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How to increase the impact of your marking this exam prep season

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If you teach KS4 and KS5, you are probably in the midst of some pretty serious exam preparation. For many of you, that means practice papers. Lots of them. And if you happen to teach a subject like English, that means a lot of extended essay questions to mark. So, you know, prepare to spend your evenings and weekends marking. After all, you want your students to do well, don't you?

Well, yes, of course. But there's a tool that can help speed up the marking process and improve the consistency and usefulness of your feedback to students. I give you... the humble rubric. You can either print these out and use them as a pro-forma (good), or you can sign up for a free trial of SmartRubric and use an interactive rubric to mark to pesky mocks (better).

First, I'll explain what a rubric is, how to make them, and how to use them effectively. Then, I'll give you three really good reasons why you should be using them for all of your open-ended assessments (but especially practic…

New Feature: Multi-class assessments

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As a department lead, you may wish to schedule formal assessments for your entire department in advance. 
So, for example, you know that the top three year 10 English sets are going to sit a partial mock exam just before Christmas. As long as all of the assessments use the same rubric, you can link them together by creating a multiple class assessment. All you need to do is click on the yellow 'New multiple class assessment' button on your dashboard, or select 'Assessments > New Multi-Class Assessment' from the navigation menu. 

The process of creating a multiple class assessment is identical to creating a regular assessment, except instead of selecting a single class from the drop down, you can select as many as you like. 
When you create a master assessment in this way, a new assessment for each class you select is added. These new assessments behave exactly like any other assessment -- they show up in the to-do list and gradebook of the responsible teacher. 
Why i…

Stress-busting Exam Revision Game

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Exam season is in full swing, so you are probably seeing a lot of zombified students in your lessons. They usually come in two flavours -- dead-eyed nihilists, and panicky zealots who want copies of every past paper that's ever happened and for you to mark their unsolicited work.

If you're still making meaningful progress with these kids, then by all means, keep doing what you're doing. I salute you. 
If, however, you are at that point where there are still one or two lessons left before the exam and there is literally no more that you can stuff into their heads -- not that they're in any condition to learn anyway at this point -- then BOY do I have the lesson for you. 
It'll blow the cobwebs out of the heads of your nihilist zombies and satisfy the obsessive revision urges of your zealots. You'll all laugh, bond and do some intense revision. Sound good? Cool. Presenting -- the Best Revision Game I have Ever Found.

Try this lesson: Making Choices about Tense and Voice

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I'd like to share a really simple, one-off lesson that is both fun and really digs deeply into some technical aspects of creative writing. It was my go-to lesson whenever I had to do cover for an English class (best for year 8 & up): it fits beautifully into a 55 minute slot (with plenty of scope for extension if you teach longer lessons) and requires no prep, powerpoint or resources. It's fun, and it resulted in a lot of 'aha' moments for kids and hilarious writing.

Sold? Good. Try this lesson:

Objective: Explore the effects of choices about tense and voice in your creative writing

BEFORE YOU BEGIN: Get each student to choose a number between 1 and 3, and a letter between a and c. Have them write this down on a piece of paper and swear solemnly not to change it after the lesson begins. Extension for very able students: add another letter - either y or z.

Starter: Outline this simple plot: A boy is walking down the road, holding a balloon. A car goes by and hits a pu…

Free Download: Printable KS3 Spoken Language Rubric Bundle and lesson prep

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It's exam prep season, which means that sadly, KS3 probably isn't getting much love at the moment.
To rectify this, I'm going to share a couple of really easy English Speaking and Listening lesson formats that take approximately zero planning and work from years 7-9, plus a couple of downloadable rubrics to make sure that you're evidencing progress.

If you're just here for the freebie rubrics, I've bundled together a discussion rubric and a presentation/speech rubric. You can download the bundle here. It's aligned with the current National Curriculum expectations for KS3 English, but you could easily adapt them up or down. 

As always, if you are a SmartRubric user, you can bypass the printable and use the interactive version of these rubrics. It means all of your rich formative assessment data will be automatically captured, and targets, levels and grades will be generated for all of your students. They're in the template library. If you aren't a us…

Student Presentations - the X-Factor format

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Here's the problem: Student presentations are boring. One student is talking, and twenty-nine students are bored out of their skulls. The problem compounds itself as time goes by, and you need a class full of orators to avoid a riot by minute 45. It goes without saying that you should limit the number of student presentations per lesson, but the X-Factor format helps too. Here's how you do it: 
Pull a long table or three desks into the center of the room, facing the front. This is where your judges sit. Everyone else is audience. In front of each judge seat, stick a copy of the presentation rubric. In fact, every student in your class should have one. Give the judges a stopwatch, and a whiteboard or a big bit of paper and a marker for scores. 
The judges should be rotated out every couple of presentations, and it's a great way to give That Kid a place to showboat a little bit in a productive way. The judges have strict rules for criticism. They must be constructive, they mus…

Lesson Idea: Parsing Feelings in English

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This was an emergency exam prep lesson and it ended up being one of my favourites ever. I used it with my middle ability KS4 English group because I had had enough of my students telling me that the [quote] had a 'positive feeling' or made the audience feel 'shocked'. They simply didn't have the vocabulary or confidence to talk about emotion or feelings in a sophisticated way, much less in connection to a text. Now, as I said, I used this for KS4, but it would absolutely work at KS3 -- in fact, the earlier that kids learn to talk about this the better. Having the vocabulary to talk about emotion helps people parse feelings and be mindful about them which is incredibly important for life. 
Here's how it works. Configure your room in such a way that kids can sit in groups of three or four. Put a big piece of paper in the middle of each group. On each paper, write down six major emotions mind-map node style:  Set a timer. For ten minutes, get students to brainstorm…