage of the plan we are on and how we are building ideas. I also show how these ideas can then be transformed into formal writing by taking one of the brainstormed points and doing a group answer.
8. Talking and sharing. Plans ultimately need to be helpful and clear and that is not always the case. Therefore, once pupils have made their plans, I ask them to exchange them with another person and then use their plan to write an answer. Once they’ve tried this, they then give advice on the plan. They often notice things in the work of others that they would overlook in their own, so this is a good activity for helping them to see what works and what doesn’t. Frequent comments I’ve overheard are: “each idea was clear so I knew what each paragraph should be about”; “There wasn’t enough information on the plan so I had to guess”; “It wasn’t clear which was the first point”; “Writing the quote next to the point helped me to know which quotes to use”.
9. Linking planning to the success criteria or mark scheme. This one works particularly well at KS4 and KS5 as they are able to see how planning can directly link to the quality of what they produce as their answer. I label all of the different parts of the plan with the corresponding skill or keyword from the mark scheme so they can see not only how their response is targeting these areas, but also how an effective plan builds upon all of these skills and brings them together.
10. Free form. I model lots of different ways of planning but ultimately reinforce the idea that planning is personal. I encourage pupils to use whichever form they like, whether that is a spider diagram, images, boxes or tables. As long as they know how to approach planning and understand how it helps, it doesn’t matter what their individual plan looks like…as long as they have one!
The main piece of advice I have for planning is stick with it. It’s one of those skills that is extremely important but completely underestimated by pupils. Trial a few different methods and use these consistently, eventually it’ll all become 2nd nature (hopefully).