Using 'what, how, why' to develop and support pupil responses

Updated: Jun 14, 2021

After a successful few weeks with using 'what, how, why' (and a lot of tweaking of resources), I thought I'd share some of my most successful activities and resources.


Firstly, I combined all of the different ways in which I use these phrases into a wall poster. This way it is visible and accessible and when teaching I can walk over and point to it. In addition, pupils can now come up to the wall whenever they feel they need extra support or clarification. Quite a few have even taken photos to help with homework! I will eventually add pupil work to this display so they can also see what it looks like as a finished product with examples.

FLOWCHART how what why
Download PPTX • 572KB

Lesson activities

I also designed a few activities specifically around the use of ‘what, how, why’. I had a successful lesson with Y8s where they were brainstorming around ‘what, how, why’ in terms of the novel we were reading. We read a chapter, I posed a question and then the class got to work making notes. This could be done on A3 paper, however we used washable pens that can write on furniture…they loved it! Once the notes were finished, I asked pupils to walk around and read each different group’s work.

They then chose the one they liked and copied it into their book so they had all they needed for the analytical writing planned for next lesson. The great thing about this task was hearing the pupils ask each other questions as they brainstormed ideas: ‘but why did the author choose this word?’ ‘why was violent imagery used? What does it show?' They really focused on picking apart the novel and begun to question each other in order to make sure their notes were accurate. As a teacher, my input here was minimal but I felt that was ok as they were managing fine without me!

Guiding questions

I created this so pupils could refer to it either in lesson or for homework. I collated several 'what, how, why' questions and asked pupils to try and use them each time they were looking at a literature text. This has been very popular at A-Level and I can see such a difference in not only pupils' confidence but also their individual responses.

Analytical Writing Prompts
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Guided worksheet

I created this sheet as a way of guiding pupils through the ‘what, how why’ process so they can easily see how a good response to a text is built up. I used this with y8 & y9 and it worked well but y7 needed a lot more guidance as most of these skills are completely new to them, so I adapted the sheet for them and added more skills. I won’t always use these and in future will offer them as options if a pupil is still struggling to develop their writing. Some pupils also didn’t want to write on them and instead preferred to have them on the table but do their work in their book. So in effect, they still used them as a guide but wanted the freedom of more space in their book.

Analytical Writing responding to a quest
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Reference sheet

This sheet is a lot more detailed than the previous one mentioned and I use this with Y10 and 11. This sheet reminds pupils of the ‘what, how why’ structure but gives them a variety of extra prompts in order to develop further as they write an extended piece of work. I ask pupils to glue this into their book so they can refer to it at any point in the lesson and also at home.