Acting the text – a ‘Talk for Writing’ strategy

English teacher Leor Holtzman led last week’s 15-Minute Forum on ‘Acting the text’ a strategy she was introduced to when at a creative writing workshop with Pie Corbett.

In a nutshell, Pie Corbett states that to enable students to learn they need to have opportunities to mimic the patterns of writing that you wish for them to use. My forum was based on how to teach new definitions through actions and vocalising the definition (my example definition: “A simple sentence is a sentence with one topic or one main clause”). Rather than resort to getting the students to  copy this into books, we came up with a sequence of actions to help remember the definition. Of course I got my colleagues to do the actions too!

This technique can be used to develop extended pieces of writing, and for the first time on Friday I thought I would bite the bullet and give it a go. My task was to teach year 7 how to write PEE paragraphs that showed developed inference skills. The key question that they had to answer was; How did the author create fear in the ghost story ‘The Black Cat’ (a challenging 19th century ghost story by Edgar Allen Poe).  The ultimate objective was for students to be able to write PEE paragraphs without the support of a writing frame, and I have to say that this was successfully achieved through the application of ‘Acting the text’.

For the previous lessons, students had practiced searching for relevant  textual details in the story. They had focused on key words and explored the intended effect – which was all completed on a ‘box it’ sheet (another technique offered by Pie).

We began the lesson with the class sat around the whiteboard to discuss what a PEE paragraph was and its rules. From this we began to look at creating sentence starters for each stage of the paragraph, which were initially written on the board.

One way the author show fear is in ______________.

For example ‘___________________’

This helps create a sense of fear by describing _____________________.

A key word that communicates fear is__________________ because ____________.

When all the sentence starters were set and we had the framework for writing a PEE paragraph, the next task was to activate the text through actions. Students came up with a list of actions that helped re-tell each of the sentence starters.  All the students and myself practiced this, until it was memorised (this part of the lesson at the white board took 15 minutes max).

I removed the sentences and we modeled as a class what a good PEE paragraph would sound/look like- using the information from our ‘box it’ sheets to fill in the missing blanks. I then rubbed this out too.

Students returned to their desks, and their task was to complete their own extended PEE paragraphs to answer the question.  I was able to circulate and support – not by any paper resources but by returning to the key actions to help remind the students. At points I repeated the actions with no vocals and the students were able to recall the structure that they needed to use to develop their writing.

By the end of the lesson, I asked students who felt they had made progress with using PEE paragraphs? – all hands went up. Who felt more confident developing inferences- all hands went up- and the evidence is in their books!

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About Stacey Partridge

Assistant Principal responsible for Teaching & Learning and CPD, Stem, Transition & primary liaison. Applied Learning Quality Nominee, CEIAG, Prince's Trust and SMSC. Wellacre Academy Flixton, Greater Manchester
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One Response to Acting the text – a ‘Talk for Writing’ strategy

  1. Caroline Starling says:

    Really glad to hear Pie Corbett is working; I am starting to introduce it this year, to my classes, but hadn’t thought about it for the PEE structure.

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