About our Essay Planning

I am a strong advocate of essay planning.  I have been since the start of my career as it is the basis of how I build a lesson.  I start with the maximum sized question that a student can be asked, and the mark band descriptor for top band; I use this to form the end point in a series of lessons. Then its about scaffolding up to that point as best as I can for as many as possible.

However, this comes with a strong health warning, I am NOT an advocate of rote learning those essay plans as some websites would have you do.  This has never been my approach, as I just don’t believe its helpful and it is beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of 18year olds to simply memorise that quantity of information.  This becomes even more important when you consider the new specification as application, subtle emphasis and short mark questions become more prevalent and more important.

To this end I always plan in grids designed to break an essay down into the constituent parts so that students can revise the maximum 16 mark essay but are also simultaneously preparing for shorter answer questions.  This is the format I use:

Essay Planning Grid

How I advise to essay plan
AO1
"Briefly Outline"
Roughly 2 marks of information
Roughly 100 words
AO3
Point, Because, So What, However
Roughly 2-3 Marks
Roughly 100 words
AO1
"Describe/Explain"
Roughly 2 more marks of information
Roughly 100 words
AO3
Point, Because, So What, However
Roughly 2-3 Marks
Roughly 100 words
AO1
"Discuss"
Roughly 2 more marks of information
Roughly 100 words
AO3
Point, Because, So What, However
Roughly 2-3 Marks
Roughly 100 words
NOTES
Extra info needed for bigger topics
Diagrams
Hints and Tips
AO3
Point, Because, So What, However
Roughly 2-3 Marks
Roughly 100 words

Normally within the Approaches topic (but can be any topic except methods really) I will teach students how to plan.  This involves:

  1. A timing task to see how much they can write without much thought (stream of consciousness writing) in 5minutes.  We multiply this by 4 to give an individuals word count for an essay.  I find that this is about right when in exams.
  2. Teaching how to structure AO1 and the importance of terms and directly addressing the question
  3. Teaching how to evaluate and how to make each point large/sustained.  I use Point, Because, So What, However but that’s just a dressed up version of PEEL/Burgers
  4. A line of argument task which can be found here

Students then get given an epic list of all the 16marker plans (found here) which they use as a way to track progress through topics, many also use this as the front pages/dividers in their folders.  We then have a huge tracking poster that is displayed in one of their classrooms (found here plus title) which students use to stick stars to as they complete an essay plan.

Top Tips for Successful Essay Planning

  • Get them to actually physically write the essay but in the boxes to give a sense of phraseology.
  • Check them / rough mark them until you are happy they are getting a consistent mark then let them get on with it unless there are topics they feel unsure of
  • Encourage the use of ICT for the full plans so they can be edited and improved upon as they get better/more skilled.
  • Encourage the periodic check they can accomplish their plans in 20mins
  • Encourage once completed to begin to shrink the plans to A5, then cue cards
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