Improving literacy in Geography

Example of VCOP template
Example of VCOP template

Something we find our students struggle with at times, regardless of key stage, is the creation of extended writing. Such an essential skill, especially with a view to GCSE. The decision making exercise (SDME) essay that our students complete requires them to read, analyse, interpret and synthesise information into a coherent argument. And it is a big hurdle for them. And in KS3, where we have reduced contact time now, we have noticed a difficulty with stretching higher level writing.

This week we had INSET training from our literacy co-ordinator which was insightful. We are going to lead a Humanities-Literacy joint project which I will update you on later but may involve the creation of a makingwav.es platform for sharing work that I have mentioned before. Anyway, I digress. I was introduced to VCOP – a simple way to structure writing through suggesting vocabulary, listing connectives, providing sentence openers, and then reminding of punctuation. I decided to trial this with both KS3 and KS4 classes of all abilities and have been really pleased with the outcomes. Below are example lessons including VCOP from Yr11 Hazards & Yr9 Extreme Environments so you can see how it was worked into the lesson. We talked through the structure as a group first to establish its utility, then a copy was given between pairs for reference during writing. Students were allowed their books for reference, access to their mobile device, but were otherwise silent for 10-15minutes solid writing. After, we then discussed whether the structure had been useful and throughout all abilities and ages they universally agreed it was ‘good to refer to if you forgot something’ or that it ‘gave me something to start off with’. A starting block.

Thanks to @daviderogers for the NYC lesson outline that was his originally until I butchered it!

You can see in the Yr 11 Hazards lesson I also used the Learning Grids activity for their group work. Students had copies of the grids in A3, then had to roll two dice to get grid reference/coordinate for a particular grid and then include the statement within their group work, e.g. grid 6,6 means they must include a link to sustainability within their argument. They had to repeat the rolls 5 times to get 5 statements to include. When the groups presented their findings, I used the dice myself with the grid in order to direct questioning. Using the random name generator on Triptico I selected a student, then rolled the dice to select a question based on that topic. That student then got to roll for the next name suggested, and they got to pose the question, and so forth. That way a selection of random students were able to both pose & answer directed questions and it led to some really informative discussions as well as enabling more in depth AfL of the relative merits of each presentation.

The use of the template was observed by an Ofsted lead inspector for a different lesson who commented on it’s suitability and highlighted that one of their key focuses at present is that of literacy across the curriculum, and that teachers cannot do enough of making overt links to literacy &  the importance of writing skills for GCSE and the workplace.

I think a further development to the use of VCOP could be to provide specific links to English APP AF strands on writing, and make it clear that students are developing skills intrinsic and essential to both subject areas. In English they are exposed to the AF strands routinely so it would make the cross-over more familiar, and more of a development of a known rather than introduction of something new and scary.

I am also thinking of creating some generic VCOP laminated pyramids to be able to distribute to tables as needed. I’d be interested in hearing from others if you have used these. It seems something common in primary schools and strange to not continue when literacy is such a struggle.

“If you cannot write well, you cannot think well; if you cannot think well, others will do your thinking for you.” Oscar Wilde

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